January is the time to clarify intents for the year. Notice that I did not say “make resolutions.”
For most people, resolutions are well meant, but often not achieved in practice. That is because it is widely assumed that we will accomplish them by willpower triumphing over what we actually want to do. Too often, resolutions are what we think we should do, perhaps in response to messages from others or from the media.
I don’t know about you, but my life has been enriched by partnering with a dear friend every January to each create an intention for the year. We found that when we were motivated by our more authentic desires as well as our strongly held values, we came up with a vision and focus for the year that led to greater fulfillment. Even then, we achieved results more easily when we identified the narrative plotlines we needed to live on the way to success.
I know from neuroscience and my own research that humans are story-telling creatures, which may well have helped our species survive and evolve when other competing humanoids did not. From earliest times, people learned through story-telling, and stories still engage the mind, the heart, and the imagination, and ignite the energy to act. Narratives even light up more of the brain than mere wishes or thoughts. So, if you are someone who makes new year’s resolutions and then don’t do them (as originally was my case), story vigilance might be just the thing you need to achieve what you authentically desire.
The 12 archetypal stories included here have been particularly helpful to people throughout history, and in turbulent times like our own, they help human consciousness and cultures to evolve. This happens even without conscious awareness of them, but the impact is greater when we recognize them in action. Here’s what you need to know: First, archetypes are universal psychological patterns that reveal themselves in the form of characters and stories. These promote our individual development, while they also help our species evolve. To use this information, you also need a way to notice their roles in the choices you make and the outcomes you experience.
If you are someone who wants to live authentically and also make a difference in the world, the following four steps may help you prepare for the challenges of the coming year.
Step One: Conduct a “what story are you living?” audit.
Look at the names of the archetypal characters below and identify two or three that seem like you. Then think of times when you have lived or are living any or all of their stories. Many cartoons used to show angels and devils over a character’s shoulders, advising them what to do (or not do) in various situations. It can be fun to imagine these 12 characters whispering their advice to you. Don’t worry: none of them are bad; all can be positive, if they fit situations you are in.
To figure out which archetypes are active in you, think of some situations you have encountered lately and how you responded. Pay attention to your first response, and any later, more considered ones. You might find that some of these 12 archetypal plotlines and capacities feel as if they come naturally to you, while others not so much.
12 Character and Story Examples:
The Idealist urges you to stay positive and live your dreams; things will work out.
The Realist tells you that bad things happen and you should get ready to deal with them.
The Warrior says you should fight or compete and persevere until you win.
The Caregiver fills you with empathy and a desire to nurture, comfort, or otherwise help.
The Seeker beckons you to distance from the situation, leave it, or go on an adventure.
The Lover offers a heartfelt desire to find or cultivate greater closeness and intimacy.
The Creator taps the imagination to promote a vision and innovate responses.
The Revolutionary says something needs to go—quit it, get rid of it, or end it.
The Ruler commands you to take charge of yourself and others so that things work out well.
The Jester suggests that you respond with humor, lightness, and ideas about how to have fun.
The Sage slows you down to have time to analyze options and data, and follow a required learning curve.
The Magician urges you to transform your thinking/feeling to change what happens.
Step Two: Imagine what you want to have and be like in 2022.
I found that starting with the outcomes you want in the coming year is only the first step. Then it is important to figure out what virtues and capacities you need to develop in yourself to attain them. Studies of common resolutions show they are often about what people want to achieve, or what they want to quit. To fulfill these resolutions, however, it is helpful to know which archetypal stories provide clues to doing either. For example, if you want to get an advanced degree, you may need to live a Sage story. If you want to move into a higher level of authority, you might need to live an evolved Ruler story. If you want to improve your appearance, you might get clear whether this is to find true love (Lover), feel more in control (Ruler), express your taste (Creator), and so on. If you want to, say, quit or end something (Revolutionary), you also might need to get real about why. For example, you may want to exercise better self-care (Caregiver), gain marketable skills (Realist), or achieve life transformation (Magician). Or, you might notice what you want to quit that provides compensation for something missing in your life—like fun (Jester), which is often lacking in a high-achiever’s very busy life. Success then requires finding other means to fill the need that the habit you don’t want substitutes for.
Step Three: Notice the Archetypal Story Patterns Calling You Now.
You cannot always predict what a year will bring. Some narratives active in the larger culture inevitably affect us. The culture war going on in the U.S. and elsewhere influences the messages coming at us from the media, so we are all being drawn into a Warrior story, an archetype needing to evolve through us. Dealing well with the pandemic calls us to face facts (Realist and Sage), but it also has promoted rebellion (Revolutionary). These patterns, or others, may pull you in, or you may find yourself rejecting them, but either way, they affect most of us.
At the same time, our individual psyches give us clues about the plotlines we will need to live to achieve a fulfilling year if we know how to decode their signs. How? By sparking our interests and our imaginations.
To get a handle on this, you might identify the archetypal story patterns in what you feel drawn to—what you read, listen to, or view and also daydream about. Then, ask yourself whether the archetypal patterns you notice offer insight into how to succeed in current situations that are challenging you or that might be needed later in the year. Fictional genres frequently are archetypally based, and thus provide easy examples: stories of adventure often are Seeker plotlines; hero stories of good guys vs. bad guys are Warrior ones; romances are Lover ones; much of fantasy is Magician, and so on. When exploring your fantasies, what archetype do you notice? For example, if you fantasize about escape, this may be a call of the Seeker; about defeating or even harming another, the Warrior; or about sex, you are just normal (smile), or maybe you are being called by your inner Lover.
Step Four: What archetypal story or stories do you want to live in 2022?
Now it is time to consider what archetypal narratives could help you fulfill your own authentic desires while also making a positive difference to those around you or even the larger world.
Much may be right in your life, with archetypes meeting your needs and those of others. For example, you may live a Lover story with your partner, a Jester story with friends, a Caregiver story with children or other dependents. As you achieve a position of greater authority, for example, you may live a Ruler story as a parent, a boss, or in civic activities, or a Sage story in what you are learning or deciding what would be most helpful that you could provide to others around the world. You might want to tweak any of the stories you are living to express them in optimal ways for you and others, now and into the next year.
Once you have done this, consider anything that is missing in your life or that is at your growing edge. Create a vision for how you want your year to be and how you want to feel. Then, identify the narratives that can best help you have the best year ever, even if life throws you curves. In such a case, you can then utilize the narrative intelligence (NQ) gained here to identify what life is asking of you and to surrender to living the needed story. And yes, archetypes tend to emerge in consciousness when needed, if they are welcomed.
For more information about the 12-archetype system, go to www.carolspearson.com, www.storywell.com, or my book What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life.