OLD BLIND MAN: And you will find a fortune – though it will not be the fortune you seek…But first, first you must travel a long and difficult road – a road fraught with peril, uh-huh, and pregnant with adventure. You shall see things wonderful to tell. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cottonhouse, uh-huh, and oh, so many startlements…I cannot say how long this road shall be. But fear not the obstackles in your way, for Fate has vouchsafed your reward. …
DELMAR: How’d he know about the treasure?
EVERETT: Don’t know, Delmar – though the blind are reputed to possess sensitivities compensatin’ for their lack of sight, even to the point of developing para-normal psychic powers. Now clearly, seein’ the future would fall neatly into that ka-taggery. It’s not so surprising, then, if an organism deprived of earthly vision –
PETE: He said we wouldn’t get it! He said we wouldn’t get the treasure we seek on account-a our obstackles!
EVERETT: Well, what the hell does he know – he’s an ignorant old man!
~ from “O Brother, Where Art Thou” by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Like a pile of old all-in-one school desks tipped over and jumbled together, obstacles get in my way and I hardly know what to do to get past. All those poking-out metal legs and hard surfaces tangled up just waiting for me to get snagged in. Sure enough, I am forever awkwardly tripping and falling over the (often self-placed) pile of school desks, all those obstackles in my path.
Like Everett, though, my tendency is to turn a blind eye to the obstacles. I fall hard and fast if I pretend those desks aren’t there.
Resolutions, of course, are traditional in early January. Seems like every blog I read these days is about them: what to resolve about, how to think about them, how feckless they are. However you feel about January resolutions, at times it is a healthy thing to consciously create a vision for change, even transformation. I appreciate pausing and asking myself what I want that currently is not (or what I would like not to be that currently is).
I notice, though, that it’s rare that a resolution lives a month. If resolutions are traditional in early January, breaking those resolutions is traditional in mid-January. Recently, though, a friend shared an article about Gabriele Oettingen’s book, Rethinking Positive Thinking and, well, it’s gotten me thinking.
Dr. Oettingen’s research shows that visioning and dreaming, in and of themselves, don’t actually help us make the changes we want in our lives. Instead, she advises four steps: wish, outcome, obstacle, plan (WOOP, of course! You can get a free app to help you apply her theories here.). Her research indicates that visions become reality by dreaming them, and then identifying and making a plan for what will, inevitably, get in the way.
I see in my own resolution history that I get caught up in the energy of my vision and somehow forget that January 22 is going to feel different than January 2. Obstackles will get in my way but I pretend they won’t. Despite how many times it happens, I convince myself that my energy won’t flag and there won’t be a pile of over-turned school desks between me and my plans.
This year, I’m interested in the resolution but even more in the obstackles.
Identifying obstacles requires that I observe myself honestly and notice, really notice, how I do what I do (and how I find ways not to do what I want to do). This means turning off my autopilot and paying close attention to my thoughts, habits, and behaviors.
Do I troll around on Facebook and file my nails instead of writing a new essay or creating new choreography? Why, yes, sometimes I do.
Do I automatically reach for chocolate after lunch even if I’m full? Would you look at that? I sure do.
In conversations, do I sometimes feel defensive and care more about being right than listening to the other person? Wow. I do indeed.
Dream. Vision. Imagine what could be. By all means, spend time seeing a new reality. And also, open your eyes to the obstackles. Witness yourself so you know what stops you. Use kind, mindful self-observation to help you manage the startlements and stay balanced when you run into that mess of school desks. Your own compassionate self-knowledge can not only help you safely get over the obstackles, it might also lead you to turn over one of those desks, sit down and get to creating the life you are dreaming of living.