Instead of resolutions for the New Year, how about committing to inventions? For example, I want to invent better questions. In school we heard teachers say that there are no stupid questions, as a way to encourage shy students to speak out. While this may be true, certainly there are questions and then there are better questions. Better questions are generous in that they elicit curiosity, rather than demand answers. Better questions have no expectation, and contain no veiled assumption.
Why inventions are more interesting than resolutions is that good inventions make life better, save time, save lives or allow us to do amazing things. Airplanes, vaccines, sewing machines, paper, the printing press, refrigeration…all these inventions make modern life better. If I want my life to be better, (and this is what resolutions are supposed to do, right?) then why wouldn’t I think of it like an inventor rather than a manager? Managers resolve. Inventors invent. A manager asks “How can I make you do this thing you don’t want to do?”, while the inventor asks, “What wants to exist that doesn’t already exist?” Inventions change how we do things, how we think about what we do, and how we make connections between the two.
On that topic, how about inventing a new way for humans to make unlikely connections with each other.
Elizabeth Lesser started a movement called ‘Take the Other to Lunch’. She put forth guidelines for two people to talk over lunch who fundamentally disagree with each other on some issue. Her guidelines helped thousands of people to form connections with someone they would have otherwise villainized.
And, after reading the biography of Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, I learned that the idea behind his invention was to create a platform for people to experience ‘emergence’. Emergence is something that happens in nature when a whole flock will seem to communicate wordlessly and move together, and with greater intelligence than any one animal.
These two inventions are very different, but both have to do with connecting people in surprising ways, and both have the potential to bring out our humanity. Could our inventive minds reveal a new way to look at resolutions? If I resolve to connect with more people or be more empathetic with people, what invention would help me? L.L Zamenhoff went to the trouble of inventing a new language, in order to help people connect by speaking the same universal language, Esperanto.
If I were to make a resolution about connecting with more folks, I might force myself to change my behavior, based on known variables. For example, to connect with more people and have more empathy, I could force myself to approach one stranger a week and get to know them. Even though I love people I’m somehow not inspired by this, are you?
A better question would be how to create a controlled accident where other curious and empathetic people would suddenly find themselves riding together in a hot air balloon? The difference to me is one approach shuts down my curiousity, my passion, and the other awakens it.
Another example, take the topic of weight. If I want to lose weight (I don’t, but bear with me!), the common approach would be to limit caloric intake and make myself do workouts that I may or may not enjoy. This is a tried and true method and it does work. However, for me, limiting calories and doing something in my leisure time that is not based on enjoyment is just not a fun game. I used to be able to do that though. I could lose weight, then gain weight, then lose it again. I did both very effectively!
After I grew tired of the ups and downs of weight loss and gain, my goal eventually became having a sane eating and exercise plan that I would stick to for life, and to base this plan on enjoyment and nourishment. I found a food plan with healthy portions, a variety from each food group and no sugar, flour or wheat. Since then, and for a very long time, my goal has been to keep a sane food plan, invent new ways to enjoy the clean foods I can eat, and invent new ways to work out my body that feel good. All these commitments involve enjoyment, creativity and limitless possibility. All these things are fun. Guess what? I’ve been able to stick with it for 15 years, so, it must work! I know it works because I’m doing it, I like doing it and I don’t get bored with it. That’s not a resolution, that’s an invention!
My challenge to you is, what do you want to invent for yourself? What change or innovation do you desire either internally, or in your lifestyle, career, health or relationship? If you’re not sure of the answer, maybe you just need a better way to ask the question.
Keep asking until you can, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way in to the answer.”