Resolving to be imperfect

The Buddha is often quoted as saying that we suffer because we desire, which is a bit of a pain when you consider how much desiring of things we all do. The desire to change oneself is one that receives close attention at this time of year because of the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. An interesting conversation piece though they are, most people seem to give up on their resolution(s) some time in January and those who manage to stick with them are regarded with a mixture of admiration and suspicion.

So why do we fail in our good intentions? First, resolutions tend to be hopelessly ambitious. Someone who’s been smoking 40 Marlboro Reds every day for the last decade is going to find it difficult to kick the habit. Everybody knows somebody whose auntie managed it once but there are many more people for whom immediate cessation of a habit just isn’t on the cards- short of locking themselves in a safe for a few days anyway.

The second reason is that New Year’s resolutions are almost always an attempt to get rid of a bad habit that is itself caused by a greater and more significant problem. By swearing off your chosen stress-relieving device without addressing the root causes of the problem you are just robbing yourself of comfort. It’s much wiser to put the horse back before the cart and resolve to deal with whatever it is that causes you to feel anxious in the first place. It’s certainly a much more invigorating way to start the year than bullying yourself into never eating Maltesers.

The third reason is that the very presence of the resolution in your mind focuses your attention on whatever it is that your resolution is about. This is fine when the resolution is something positive, like being be more polite or generous, because every time you remember the resolution, you are prompted to actually do the thing. This doesn’t work when the resolution is to avoid something like Battenburg Cake or cigarettes, because you’d be better off forgetting they exist.

The fourth and final reason is the most fundamental of all, and seems to be at the root of a lot of our trouble with sticking to resolutions. It is simply the desire to change oneself, when most people are perfectly fine as they are. In fact, the most negative quality in most people is that they treat themselves badly and are unhappy as a result. This is far more troubling than whether or not the person is a bit exuberant or eats too many hamburgers. In general, people actually love other people’s flaws because they make them feel better about themselves, and that is a much more precious gift to give someone than whatever fleeting perfection you might be able to offer them.

The arguments in favour of resolving to be kinder to yourself, as opposed to bullying yourself into not doing something you enjoy, are pretty difficult to refute. You’re likely to be a bit more relaxed, which means that you’re less likely to do self-destructive things. By doing fewer self-destructive things you’ll look and feel better, and then you’ll be able to operate at a much higher level. You will benefit, people around you will benefit and you’ll be better at helping people. So it’s win-win! This New Year, resolve to be imperfect – you may just find yourself doing a whole lot better.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everybody at The Cadence Team!

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