As January approaches, and we bid another year adieu, our thoughts turn to making resolutions: this year I will lose that extra weight, drink less alcohol, give up sugar, get out of debt. All worthy goals, but why do we perennially return to resolutions that seem based on the idea of fixing all the things we’re doing “wrong?”
You can’t know what resolution you need until you know what your objective is. In photography, the resolution of the image is entirely dependent on the output you want. If you’re looking at an image on your computer monitor, 72 dpi (dots per inch) is fine, but if you want to print that image, you’ll need a much higher resolution, say 240 dpi. If you then want to make that image into a billboard, you actually need a relatively lower dpi, because the further away you are from it, the more your eyes will blend the colors for you (think of a Georges Seurat painting).
And that is why I believe we’ve got it backwards when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of starting January trying to “fix” all the wrongs, let’s take some time to figure out what our objectives really are.
While resolutions are about “shoulds,” dreaming is about hope — and who we may become. Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being. And we all know by now that a disruptive path leads to a greater measure of success.
According to psychologist Timothy Pychyl (in his article “Teenagers, Identity Crises and Procrastination“) “until we have a vision of who we are and who we want to become, we can’t accomplish much.” Pychyl explains the interconnectedness between identity and agency as follows: “Identity is that knowledge of who we are. Agency is the belief that we are in control of our decisions and responsible for our outcomes. It means we make a difference; we make things happen, we act on the world. Thus, being an active agent depends on identity, or knowing who we are.”
In other words, the more you know who you are, the less likely you are to procrastinate. And the more we dream ourselves into becoming who we want to be, the closer we’ll come to accomplishing our resolutions.
If you’ve already made a few resolutions, these might provide some clues as to what your deeper dreams are. Especially if those resolutions were made while gazing fixedly into your personal Mirror of Erised — a mirror that, as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling describes, “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” When Professor Dumbledore discovers Harry entranced, he explains why the mirror is so beguiling (and dangerous): “You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible….”
I suspect that most of us have a desperate desire of our heart, something we may even deserve that we don’t or can’t have. When you take a moment to look at the “why” of a resolution, you may find the fierce desire that fuels it. Harry Potter, for example, can’t have his parents, but he can be beloved. Inside of the something you can’t have, there is often the makings of something you can achieve.
And what better time to be plumbing our deepest desires for dreams and planting the seeds of our personal disruption than the shortest days of the year. For “the shadow is the seat of creativity,” wrote Carl Jung. After a few weeks, possibly even a month of inner reflection, the resolutions required to make your dream a reality will become evident. And rather than procrastinating, or worse, chucking your resolve after a few days or weeks, this year you may actually see your resolutions through. You may even discover that some of your pesky wrongs have inadvertently been righted.
So resolutionize away. But begin in February. During January, dream.
This post originally published at Harvard Business Review