Overcoming catch-22 in 2022

So, we’ve rung in the new year…laid before us the perceived blank slate, the thrill of new beginnings, the promise of growth, and the potential to do better. Is there not something hardwired in us all to look to see the world anew or wish for better things at the start of a new year? This can be traced back over 4000 years to the ancient Babylonians, who made promises to their gods in return for good favour in the new year. It’s no shock that we may feel a pull toward fresh resolutions, albeit, a more secular practice, the focus on self-improvement.

This year I have been frustrated. Scoping out new ideas and fresh project goals is a compelling affair, but this January, I’ve been gripped with a ‘back end of year tying things up’ mentality. To be frank, it does feel a little like being left at home while others go to the party. The weight of this mood requires me to loosely unpick its phenomenology in order to move forward.

Every new goal doesn’t necessarily fit within a tidy 12 month or less timescale. My own 2022 is incredibly packed with ongoing commitment to an array of multi-year goals, and the not insignificant wrapping up of a very long-term project, my doctorate. I’m required to be in a peak state of focus, turn my gaze away from temptation and distraction, to go quiet, while I ambitiously re-prioritise and simply, ‘get stuff done’. I’ve already experienced an uplift in guilt and gnawing disappointment, as I hear myself leaving a trail of ‘excuses’ as to why I can’t be as present or committed, as I protect the stage of the journey I’m on. I also have three young children who deserve and need first dibs on my personal time.

I wonder how many of us get caught in the catch-2022 of goal setting, which builds year on year through our desire to grow and reach new heights, which cumulatively leaves us to spread ourselves thin, to the point of impasse where important goals are compromised or even abandoned. It’s turning the idea of the ‘New Years Resolution’ on its head for me – now what I can start anew, but what I can deepen, strengthen, complete, with minimal collateral damage.

I am engaged in phenomenological research, with a very imminent deadline, a space that requires disciplined and protected quiet reflection, which honestly got too battered during covid-19. I find myself battling as I attempt to remap an instinctive attitude to engage with all opportunity and multi-task to within an inch of my life, cognitive overload repercussions typically ignored.

Dialling down into a focused state requires energy itself – letting things go or at least settle on the back burner, dialling-down, reprioritisation…are no simple affair. A weighty emotional, mental and physical process necessitating careful negotiation not just with oneself but with ‘others’. I have at times felt almost overwhelmed with ‘guilt and anxiety’ both consciously and subliminally packaged within. It feels like an act of selfishness, betrayal or failure, although I aspire it to be an act of commitment, resilience, and faith in and to, myself and others. Our goals are never solely personal or self-contained, but inextricably bound up with those around us.

I can’t predict the outcomes of 2022, but I dare say it’ll be a year like no other, for me, for those about me. I hope it will be a valuable year, and doctorate or project goals aside, learning to be less distracted, not just by the broader to-do list or demand on time – but learning to be wholly comfortable in the space the present requires. And, to be eternally grateful for support.

Happy New Year – may 2022 be peaceful, safe , happy and if necessary, quiet.


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