Resolution and Resolve

So it’s New Year’s, that arbitrary yet persistently meaningful occasion when, after a few months of holiday excess, we take it upon ourselves to reflect on the year gone by, and to commit ourselves to improvement or at very least change in the year to come.

My list of particular resolutions is much the same as everyone else’s. Suffice to say it involves being healthier and more focused on what gives my life meaning, and setting aside habits that keep me from doing that as well as I could. I am resolved, in short, to be a better, more useful, more productive person than I have been.

In thinking on my New Year’s resolutions I got to thinking of the dual meaning of the word ‘resolution’ itself. This time of year, it means mostly a formalizing of resolve, a determination that things will change, become a certain way. But it also means fidelity in the rendering of a signal (think a high-resolution video screen), in which the higher the resolution, the clearer the picture that’s rendered. I think it’s useful to keep both definitions in mind when contemplating a mindful personal evolution.

Mindful personal evolution means changing who you are as a person in some meaningful way, which can be really, really hard to do. There’s great comfort in familiarity, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to fall into old habits rather than risk the uncertainty of doing something different. Without a clear vision of not only who you want to become but also why you aren’t already that person, the will to change alone will only get you so far. I’ll give you a personal example:

I struggled with weight issues throughout most of my childhood and young adulthood. I was obsessed with my appearance and constantly disappointed, and I constantly resolved to lose weight, which I consistently failed to do. That failure compounded the depressive tendencies and poor diet choices that led to the situation in the first place, and I was caught in a vicious circle for many unhappy years. Because my will was directed towards the wrong kind of goal (I wanted to be the same person I already was, only skinnier and more attractive), despite some temporary successes here and there I got nowhere, because I was trying to do the wrong thing. To lose weight and keep it off means to become a person who eats less and exercises more, because you want to. Become that person and the weight loss comes naturally. Direct your resolve to becoming that person and you have a much better chance at reaching your goal or at least making progress. It wasn’t until I stopped obsessing over my weight and started being someone who ate mostly healthy, natural food and who exercised vigorously and regularly that people started telling me how skinny I looked these days. And while I’ll never be actually skinny it doesn’t turn out to matter nearly so much as I thought it did. Because what I really wanted all along was for people to find me attractive, and like me. Dropping the obsession with my appearance and cultivating a healthier relationship with my body did a lot more for that than whatever incidental weight loss accompanied changing my attitude and behaviors.

Of course I didn’t know any of that back then. I was resistant to change and new things, and my picture of the world had very little resolution in terms of fidelity to actuality. Things are much clearer now that I’m comfortably ensconced in my forties. And while I’m not yet the best version of self I can muster, I’m closer than I used to be, and I have a lot better idea what that best version looks like and does. So as I resolve to change for the better in the coming year, to more closely approximate that best version of myself, I resolve first and foremost to see things more clearly, in higher resolution, so when I apply my resolve my efforts will more likely be successful.

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