The Existential Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

Calendar showing first of the year stating fresh startWe are again at that time of the year when people are taking stock of their lives, examining their progress or lack thereof, and contemplating the path they would like to take in the coming year. You undoubtedly have heard many different ways to set goals in previous years, but this year I would like to invite you to set your course from an existential perspective. The existential perspective can be seen as an invitation to live and not just a list of things to change. As such, this list will call you to a deeper examination of a more meaningful life, help you to begin to view the upcoming year through an existential lens, and, hopefully, empower you to reclaim and truly own your life.

1. Begin with the end in mind: Although Steven Covey made this statement famous with his goal-setting guidance, the end we’re discussing here is not the end of 2013 but rather the end of your life. Death is not something our culture likes to talk about, but it’s important for living a full life. Imagine how you would live your life if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness or if you were 85 years old. Chances are you would spend more time on the things that really matter, like cultivating relationships, playing more, and worrying less.

2. Practice presence: Practicing presence is mindful engagement with the present moment. A person who is present is one who is aware of his or her own experience and, often, the experiences of others. The present person is one who pays careful attention to what is happening in the now, wherever he or she might be, without allowing outside distractions to invade. Practicing presence will deepen your relationship with your colleagues, family, loved ones, and yourself.

3. Positive thinking? Forget about it: Positive thinking, while having some merit, is one of the ways in which people tend to deny their experience. Positive thinking encourages people to focus on the good things in life while forsaking the darker aspects that life also holds. While I don’t believe that wallowing in sorrow or focusing only on the negative aspects of life is healthy, neither is denying their existence. In fact, denying the experience of negative feelings or experiences can be even more harmful later, when the unresolved emotions arise. This year, work on allowing yourself to have your experience without getting stuck in it. Whatever you’re feeling, let it be and then let it go.

4. Choose freedom (and responsibility): Viktor Frankl said “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast” because he understood that with freedom comes responsibility. In fact, the two are intricately intertwined. If you really want to be free, you have to take total responsibility for your life. Once you do, you will never again be a victim to people, forces out of your control, or circumstances because no matter what happens, you will always be free to choose how you respond to it.

5. Make the journey the goal: When you focus solely on the outcome or the endgame, you lose the value of the journey—and the journey is the richest part. Although there is value in setting measurable goals, don’t get so consumed with the ending that you miss out on what really matters. If losing weight is your goal, keep the big picture in mind but celebrate the smaller goals along the way. Instead of counting success in pounds lost, consider the success in feeling healthy. Wherever you are in the journey is exactly where you ought to be; enjoy where you are while on the way to where you’re going.

As you ring in the New Year, set your goals and resolutions using these tips. I trust you will find a more poignant, powerful, and meaningful life emerging.  Here’s to a vivified existence with renewed courage and will. I wish you health, wellness, love, and hope in 2013.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa M. Vallejos, MA, LPC, NCC, Existential Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • susie

    January 3rd, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    the “practice presence” tip really caught my many times I’m going about doing things but not really being present in that moment.this has happened for as long as I can remember but I never saw it as a problem,until it normal for this to happen for such a long time?

    also,while I shall try to focus on the present at all times,how do I ensure I can stay that way and not lose focus,thus slipping back?any advice on that?

    Also,a very happy and healthy new year to one and all!

  • Danielle

    January 4th, 2013 at 4:10 AM

    You are right- I never like to think about death and the end of my life.
    I always think about it in the abstract and certainly for many years down the road.
    But what if I found out today that I only had a few weeks to live. How would I live differently?
    I think that I would live to make the most of every moment that I had left.
    And since we are not promised anything more than what we currently have, perhaps it would not be a bad idea to start living that way, even though I rationally know that I am healthy and probably have many years left.
    I think that naking the most of this moment is probably going to make me much happier and satisfied than living for the abstract future ever could.

  • Traci Ruble

    January 5th, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    I feel grateful to you for writing this. Christmas was hard this year and I would not Change it. darker feelings if resisted cause me so much more suffering. the positivity movement can set us all up to reject those in pain including ourselves.

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