Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Day Resolutions

Bill Vaughn, the late Kansas City Star columnist and author, once observed about New Year's Eve that "an optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year; a pessimist stays up to make sure the old one leaves." I suspect that most of us combine both of those outlooks, eager to put any unpleasant memories behind us and hopeful that the coming year will provide many happy ones.

I also have mixed feelings about the annual ritual of making resolutions. Sometimes those vows to ourselves can be motivating, but sometimes they set us up for feelings of failure. Part of the problem is the intense focus on making dramatic changes starting on one particular day, January 1st, as if no other day were suitable for such tasks and as if small changes were not important. Fall off the resolution wagon, as so many of us do, and the whole year is shot. Of course, that's not true, but we often feel that way.

So, this year I've decided to abandon New Year's resolutions in favor of the approach that British sculptor Henry Moore advocated: "I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year's." I much prefer this option to reinvent myself on a smaller scale every day rather than in some major form once a year. Thinking in terms of daily reinventions will allow me to avoid the usual large, annual goal-oriented resolutions -- even such worthy ones as last year's plan to lose mffwhty pounds (unsuccessful) or the 365 Item Toss Unclutterer Challenge (successful!).

But resolutions, no matter what their scale or how often they're promised, require some sort of structure, so I've come up with one. Rather than making a list of specific things to do (or avoid doing), I'm going to use a few questions to help me make daily choices. I offer them for you to consider using, too:

1. Is what I'm doing either necessary or enjoyable?

2. Could I approach it in a way that would render it either unnecessary or more enjoyable?

3. Is engaging in this activity the best expression of my authentic self?

The last question is especially significant. Are you being the best version of who you truly are, not who you're "supposed" to be, not who other people perceive you to be, not who you used to be some time in the past? Of course, this requires defining who you are now. That can be a fairly daunting, but worthwhile, task that will take some time (probably more than you might think).

And how does all this apply to "thoughtful consumers?" First of all, in what ways does that phrase describe you? Does it mean avoiding certain products or manufacturers because they don't appeal to your own authentic sense of what's "right?" Does it mean using public transportation or a bicycle? Does it mean living in a commune? (Shades of the sixties!) Or does it mean simply avoiding buying things that you and your family don't really need so that you don't live surrounded by clutter? However you define it, that's a reflection of your authentic self and your daily choices can be guided by that knowledge.

Guided, not propelled down some inflexible path to some unimpeachable truth. Many consumer choices are complex and confusing; some options are unaffordable or impractical. Also, situations and levels of awareness change over time and the choices you make today may not be the choices you make tomorrow. The key word in the label, "thoughtful consumer," is "thoughtful."

There's one other thing I'm going to remind myself about every day (if only I remember!) that I hope you'll remember, too: it's not necessary to be perfect; it's only necessary to do the best you can do.

If you're reading this on December 31st, you don't have to wait until tomorrow to start becoming the best version of your authentic self. Happy New Year, but happy new day, too.

(c) 2009 Cynthia Friedlob

Image Credit : (c) 2009 Billy Alexander stock.xchng

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