With the New Year fast approaching, we've come to expect some form of assessment of our deeds from the past year. Social media is already swarming with lists of resolutions, making promises for the upcoming year. Yet why do we do this to our selves? Is it to give us a "much needed push" or is it a way to skim over our deeds and provide a seemingly quick-fix solution?
Personally, I never found the idea of resolutions to be very alluring. Mainly because they comprised of lists. And not easy lists--like grocery lists--but of lists that require me to-do. More. More things to-do. Who really needs more things to-do?!
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things I'd like to improve, but I don't need or want more things to do. In fact, I want to do less. That's why I've been thinking about what I don't want to do. When I think that way, I feel lighter instantly.
Rather than make a resolution like, "Get to Bed Earlier," it might be more worthwhile to ask my self, "What things do I do that keep me from getting to bed early? Which can I do less of?" Moreover, instead of, "Need to Spend More Time with Family," why not think, "Am I paying attention to the things that I'm doing that prevent me from being with the people that I love? Can I spend less time engaging in those things?"
It's no surprise that the #1 New Year's resolution year after year is, "Exercise More." Only to be closely followed by #2, which is, "Lose Weight." If these resolutions were so productive, then why has worldwide obesity nearly tripled since 1975? Maybe because it's not really fun to tell our self, "Do more exercise!" And then feel like a failure, if we don't.
Instead, why not take the traditional notion of exercise off the table for the moment, and opt for awareness during your next walk? Try thinking about walking slower and enjoying the way you move. As you walk, notice your feet and explore their width and length as they engage with the ground. By becoming more mindful of how we move, we include more muscles in activity. It might sound unproductive at first--but is it? If resolutions were truly successful, why would people create lists year after year, with the same resolutions? Moreover, why is there such an incessant need to feel so productive anyway? As the revered writer and activist, David W. Orr, said so eloquently, "The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind." Why not start with being kinder to our selves? Why not heal our selves by making peace with who we are?
I'm not suggesting that setting and reaching goals is trivial, but perhaps there is a more rewarding way to feel good about our self that is less about the win/lose dichotomy inherent to resolutions and more about what it is that we are really searching for.
When I used to think about 'improving' something about myself, I would immediately plunge into what I should do to get my desired result. For example, how to get more relaxed. But how could I relax if I didn't first examine my habits related to stress?
Anyone who has ever been told that they need to "just relax" or "calm down" can attest to how difficult that is to do on the spot. It is also as likely to happen as being able to lose 10 pounds in an instant. Trying to resolve deep-rooted habits with a breathing exercise or spin class don't address the underlying cause.
Even less traditional resolutions like, "More Meditation" still require mindfulness beforehand. Experiencing excessive stress and weight are symptoms of a broader issue and looking for a band-aid solution will not make them go away. If I start meditating without first recognizing why I get stressed, or if I start over-exercising without first becoming aware of what triggers me to eat, what freedom from my habits can I expect to experience? If I am not aware of my undesired thinking habits, then how can I expect to be patient with my self or present in my body in any activity? Habits take years to form and they don't just vanish into thin air, they will keep coming back until they are recognized and redirected.
Resolutions offer a temporary distraction, but they cannot withstand the weight of the habits that accrue over time. What's more, engaging in so-called relaxing activities can become even more stressful for someone who can't release tension, because if they don't succeed at alleviating their stress they feel like a failure, much in the same way as a person who can't shed pounds might feel. That's not to say that activities that promote relaxation or exercise can't be beneficial, of course they can. But if they are accompanied with mindfulness, they can be long-lasting and life changing.
The real work starts with changing the way that we think.
This year, rather than list, "I'm Going to Lose 30 Pounds" think, "I'm going to be mindful of the flavors that I taste". Or instead of "Make More Money" how about, "A penny saved is a penny earned"? And perhaps replace the notorious, "Work Harder" with "Give my self a break".
One of the things that I'd like to improve about my self is my time management. And while making a resolution to"Get More Organized" might seem logical, I know that I first have to pay attention to the habits that prevent me from being time efficient. An organizational plan might work in the same way as a diet would, but how long-lasting would the results be? First, I must recognize my time management habits, most notably my notion that I think I can get more things done than I really can. Trying to balance family life, a career, and some down time, is not an exact science. So this next year, and beyond, I'm going to pay closer attention to the things that I do with my time. Then, I will observe how other people manage their time and then reflect on my own time management. In doing so, I hope to become more aware of the habits that I wish to change.
With that being said, I would like to wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, bright, beautiful and light New Year!