New year, new start?

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…

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7 Comments on “New year, new start?”

  1. ian lowther says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself I agree. All the best for 2012.
    We can set ourselves too many targets sometimes need to enjoy the moment.

  2. Jan says:

    Nice post. Funnily enough, I have been thinking about the various resolutions to make. Tongue in cheek one is to lose weight – for the umpteenth year. The one I finally came up with was to waste less time – time wasted thinking about what I should be doing, when I should do it, and then feeling guilty because I couldn’t decide what to do from the long list of jobs waiting. My hope is to do anything – even if it is just wiping round the kitchen, or washing up instead of leaving the pots over night. Even little things like that can be such an achievement. But I know where you are coming from with not enjoying the moment – I can spend the whole morning not doing anything because I have to go out at noon. I want to USE that time this year, not waste it. I guess the trick is to find the balance between achieving that, but not setting yourself a target to do so. Thank you for making me think. Chin up!

  3. Hi Paul,

    I’m A therapist in Leeds supporting people with a range of issues including depression. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experience, I sometimes point people in the direction of your blog so they can see how depression is for another person. They always give positive feedback.

    Kind regards

    Lucie

  4. Ruth Evans says:

    I decided on no resolutions and am going to try two new things….interesting… the not setting goals and then they come along anyway. Exciting.


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