I love fresh starts. New years, new months, new opportunities. Newness gets my engine revved, gets me all sorts of energized. New intense workout program? Gimme. New idea? Let me read 10 books on it. New friend? LET ME OVERWHELM YOU WITH MY ENTHUSIASTIC INVITATIONS AND OVERSHARING.
While I’m not one to expect a lot out of any new year (too much out of my control), I do love the practice of setting goals. I think goals are wonderful. We tend not to grow if we don’t set some sort of objective. Even when we don’t always have a clear sense of what exactly we want to accomplish, we generally have a deep sense of hope in certain areas that drives us on, and that I think should be acknowledged and nurtured.
For me, that’s the best part about goals. They are full of hope. By setting a goal, I’m telling myself that life can be better, that I can achieve something new I find to be good and worthwhile. Setting goals also reinforces my belief in myself as an agent of good in my own life. It asserts hope in myself, along with hope for good things. Reinforcing our own agency, in the ways we are actually able to exert agency, is always a good, hopeful, freeing, empowering thing.
I looked back at 2019 to see what I still hope for, and what kind of good I could extend into my 2020. I want my new year goals to be recognitions and extensions of what I’ve accomplished and learned, not just acknowledgements of things still to attain, and want them to be focused on those that are meant to make my life and relationships better far beyond 2020. So with that incredibly long-winded setup, here are my 2020 goals.
I have the hardest time being honest. I am intensely aware of the effect my words have on others, and I generally try to speak in a manner that is encouraging, comforting, and motivating. That makes me likeable. It also makes some of my relationships unhealthy or lacking in depth.
I never really learned how to be honest. I never deeply learned that honesty is important in relationships with others, nor did I learn that it is an important part of loving, respecting, and honoring myself. So into 2020 I go with an extraordinary amount of courage (for me), trying to make my interactions and relationships as honest as possible. That will still involve a LOT of my same encouragement, comfort, and motivation, as well as a healthy serving of kindness and grace, because I genuinely find those to be the meat of what people need and what we do best in relationships, but it will also include the difficult discussions I’ve been avoiding, the opinions I’ve been afraid to share, the acknowledgment of hurts and fears, the strong words I may need to apologize for later. Being honest doesn’t mean that I’ll be right; sometimes it will mean having more of my wrongs put front and center. So I know that in being more honest, I’ll have to apologize more and have a lot more opinions to revise. Not too stoked about that, ha. But I’m hopeful the honesty and necessary complement of humility will help me pulverize this bitter rock of general resentment I’ve carried around for years. (And obvs, will still do therapy.)
Read to learn for the long-term.
For 2019 I said I wasn’t going to set a reading goal on Goodreads.com, and then lo and behold I did. Naughty puppy. This year I am determined to NOT SET A READING GOAL. Because of all I have learned this year about how we learn and how we best encode information in our brains for the improvement of our wisdom, I want to focus on really understanding and learning what it is I’m reading. To do that, I’m going to slow down my reading, not set any arbitrary (though admirable!) number targets, and make sure what I’m reading is sticking. I have some solid reads lined up for 2020, so I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes part of what I remember about 2020, rather than just a book I read that one year that said something about something I found important and exciting at the time but can’t for the life of me recall the content therein…
Speaking of solid reads…
Read and write about The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology.
Ok. TRUTH TIME. (Practicing my #1 goal of honesty HEY-O!) I have a very complicated relationship with Christianity. In fact, I wouldn’t even call myself a Christian anymore. At least, not at the moment. I sometimes believe God exists, and I know that I want God to exist (at least, a kind, loving, universally-saving God), but I have serious intellectual issues with some arguments of the truth of Christianity, and how Christianity is communicated and justified and used in the public space. So I am going to read (slowly and deeply!) through the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology. This is the best philosophical theology has to offer, a culmination of centuries of learning and refined thought. I am going to consider every article seriously, with an open mind, and analyze the arguments from a purely philosophical standpoint (accepting the assumptions of theology as needed, but not when ridiculous or over-reaching) to see if it resonates or makes sense to me. If what I write about it is worth reading, I’ll post it somewhere here. We’ll see how it goes.
This goal requires another, complementary goal…
Practice non-judgmental mindfulness.
We are value-driven creatures, we humans. It’s not enough just to notice something; we like to put everything in an ethical bucket. The sunset is not just beautiful, it’s good. The way this person talked to me is not just abrupt, it’s bad (mean, harsh, presumptuous, whatever your negatively-valenced-adjective-of-choice). I do this all. the. time. And I really think it has a negative effect on my cognitive and analytical abilities, because labeling something as “good” makes me more likely to consider it more deeply, and labeling something as “bad” makes me more likely to dismiss it (perhaps peremptorily). I just don’t think I think as well when I let values color everything I perceive so quickly upon perception.
So I would like to be better about just noticing things. Perceiving things in factual form. If someone is behaving badly, I can simply note in my mind that they are speaking loudly and aggressively, and that it seems to be hurting the person to whom they’re speaking. When I am hurt or annoyed by something, I will notice that feeling as a fact about me — not an indication of truth, not an indication of my rightness in any way, not a justification for a judgment about the source of my hurt or annoyance, just a fact that I am responding to the situation in that particular way. Once I have noticed as much as I can, as clearly and objectively as I can, will I try to evaluate in a way that can lead to an overall value judgment.
This is in no way groundbreaking or new, obviously. I learned about this practice from many people much smarter and more clear-eyed than me. I’m just realizing how badly I need it and how well it applies to what I want for my life and relationships in 2020.
I have some fitness- and music-related goals (get to my goal weight, run up Tantalus, figure out what’s been effing up my lower back and hampering my weight lifting; relearn the 3rd movement to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, learn something by Liszt, memorize a piece on the ukulele), but those are not goals that will color my year and relationships in any significant way. If I don’t hit them, whatever. The goals I listed above are my significant ones. Achieving them will make not just my 2020 better, but my (hopefully many) future years better. I’m pretty happy with the goals I’ve set, and also a little scared by them?!?!, which makes me think I probably chose wisely.