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New Year, new me? – a plea for more chaos in life and lovable imperfection instead of self-optimization

Every year by the first of January, millions of people worldwide (roughly estimated) think about good resolutions for the coming year. Some reflect on their goals from the previous year, others simply start Vegenuary (no animal products) or Dry January (no alcohol) optimistically and spontaneously

Avoiding stress and spending more time with family and friends top the hit list of resolutions for 2021

According to a representative Forsa survey with over 3,500 respondents, 51% of the respondents in 2020 find it more difficult to implement their set resolutions due to the Corona crisis. Again, 29% stated that they did not experience any changes in their motivation to implement their resolutions due to the lockdown and the contact restrictions. 19% of the respondents even found it easier to achieve the goals they had set, compared to previous years.

Resolutions for 2021

  • Avoid or reduce stress (65%)
  •  More time for family/friends (64 percent)
  • Behave in a more environmentally or climate-friendly way (63 percent)
  •  Exercise more/sport (60 percent)
  •  Eat healthier (53 percent)
  •  More time for myself (51 percent)
  •  Lose weight (34 percent)
  •  Use less cell phone, computer, Internet (28 percent)
  • Save more money (28 percent)
  • Watch less television (20 percent)
  • Drink less alcohol (15 percent)
  • Quit smoking (11 percent)

When asked if they were deliberately not resolving to do anything in 2021 because it would be more difficult to implement anyway, 49% of respondents responded in the affirmative, while 51% denied this. A clearer picture emerged among the over-60s: 57% of them deliberately set no new resolutions for the new year.

The self and the ideal self

The urge to want to improve and become “the best version of yourself” is understandable and human. We all have an idea of ourselves, how we would like to be and how we would like to be seen by others – our ideal self. Our actual characteristics and abilities make up our real self. If our ideal self and our real self deviate too much from each other, it can lead to feelings of inferiority. What we experience as reality depends on our experiences and our perception.

The desire for control

Many people wish for balance in their lives, that is, they want to have balance between the different areas of their lives. This could mean for example, that in the morning, they want to enjoy a healthy breakfast with their children, at lunchtime they want to shine at their presentation in front of their colleagues, after work they want to go to the gym, congratulate their sister on her birthday afterwards and in the evening, after a (once again healthy) dinner, they want to meet up with their friends. The reality sometimes looks more like this: in the morning there is chaos and it comes down to cornflakes with milk instead of smoothie bowls and Zen, you forget the presentation at home, the sister is congratulated three days too late and instead of sports you remember that you have signed up for the emergency service at the after-school care club. From after-school care, you order pizza and your friends will have to wait another month (or until after lockdown).

Sure, days like that may (or hopefully will) be exceptions, but there remains an urge in many people to want to bring more peace and balance into their lives. They desire more control.

Most of us are not tightrope walkers

When we talk about a “life in balance”, it often sounds as if we have to turn certain adjusting screws, evenly shift the weighting of our different areas of life, in order to finally dance through life light-footed. But this idea is too rigid and it implies that you can control everything in life, provided you try hard enough. If you just work hard enough on yourself, you will eventually reach the perfect balance and finally be happy. The truth is that many professions are not easily reconciled with dedication to a family. Moreover, people are very different. So if you spend 80% of your day at work, even in the shower or on the way to school with the kids, you may think you need to change this. But if you are happy with it, you don’t have to. In the same way, someone can be happy with spending a lot of time with family or in nature, and with work being low priority and taking up little time.

Why the desire for balance is not only impossible, but also not particularly desirable

British writer and co-founder of the School of Life Alain de Botton goes a little further in his thoughts on the subject of life balance. “There can be no such thing as a life in balance for us,” he explains in a video. “We are complex beings, operating in such a complex world that we are constantly disturbed, bogged down in multitasking, while being emotionally confused.” For de Botton, the desire for a life in balance and the well-structured division into different areas of life is not only nonsensical. We also limit ourselves unnecessarily by doing so. To demonstrate this, he shows a graphic of a human brain in the video. Little by little, keywords appear that show what this extraordinary organ is capable of, such as “raising a child”, or “placing a small business in the Asian market”, but also “planning an assassination”. Gradually, more and more abilities are added, so it becomes clear: our brain has the potential for so many, different abilities. We are able to experience, influence and accomplish so much that we all tend to do too much. The price we pay for our multiplicity is that we are inevitably less good at the different tasks we choose to do, and that life throws at us, than someone who focuses on one task all their life, such as a top athlete. So our possibilities also bring restlessness and unpredictability. “When we accept this, we choose openness and non-perfect diversity, rather than flawless focus”.

2020 – the year of chaos and what we can take away from it

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with pausing once in a while to reflect on whether what makes up our lives feels coherent to us, or whether we want it to change and why. In the same way, it is understandable that in our fast-paced world of the information age, full of social upheaval, we long for calm and tranquility. But we do ourselves no favor by elevating calm and composure as the ideal and declaring unrest and chaos to be the enemy.

The year 2020 in particular has shown us that we really can only control a few things in life. When anxiety and insecurity grow within us, one way our psyche deals with it is to go in search of things we can control (e.g., the popular sport of sorting out or paying attention to a healthy diet).

Nevertheless, many people may have experienced that out of chaos and stress also new ideas arise, e.g. for child care, and that we can also grow out of moments of tension, because we are forced to go new ways. Borderline situations, even if they can be frightening and painful, sometimes have the effect of sharpening our focus for what is important to us and what we really want.

A possible reason for the desire for peace – buried longings

It is quite possible that the desire for more balance and control simply means that certain needs do not have enough space in our lives. Our longings are partially buried. What makes our lives worth living, what “fulfils” or “drives” us is different for everyone, and one trait that can help us go in search of it is something we can take from our children – curiosity. Instead of judging ourselves when our life is not going in a regular way, no matter if it is due to external circumstances or the fact that we ourselves are always bringing unrest into our lives by chasing new ideas, it can make it easier for us to acknowledge the unpredictable, the gap in our life. Because just through this we have room to maneuver and to remain curious for change.