There's no need to be dull in looking forward.
The new year would be a wonderful fresh start if it weren't for the tyranny of resolutions. Here we stand, at a natural time for celebration and optimism but tradition insists that we audit what we have and haven't achieved in the past 365 days and - worse still - set more goals.
What a party pooper that is.
Goals and resolutions are a horribly linear and limiting way to chart our future. They are handy for an organisation that needs to work like a machine towards its given mission. Especially "SMART" goals - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. But we are humans, with diverse interests, an infinite range of choices and an sense of purpose, which must evolve as our lives unfold. To set our course in SMART terms seems both dull and deranged.
If we're to live creatively, we need time to reclaim our dreams, the bigger wishes that lie way out beyond boxy annual promises of self-improvement. Our wishes are more daring, alluring, and transformative than any targets we'd set ourselves to be assessed against in one year's time.
As children we had no trouble with being wishful. But as adults we have been schooled to be realistic. Realistic generally means uncreative - unwilling to name what we long for unless we can see how we'll get there.
George Bernard Shaw recognised our folly: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." If we want to initiate mould-breaking change, reasonableness is hardly our finest guide. It's useful when we come to planning how to do something, but it's a lid on possibility when we're contemplating what we want in our one, precious life.
So we must dare to picture our boldest dreams or else we could be busy forever, reaching towards short-term goals that get us nowhere fulfilling. We could put much effort into climbing a ladder, only to find it's leaning on the wrong wall.
Significant aspirations may take courage to acknowledge and some years to unfold. Since they are often suppressed by the barrage of daily needs, New Year is an excuse to take a couple of important aspects of life and ask "what would this area look like if it scored absolutely 10/10 by my standards ... even if I have no idea how to get there?"
Since we live in a world where possibilities are practically limitless, that's an excellent enquiry. I could be a part-time software designer while living on a Polynesian island if that's what I envision. I could publish my first piece of music to a potential audience of millions while restoring a dilapidated church. And if I'm ever to create such unique situations, I'll certainly need to suspend the "realistic" voice and let apparently paradoxical wishes co-exist. They're simply opportunities that I can't yet see how to activate - a call to creativity, if ever there was.
In place of reasonable goal-setting, creative dreamers employ the imaginal mind. I've seen people select pictures from magazines that symbolically express their 10/10 wishes. Within months they have found themselves meeting the person they cut out, or are being offered an opportunity that was almost the scene on the page.
Give the mind an image of what it's seeking, and it will recognise open doors as they appear.
Aware of our big, stretching dreams, we can survey the gap between here and there. We might spot three or four critical avenues for change, and even set some initial goals which see us into action towards something greater, this year.
Many adults are dampened down with feelings of powerlessness when they start to name what they really want. Failed resolutions surface from memory to mock our ambitions and dissolve our faith in our ability to make change. No wonder it's hateful to set resolutions at the same time as stocktaking the bygone year.
The very last thing we should do is whip ourselves onward with new goals, while past failings are still clawing at our self-belief.
Well before the New Year's party, we should confront last year's disappointments and purge them. No one else can see our mental picture of last year's shortcomings nor the spin we've put on it, yet it will be dissolving our sense of what's possible in future.
By getting disappointments down on paper, we can tackle each piece of excess baggage, one by one. For each, the options are to forgive (notice the backstory that made it hard and have compassion), forget (it's over now), or learn (for next time).
Instead of asking others what their New Year's resolutions are, why not give everyone a boost towards their private dreams by telling them the qualities and competencies you have witnessed in them.
Let compelling visions and a suitcaseful of confidence accompany us into 2012.
* Rosie Walford coaches individuals and runs creative retreats in the mountains through this site.