Your Next Life Now

Step One

An amazing truth was revealed when the University of Scranton released the results of their December 2015 study on goal-setting and the exciting world of #NewYearsResolutions. Among other things, it polled the population as to what they were hoping to accomplish as we all entered 2016 together. And to no one’s surprise, the list looked pretty much the same as every other year.

So here are the resulting top ten resolutions for January 2016, displayed rather strikingly at the top of the next page. Go ahead and take a moment to check them out.

Now an indisputable fact: If you act surprised by anything on this vanilla-bland-and-oft-repeated list of half-hearted ambitions, you’re a liar.

Now to be fair, these really are some pretty great elements to incorporate into one’s life. Who doesn’t want to be fit, healthy, happy, organized, and overflowing with money and family time? Sure, sign me up!

But in order for any of us to move forward toward really and truly accomplishing any one of these, we each have to first ask ourselves a very important question.

Is it mine?

In order to take any one of these just-resolutions and turn it into a Real Resolution, you have to ask of it this question. Is it yours?

Let’s say you’re one of the 150 gazillion people on earth who’ve decided to quit smoking. Great! Way to go! But hold on—first back up a second and ask yourself if this is really a goal of yours or if it’s a goal that someone else has placed for you. Is it something you actually, personally want or just something society tells you you’re supposed to want?

True, it is possible to make change happen even if you’re personally indifferent toward it. It’s possible to change jobs not because you want to but because of financial pressures facing your family—or because you were laid off by a boss who forgot to receive your consent first. There are some kinds of change that happen all on their own because other individuals are the drivers of that change. But in order for a resolution to really be yours, for it to be something that you actually take upon yourself to make happen, the first big key here is personal ownership.

And the first thing you need to do in order to willfully make change in your own life is to Confirm Ownership.

So yes, if we haven’t yet made it obvious enough, this is THE FIRST ACTION STEP. Confirm OwnershipMake sure the goal is yours.

Notice it doesn’t say take ownership or embrace ownership or own ownership. It says confirm ownership. Basically we’re asking you to ask that basic question above. Do you want this?

No. Do YOU want this???

Not could you learn to want it, but do you already want it? For real?

Now, this isn’t to say that you should only work on things you personally want. But it is to say that your energy may be better spent on initiatives you’re not indifferent toward. Here we’re talking about living the life you want. About making your dreams for your life come true.

Now this can be a difficult subject for some of us to talk about. Some of us have been programed to think it’s somewhere between slightly unsavory and completely unethical to prioritize your own life and dreams. For the humanists in the room, it’s easy for us to carry a bit of a savior’s complex, thinking we need to constantly sacrifice ourselves for the good of all humanity.

This is all part of a much larger discussion, but for our purposes here we want to highlight the need to recognize the importance of being honest about the true nature of your goals and ambitions. It will do you no good pretending your goals are more humanist than they are. Neither does it serve humanity well to pretend ethics require we all die on an alter every day. Though there can certainly be room for a difference of opinion on what makes for good humanism, my hope is that these principles will help each of us become a better and more humanist version of ourselves.

And that begins with being real and honest about what you’re really looking to get out of life, for yourself, for your community, and for the entirety of the world around you. So I’ll say it again: Here we’re talking about living the life you want. About makingyour dreams for your life come true.

And the first step to doing this is to making sure we’re dealing with the right set of dreams.

So THE FIRST ACTION STEP is to take the volitional action of distinguishing between what you want for your life and what others want for you. And to then make an intentional decision to embrace one over the other.

You have no obligation to live out another person’s ambitions for your life. And you’ll do a better job achieving the goals that align with your own personal ambitions.

But what about when our goals and dreams are conflicted?

Sometimes we see a certain something in the lives of others that we wish we cared more about. It could be an ethical or moral issue but not necessarily. Sometimes we realize we’d be better off and maybe even the lives of others would be better off if we cared more about a particular issue or built a particular habit, but we honestly just don’t care the way we wish we did. We’ve looked within and all we feel is indifference. Or even drudgery. We look around and believe we could be making better, healthier choices, yet we also realize we just don’t care enough to make it happen. We want to want it. But honestly, we just don’t.

Say, with family time. I’ve known more than one young parent who loves their children dearly and genuinely wants to spend more time with them—even feeling guilty for spending so little. And yet they find the home so stressful (and loud and chaotic and filled with endless needs) that they look for opportunities to get out of the house to find some peace and quiet, and not just to go out for drinks with friends but even leaving for work hours early just to sit at the worksite or office doing nothing while another parent or caregiver is home wrestling to with the young ones. Any of us who are parents know that even fun-filled family outings rarely go as planned. When you have young children, even vacations can be so exhausting that the office feels like a retreat center.

Recently I was talking with a father feeling guilty for feeling this way. He was in conflict and unsure what to do. He felt like he was missing out on so much of his children’s lives, and yet inwardly he just couldn’t stand actually sharing a room with them. Parents can resonate so well with his sentiment we almost laugh in solidarity with his torment. But honestly, he was feeling guilty, wanting something he had a hard time actually wanting and unsure what to do about it.

But believe me, fathers aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Our culture just does a good job making it a bit easier and more acceptable for them to flee the scene. But talk to the mothers and you’ll find similar feelings. In the months after the birth of our eldest, her mother used to joke that being a parent had taught her what it’s like to love something so much and yet at the same time want to throw it out the window.

[Cue the nervous laughter.]

And now our teenage daughter jokes about throwing Mom out the window.

But we digress. Back to wanting the goals we have a hard time wanting…

So when it comes to Confirming Ownership, what are we to do? Do we incorporate a goal that we know is good for us even though we don’t really want it in our lives? What are we to do when we don’t want to be helping at home but we feel like it would benefit the lives of those around us if we did, binding our family together in a way that ultimately makes me a healthier person as well? And what about other areas? What do I do when I know I should cut back on my drinking or even quit altogether even if I actually really enjoy it? Or fried foods? Or my hours on the couch? Or the avoidance of my financial instability?

Do we only take on goals that we truly have a deep desire for? Or do we also take on the ones that we know we should want even when we also know we really don’t?

Well, maybe both. But here’s how. Remember, this action step is all about personal investment. Accomplishing what you want to make of your life. But just guilt-tripping yourself about wanting something out of life that you really don’t want is rarely going to get you very far.

In cases like this, a worthy goal may be to look for simple ways to increase your desire. You see a change that would be A Good Thing for you and wish you wanted it more than you actually do? Okay then, rather than setting that Good Thing as the immediate goal, let’s make it our goal to simply increase desire. Once we increase desire, achieving the goal itself will be noticeably easier.

This may sound complicated, but it’s not.

Maybe the first step toward eating healthier might be immersing myself in a greater understanding of why it’s important. If I’ve been trying to put down the Big Macs for three years and have made little headway—simply because they taste so damn good, maybe it’s time to quit feeling guilty about the Big Macs, eat as many as I want for the time being, but shift my focus toward building a greater understanding of healthy food and lifestyle. Go ahead and eat a whole platter of Big Macs while watching that classic Morgan Spurlock documentary Supersize Me. Maybe I forget about forcing any immediate dietary formula for the next three months and simply commit to watching one documentary every week on healthy living. Eat whatever the hell I want and sit on the couch the whole damn time. But systematically immersing my psyche with healthful information, inspirational stories, and hours of motivation.

By the end of the three months, I just might discover that a monumental shift has transpired within my core being. The dietary changes that once felt forced and purely obligational have now made their way into my deepest desires, and I’ve now come to a point where nothing can stand in my way toward long-term change. This isn’t to deny other factors at play in this scenario but only to highlight the powerful role of personal desire. I no longer have to be guilt-tripped into putting down the Big Mac. I’ve grown so personally disgusted I never even want to look at one again. I’ve made the shift from wanting to want to truly wanting. And in this I’d have discovered ownership.

Updating this little book here in 2019, I find myself currently in the midst of a similar conflict of desires. The wanting to want what I struggle to really want. You see, I’ve begun feeling an inevitable pull toward veganism.

Now notice what I did not say. I did not say I am vegan. Far from it actually. The consumption of animal stuff is among my favorite things in life. (Seriously.) Absolutely nothing tickles my taste buds quite the way a medium-rare bone-in ribeye does. And my daily assortment of cheeses cannot be reimagined by anything beyond dairy or sheep’s milk.

So what’s behind my pull toward the vegan? Well, it’s for purely ethical reasons. And let’s just say it’s getting to the point where every time I sit down to that beautiful ribeye, I see it less as a steak dinner and more as a body part hacked out of the living, breathing, sentient being we call a cow.

Sorry if the imagery was a bit unexpected. And abrasive.

But perhaps you see how seeing those images with every meal might create in me a pull toward never eating the damn steak again and toward setting all the world’s living, breathing beings free. And yet… Well, I still find myself eating that damn steak. But I’ve come to the point where I know my days as a meat-eater are limited. I know it’s coming and that its arrival is inevitable. I’m just over here savoring a few more bites before I make the final jump.

So yes, you might find some conflict within you when it comes to your goal-setting. It might not always be real clear to what extent your ambitions are your own. And sometimes, yes, just taking ownership of a goal can become a goal in and of itself.

But whatever it is you want to change or want to want to change, the work begins with THE ACTION STEP OF OWNERSHIP. Discover ownership. Create ownership. Cultivate ownership. But begin by identifying a goal that can be truly, inwardly, whole-heartedly confirmed. Begin by Confirming Ownership. It all starts here. Welcome yourself to the beginning. But make it a quick welcome. It’stimetokeepmoving forward.