Forget About Resolutions and Remember to Focus

Forget About Resolutions and Remember to Focus


I’m already tired of hearing about New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like me, you find that for those who spend their social media time listing goals in earnest, there’s a smidgen of luxury to their actions. After all, most of these goal-making champions are not chronically ill. They don’t have to think daily (or hourly) about things like discomfort, diet, or physical movement, at the expense of other pursuits.

Yet, how many among them stick with their goals? The odds are slim, even for the healthiest and least challenged among us.

On New Year’s resolutions, vision boards, and creativity mobiles

This creativity mobile still hangs in my office and was one of my more useful "vision projects" prior to diagnosis
This creativity mobile riffed off single words to keep me focused on my priorities.

I stopped making resolutions years before diagnosis. I was working as a creativity coach, mentoring artists and writers who struggled to find balance so they could be the whole people they wanted to be.

Wanting to be a whole person, it turns out, is a problem for everybody, not just the chronically ill.

I attempted a vision board once. Though the experience was pleasant, it was busywork that didn’t provide the clarity I needed. It also was done in a social space where it can be difficult to be scrupulously honest with oneself.

I made a creativity mobile another year. It still hangs in my office. It was less about resolve, more a project designed to bolster areas of focus in my writing life for the coming year. It’s still useful, most likely because it forced me to think in concise ways about focus.

It occurs to me that applying these concepts to life with MS reveals there are better things to focus on besides the MonSter.

We can focus on:

  • demanding the best healthcare for our needs
  • being more health literate
  • better connectedness with our communities
  • improving our self-care
  • making smarter lifestyle choices
  • solutions versus problems

But still … a mobile is a project. Just like making New Year’s resolutions is a project.

Who needs more projects?

I am constantly offloading extra work I don’t need. The need to shed busywork and task mastery has slowly taken over what used to be an impulse to do and be everything all the time. One of the hidden blessings of an MS diagnosis (for me) was being gifted the carte blanche ability to say “no.”

These days, I (try to) graciously say, “Thanks, but I already have enough projects,” when asked to get involved in something new. It works; people relate to “too many projects” more than they do to living with MS. Feel feel to borrow it if it helps you to say “no.”

Especially to New Year’s resolutions.

Resolutions don’t work

Psychology Today discusses the problem of failed resolutions in an article from 2014 that seems as relevant as ever. PT blogger Timothy Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University, says in the article, “Resolutions are a form of ‘cultural procrastination,’ an effort to reinvent oneself.”

His analysis of resolutions made among (and failed by) healthy people spawns the question: If resolutions aren’t working for them, how will they ever work for people with chronic illness?

About procrastination

People with MS learn very quickly what happens when we procrastinate with our health.

  • We don’t get the care we need, so we feel even worse, potentially relapse, and suffer more irreparable damage
  • Problem-solving is exponentially harder when we’re sick; even when in remission, it takes all of our energy
  • Pain, physical dysfunction and cognitive decline move us further from “normal” life
  • Depression can arise, and when mood plummets, so does our vigilance for self-care

Living with MS requires dogged proactivity. Steve Errey’s Lifehack.org piece on the fallibility of resolutions hits all the right notes:

“What kind of person waits all year to make a choice about something anyway? Why wait for one particular day to make a decision, when there are 364 other equally great decision-making days available to you?”

People with MS don’t need more projects …

One solid takeaway from my adventure in mobile-making: One word can yield life-changing inspiration. Choosing one word can make you feel a bit like Frodo Baggins: “One word to rule them all.”

All, of course, meaning: work life, motherhood, creative projects, marriage, community, political activism, spirituality, self-improvement.

… what we need is focus

It turned out that the simplicity of picking a Word of the Year for my writing life, just a few years ago, has been a stroke of genius as a person living with MS.

My keywords since have been inspiring and motivational. Disruption. Truth-telling. Retreat. Persistence.

They’ve reshaped how I’ve viewed where I’ve been, where I was in those present moments, and where I’ve wanted (or didn’t want) to be in the future.

Examples:

  • Truth-telling + Community inspired me to be more bold in my work as a journalist and media/health literacy advocate
  • Retreat + Self-Care led to some ongoing and restorative practices in yoga, meditation, and breathing
  • Persistence + Motherhood empowered me to be the guide my daughters needed (but didn’t necessarily want) in spite of my MS

What’s more, focusing on a single word can be applicable to every part of your life. How un-project-y is that?

Reinvention, in a word

It is a natural human thing to want to improve oneself. The idea of reinvention is not lost on MSers. Isn’t this what happens to us — out of necessity — in that period following diagnosis?

First, we go through the stages of grief (diagnosis itself is a kind of loss), then we rethink who we are and what we can do with the time we’ve been given.

We don’t wait for January 1.

Wherever you’re at in your MS odyssey, think about a single word as the focal point of your reinvention in 2017. A word that fits every facet of your life, that empowers you, gives you direction.

What’s your Word of the Year?

My word this year is the same one I used last year: Resilience.

For me, last year was a good year. Being resilient became a kind of superpower I could invoke when things got dark politically and culturally. This year, I’ll massage it for more ways to bounce back. It’s an elastic, pleasant, evocative concept, and I don’t think it cares much if I take it for another ride around the sun.

There are other great words to consider. Patience, Harmony, Clarity, Activism, Dreamwork, Release, Adapt. Just getting started? Reinvention serves as an apt default.

Give it a try. Share your Word of the Year here, and keep me posted on how it alters perspective in 2017, which, like every other year before it, is rich with possibility.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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