Navigating Desire: The Smart Way to Set Resolutions
If the purpose of life is the journey not the destination, then navigation should be our healthy obsession; not to ‘get there’ faster but to skillfully and comfortably own our current and ever-changing position.
When you make a resolution, you are setting a goal. A goal is a target and a target a destination. The process you take to achieve the resolution? The journey no less. Where I believe we often get it wrong in setting resolutions is that we focus too much on the outcome (aka, the destination).
At the heart of any resolution you make
is the desire for a feeling.
Maybe you want to lose weight to feel more attractive. Maybe you want to better manage your finances to feel more secure about your future. Maybe you want to eat healthier to feel more energetic. Maybe you want to volunteer or give back to feel more connected and loving.
What fuels you towards or away from the feeling is the way you interpret and express your emotions. It was in reading Brendon Burchard’s book, High Performance Habits, that I discovered the distinction between feelings and emotions. As he describes it, emotions come up in an instant as a reaction. They are instinctual in nature. A feeling, however, is the "mental portrayal of emotion". It’s not fleeting; it lingers. We can stay in a feeling. We can also consciously decide what feelings we attach to specific emotions.
In other words, emotions arise like fuel. If we assume our position in the driver’s seat, we can use them to steer ourselves towards a desired feeling.
Take, for example, the experience of getting ready for an important meeting or first date. The emotion of angst might consume you and you can choose to drive that angst towards excitement or nervousness.
In the same grain, psychologist Emma Kenny explains on her Instagram series, One Minute to Change Your Life, that our emotions serve as prompts. What is a prompt exactly? Essentially, it’s a navigational tool to direct us in a course of action. In her words, “When you are feeling sad you are being taught to seek out happiness. When you are feeling lonely you are being taught to seek out connection. When you are feeling afraid you are being taught to seek courage”
Emotions don’t arise to break you;
they arise to navigate you forward.
Another interesting way to understand emotions comes from Dr. Gabor Mate. As he explains in this lecture, our emotions work in the same manner as our immune system. Their role is to “let in what’s healthy and nourishing and to keep out what’s dangerous and unwelcome.” His - utterly fascinating - work links the unhealthy expression of emotions, such as repressed anger, to a number of chronic illnesses including ALS and cancer.
What his research makes very clear is that if you don’t follow the navigational prompts that emotions provide, your mental and physical health pay the price. The quality of your life plummets because your navigation is way off-target.
While plants don’t have emotions and feelings per se, they do respond to stimuli and communicate their needs. You’ve probably described a house plant before as “looking sad” because it got too much or too little water. In gardening, if you put all your focus on the fruit or vegetable you get at the end of the season, without putting much effort into establishing a healthy seedling in the beginning, your ultimate yield would suffer. It’s well understood that to grow food, we have to give plants the conditions they need; the right amount of nutrients, water, heat and light. When you see signs of plant stress, a logical reaction is to figure out which of these needs are not being met.
Like a droopy plant losing leaves, our emotions arise to communicate our needs. Welcome them. Listen to them. Respond to them.
If you choose to set resolutions this year, beyond honing in on a particular goal, think about the feeling you want to generate from that outcome. Do you want to feel happier? More at peace? More courageous? Then, as emotions arise throughout the month of January, think about them as the fuel needed to drive you to that feeling.
Let’s say anger and frustration come up. You could lay on the horn, slam your foot on the gas, lay a strip in a parking lot and recklessly donut your way towards mania? Or, perhaps you could calmly put on your racing gloves, swiftly shift into high gear, and blast off into a glorious sunset of indifference with a bumper that reads "EAT MY DUST".
Just remember, you’re driving. If you over-indulge on emotion, best sleep it off. Strive for emotional fuel efficiency and wherever you decide to go this new year, be it happy or not, safe journey my friend.
Did any of this ring true to you? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. Or, share it with someone who'd appreciate the softer, smarter side to setting resolutions.