When Writing NYRs, Remember You Are A Means & An End (Lesson from Immanuel Kant)

“Treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.” —Immanuel Kant

Around this time of year, I like to review, rewind, reflect, and reset (and any other r-words I can think of). While I find New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs for short) as tough to keep as the next person, I find the act of sitting down and asking myself prying questions quite soothing actually.

I’m an advocate for radical self-awareness. I believe staring nakedly at our flaws, insecurities, and strengths is the first step on the path to success and fulfillment. Self-awareness is the key ingredient in one’s ability to NGAF about others’ opinions and to let go of those nasty stories on loop in our heads.

And so, for me, conducting an end of year review is about generating that next level of self-awareness. I want to figure out what I avoided, procrastinated, punked out on, what I’ve gotten better at and what I still suck at. I want to identify what brought more joy into my life, and what stole some. And finally, I want to devise plans so that I can avoid the same ineffective patterns and move past them.

[Some might call it arbitrary, but I don’t think it is. We don’t make enough time in daily life to sit back and think about what we’ve done or what we are doing.]

The problem with this is that trying to generate a sense of deep self-awareness can quickly turn towards a self-critique and then towards self-loathing. This leads to one of two things—(a) acting out of anger and fear, or (b) giving up on creating NYRs altogether.

It’s easy to look back at the previous year and think, “I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish so I probably won’t next year. I’m a total piece of crap. What’s the use of even trying?” It’s harder to think, “I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish. That’s okay, but it’s not okay. I’m going to devise a new strategy that I think will work better next year.”

This is the difference between settling for total non-improvement and committing to continuous self-improvement. I much prefer the improvement bucket, yet I know this can become obsessive and compulsive at a point. It can turn into treating myself merely as a means.

That’s why we must all strike a delicate balance when it comes to self-improvement, to setting goals. We need to become radically self-aware, but not in hateful or despicable ways. Not in a soft ‘I’m awesome’ ways either. We need to give ourselves some tough love. Treat ourselves as both a means and an end, as Kant says.

Imagine if you were your own child, trying to parent yourself toward whatever goal, outcome, or result you wanted. Maybe you want your kid to be successfully independent, happy, and contribute in a meaningful way to society.

And so, you aren’t going to love your kid for beating up kids on the playground, trading celery for cupcakes in the school cafeteria, and skipping soccer practice after school (and lying about it). But you are going to love her, period. She’s a human being, even if your little PITA of a human being.

So, you might create boundaries and sheep dog her towards a happy, independent, and meaningful life. You would do your very best to love her and push her, wouldn’t you?

The way you should treat yourself is should be no different. You are a PITA, as well. You’d trade celery for cupcakes if you could (don’t lie). It’s time you face that music.

You are a human being. You are imperfect as all get out.

That’s okay.

Self-awareness comes from accepting these facts, while also reconciling them with the fact that you are a live, breathing organism with a beating heart. You are worthy of love, even self-love.

Self-awareness isn’t about beating yourself down with a hammer like you’re playing a game of whack-a-mole. It comes from acknowledging your natural tendencies. For example, you are either biased towards—(a) letting yourself slip into the cookie jar and forgiving yourself for it, or (b) beating yourself up whenever you do. The good news is: when you identify which bias you have, you can choose the more effective path. You can move yourself closer to a healthy middle.

Striking the delicate balance - learning to treat ourselves as both a means and an end - is often the missing ingredient in self-improvement. It’s why we can’t stay consistent with our goals and NYRs. We give up because we are either too easy or too hard on ourselves.

Both are the enemies of progress by themselves, but mixed together they are the aids of progress.

When you fuck up, you deserve a little smack on the butt.

When you win, you deserve a little celebration.

That’s it.

It’s really that simple.

If only you have the strength to activate it.

Kate Ward