December 27, 2010

Revolution and Resolution

french revolution

Most of us know New Year’s resolutions rarely work. Who needs to feel inadequate when the weather’s been challenging, relatives demanding, we’re spent out and catering exhaustion is setting in…?

But if you like analysis and reflection, the break does create opportunity to conduct a personal life review – and to read psychological babble like this. My hardest job in 2010 was a coaching session for someone who made no goals and set herself no direction in life: just did what she felt was required at the time, she said. So we could only use her present for analysis, rather than her future.

Now when circumstances seem overwhelming making us anxious, focussing on the present is often very sensible. It can curb any tendency we have to catastrophize about the future. (yes, horrible verb: sorry). But if we limit ourselves to this, we can lose the sense of our lives having a big picture and governing themes and principles. We will feel highly reactive and acted upon, rather than proactive and effective.

Connecting and Controlling

If we think about why so many people blog, or use Facebook and Twitter it comes down to 2 drives: to show similarity and connection with others , and to announce our individuality, ‘this is what I do and what I make happen’. Primal stuff is dealt with here: our new connections may give us sex eventually, or reassurance about our greatest fears or approval of and interest in what we do. People who blog about serious illnesses often say they get a renewed sense of control through their writing , a help to offset trauma in their bodies.

Stock Taking

Online and offline it can be useful to take stock occasionally about these needs to connect and control by asking ourselves:

-who is it I care about most?
-what is it I care about most?
-am I engaging as much as I can with these people and causes?
-if not, what can I do about it?

Now the directionless and challenging client described above had made a decision about these questions: to put who she cared about as a much higher priority than what she cared about. Her family were much more important to her than her career goals. But her kids were soon to leave home… and a review could be timely…

Revolt then Resolve

Many psychologists champion positive psychology : the study of happiness, developing strengths rather than fixating on weaknesses, moving towards positive outcomes. Helpful yes, but sometimes we can overlook the usefulness of negative emotions.

Recently in an interview, writer David Nicholls talks of how motivating he finds anger and sadness. This is a fine knack he has: of taking these emotions, engaging with them and then using them to create works like One Day.

It may be uncomfortable but we can gather great benefit from asking: what incenses me? what’s unfair? what saddens me? and what niggles away at me like a discontented itch? And then, critically: how do I move this into something constructive? ( Doodling all this on paper can help, too).

This isn’t discussed much, how discontent motivates us, and I want to champion it as an approach. So for 2011 you may want to try getting in touch with your inner revolutionary first, rocking your boat with all the emotion and imaginings this involves – and then deciding in what direction you will resolve to steer it.

Next: Are Self-Help Books ever Interesting?


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Motivation & Inspiration