By now – two weeks and counting into the new year, we’re already finding ourselves at the, Can I really follow through on what I resolved? part of the program. The turning of a year can’t help but bring up possibilities for revision, for improvement. Those ideas often morph into resolutions. Listed or not, shared with someone else or kept to yourself, they’re on your mind. At first, they were secretly optimistic. For a few days, they even made you relax a little, quietly refreshed with an extra measure of trust in yourself, in life.
Most resolutions involve action. Some of those actions, like running or going to the gym every day, are obvious and measurable – they fit in the category of instrumental action – of overt doing. By contrast, thoughtful internal processing is an example of reflective action. It can look like doing nothing. But it’s actually key to living well with the unfolding of a resolution.
Face it. Lots of us modify, compromise, even drop our resolutions. Maybe you’re in one of those rare Januaries when you really hit on the right change and actually keep a resolution going. But, more likely, you’re doing what we do. You’re watching yourself. You’re self-correcting. Maybe you slip and jump into a round of heavy-handed self-judgement. That, all by itself can throw you off your path.
At the same time, though, self-critique can be helpful. Self-talk that supports innovation and generativity can even feel good. It can amp up your confidence. It’s no surprise that your ability to think things through is directly linked with your effectiveness. Reflective action, at its best, contributes loads to the health of your internal ecology – the way your thoughts and feelings interact with the landscape of your worldview.
Now, there’s a potentially powerful perspective to take on resolutions. Resolve to keep your internal ecology healthy and thriving. Over and over we hear from self-care advocates that it matters what you say to yourself about yourself. This is so. And by extension, what you say to yourself about yourself has implications for how you are with the world around you. How helpful or hurtful your actions are. At its most creative, reflective action creates the ground from which you discern when, what and whether instrumental action – doing something – is necessary at all.
Because it can’t be observed from the outside, it’s easy to miss self-reflection as legitimate action. Check your thinking here. When you consider the word action, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Motion, observable effects? Do you conjure a link between intent, action and outcome? If you do, you’re like most people in Western culture. To act has come to mean to do something that can be seen.
The fact is, we humans also act – a lot – in ways that aren’t physically visible or ever communicated in language. Pondering is action. Waiting, listening, watching – all actions. Legitimate actions, even when they involve thoughtfully holding still. Much as the sixth century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, wrote, “[t]he sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action.”
Writer Annie Dillard reminds us that, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We know from the way nature spends its days that life creates more life. Listening to and living out of nature’s instructions, we too, participate in this creation. No matter our resolutions for 2020, the fact is it’s the most natural thing in the world to live in ways that fulfill our potentials – ways that realize what we aspire to as our highest purpose.
Say things aren’t going perfectly with the resolutions you set out to live out this year. Don’t give up hope. You can get there. Truth is, you’re as equipped to live out of our natural potentials as well as our wolf, bison and or grizzly bear cousins in the spaciousness of the wilderness. With or without resolutions, it’s never too late to reclaim your fullest, truest human nature.
Remembering and reclaiming the presence, guidance and enduring kinship of the natural world we can move, right now, beyond the centuries during which we haven’t been much interested in nature and it’s wellbeing. Be resolved to see and live from your interconnection instead of your separation. And take the time to go outside, to see again and again that, even with our history being what it is, even with the damage we’ve caused the planet, nature has never abandoned us.
We resolve then, to start from here.