Digital Altruism

Cultivating compassion in the 21st century.

Supercharging Your New Year's Resolutions

Using "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" for self-empowerment

1.  Go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

 Mid-January is the perfect time to boost your New Year’s Resolutions. How? If you haven’t done it already, start off by going to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. If you’ve already seen it then consider the following. In the film, the lead protagonist, Walter Mitty, spends a great deal of time lost in a fantasy world—dreaming of the life he’d like to lead. He daydreams about the things he’d like to do—everything from punching his boss to asking out the girl of his dreams. This is annoying—for Walter and the audience. Walter’s life, and the moviegoer’s experience, improves only after we learn that Walter forfeited his dreams early on in order to help support his family.  We learn this through watching Walter rummage through a box of his childhood memorabilia. After reconnecting with his youthful dreams and ambitions, Walter’s inner child comes to life. Through acknowledging the skateboard-loving teenager within, his life begins to take off in adventurous directions. 

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2.  Listen for the voice of your Inner Child

Many of us, like Walter, have abandoned our inner child in favor of adult responsibilities. We spend a good deal of time fantasizing about the life we’d like to have rather than enjoying the one we have. In our daydreams we’re able to do the unthinkable, whether we’re asking for a raise, learning a foreign language, losing weight, or traveling to an exotic land.  We don’t listen to our inner child much, but once each year we make a list of New Year’s Resolutions. For many of us, this list is a cryptic letter from our inner child: a list of all the things we’d like to do, be, see, or experience. 

3.  Explore your childhood memorabilia

Follow Walter’s lead and pull out your own box of childhood memorabilia. Keep your list of New Year’s resolutions nearby. While revisiting your memorabilia look for things on your list that remind you of things you enjoyed as a child, or looked forwards to doing when you grew-up. For example, our desires to get fit and take steps to improve our health (go to the gym, take yoga, hike, bike, etc.) reflect our inner child’s desire to run, skate, play ball, climb trees, or cross the monkey bars without falling. Courses in painting, knitting, baking, or gardening reflect our desire to be creative, to eat yummy food, smell beautiful flowers, watch butterflies, and chase fireflies. The desire to learn a foreign language often reflects a desire to travel. Look over your list of resolutions with these thoughts in mind. Take your time and feel free to change your resolutions to better reflect what you discover about yourself. If you don't find a correlation between the voice of your inner child and your New Year's resolutions, you may have given your inner child too much freedom and have some growing up to do. 

4.  Live Your Dreams   

Which brings me to the unlikely topic of filmmaker Casey Neistat. If you're not researching evolutionary guidance media there's little chance you've heard of Casey Neistat; nevertheless, his story intersects with ours in a marvelous way. Casey was hired by Twentieth Century Fox to create a movie trailer for The Strange Life of Walter Mitty as part of their "Live Your Dreams" campaign. The campaign was designed to inspire and motivate viewers to try something they'd never done before. When Casey got the job he asked if he could do whatever he wanted with the $25,000 budget. Twentieth Century Fox gave him the green light and what happened next is just plain wonderful: Casey set out on a relief mission to the Philippines—bringing food, water, and supplies to victim of typhoon Haiyan. Casey's trailer provided more than 10,000 meals, tools to 35 villages and basic medicine to local organizations. Each day when you set out to accomplish your New Year’s Resolutions remind yourself that rather than being the demands of an over zealous adult—they are the voice of your inner child. Take your childhood memories with you to the gym and before you know it, you’ll set off on a series of adventures that rival Walter Mitty’s. And, through living  your dreams, like Casey Neistat, you’ll end up improving the lives of others. A win-win. 

 

Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., a visiting scholar at Saybrook University, is an integral psychologist specializing in the use of arts and media to promote altruism and compassion.

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