New year, new start?Posted: January 1, 2012
It’s the time for new year’s resolutions, isn’t it? So this year I am setting myself a target. It’s a tough target – one of the toughest I have ever set myself. And that target is…
… not to have any targets.
So does that mean I won’t bother to do anything? Have I just given up? Don’t I want to achieve anything? No, no and yes. I have learned, in a slow, drawn out and not particularly pleasant way, that setting myself targets when there is no need to is one of my greatest problems. It’s one of the things that makes me most anxious, most unfulfilled and most unhappy.
I’m not talking about necessary deadlines. I’ve worked to deadlines all my career, and if I decided to ignore them now, it would undo years of good work and make me a rather useless colleague and employee. The kind of targets and deadlines I’m giving up this year are the pointless ones I impose on myself. Things like:
- I’ll be rich and famous by the time I’m 30. Oh, that didn’t happen. I’m a failure.
- If I can get off my antidepressants by the end of the summer I can reward myself with a cold beer. I didn’t manage that. Will I EVER get off these tablets?
- I want to lose x pounds in weight before my holiday. I didn’t, so I am fat.
You can see from these examples why self-imposed targets can be destructive and demoralising. Each one sets an expectation that something will be achieved. Each one sets a deadline for something that doesn’t need one. None of these allows for other events – things like changes of direction in your life, experiencing stress and depression, having no energy and needing to rest, and so on.
They are also big, ambitious targets. I am an ambitious, determined person, but also one who has been low on confidence and energy. The two can be a very frustrating – and depressing – combination. If you remain determined to achieve something big and ambitious, but ignore the signs your body gives you to ease off, you’re probably going to make it even more difficult to achieve what you want. Take the second of the examples above. I am on antidepressants. I decide I want to come off them. I then set myself a deadline for when I want to finish taking them. This target drives me to reduce my dose sooner than perhaps I ought to. My moods quickly get blacker, and back I go, up to the regular dose within days. The challenge suddenly seems harder to rise to; the obstacles even more insurmountable.
On a smaller scale, I’m also a clock watcher, always thinking ahead to what needs doing when. The impact of this is that it’s hard to enjoy anything, because I can’t relax and experience the moment I am in at any given time. I could be pushing one of my children on a swing while thinking about how long we’ve got before we need to stop for lunch, and where the nearest toilets are, because we’ll need to go to the toilet before we eat, and what time the cafe closes, and what time we will need to set off home… and so on.
That’s why my new year’s resolution means freedom. It means liberating myself from the shackles of self-imposed demands, time limits and restrictions. It means being more spontaneous and trying to enjoy what I’m doing. It means turning round to my shadowy alter-ego, Paul Brookes, laughing in his face, and saying “The only time that’s limited around here is yours, loser”.
There have been glimpses of the old me these last few weeks. I want to be that me all the time. Something Brookes-shaped is still holding me back, particularly in the mornings. The war has not yet been won, but some battles have – and recognising that fact is, for me, a significant victory in itself.
This is a year, then, not for wild optimism or head-in-the-clouds positive thinking, but for being realistic. I don’t know what lies ahead in 2012. There will be good things and bad things. Some of these are things I will make happen myself; others will happen regardless. When I need to meet a deadline, I will meet it. But I will not be setting any for myself. I wouldn’t want to give Brookes that pleasure…