New Years Resolutions: Moving from questions of activity to questions of identity

In the early stages of our development as conscious beings, we focus — rightfully — on what to do. From our earliest days, we direct our attention to what we should and should not do. Early on, our parents, siblings, peers, and teachers provide us this guidance. As our reference points broaden, so do the sources of the guidance about what to do and what not to do. Books, movies, television, and much more provide instruction — some subtle, some not-so-subtle — on how to behave.

Some, and perhaps most, people remain in this stage of development their entire lives. The whole game becomes one of figuring out what behaviors, which actions, will most likely get me the kind of life I want to live. We even have a ritual at the beginning of the year in which we make resolutions — lists of “do’s” and “don’t’s” to get us through another year, hopefully with a life more like the one we really want than the the one we had previous year.

And that’s fine, as long as we are at that level of consciousness. However, when we’ve had enough experience with regulating our behavior, we are invited to change the question from “what should I do?” to “who should I be?” Or, better yet, “who do I know myself to be?”

You see, we can always trust anybody to act in accord with their nature. Think about it — if you know someone to be a profoundly generous soul, you can trust them to act in accord with his/her nature, that is, generously. If you know someone to be a selfish person, you can trust that person to act selfishly.

This is true of the myriad selves each of us carries around. Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Each of us has many selves: a lover, a killer, a child, a wise one, a generous soul, and many others. In any given moment, any of these selves may take the wheel, and guide the next action. We can place great trust the fact that our next action will be consistent with the nature of whomever has the wheel.

So, at a certain point in our development, we can start to turn out attention away from behavior and toward the core questions — questions of identity that guide our activities — with which of these selves am I identifying? Which of my selves has the wheel?

Certainly, this is not a call to ignore behavior. On the contrary, our behavior can provide valuable clues as to which self has the wheel in a given moment. However, our inquiry into behavior can become simply one of several inquiries to help us see which self is driving our activity. Another inquiry might be “how do I feel in this moment?” Or, “what thoughts are dominating my thinking right now?” These inquiries, and many others, are the tools of people who are focused on bringing consciousness these questions of identity.

How to move from identification with one self to identification with another self is a much broader issue than I intend to deal with today. It is enough for now to open up the possibility that we’ll get more bang for our buck if we focus our resolutions on which of our multitudinous selves we allow to run the show, moment to moment, than if we focus on what things we want to do this year.

Instead of, “this year, I resolve to do the following,” try “this year, I resolve to be …”, and then stick to that resolution, moment to moment.


Tom Goddard, January 2, 2014