When we think about the beginning of a new year, some feel like it is a good time to consider some sort of change. Let's use that initiative and that energy we feel at the beginning, day 1, and bring change to ... a habit, a practice, a thing we might not feel comfortable with ourselves. I applaud this idea, and the initiative, I do, ... but I am not a resolution maker. I guess I haven't felt that call for change, as it were, just because it is the beginning of January. Instead, I like to be self-reflective and honest with myself, regularly checking in, and, if I feel uncomfortable with something or want to try something new, I do it, regardless of the date. Please don't think I am poo-pooing anyone's efforts. Change is often good. Change is definitely doable. (Change post from last week.)
Let’s take this space, if I may, to talk about the specific verbiage we might be considering when we think about the new year and change. It's often 'New Year's Resolution', right? Think about it, though: a resolution is an inclination or determination to solve a problem or to 'fix' something. This is a rather negative view of yourself and your habits, isn’t it?
What if, instead, we think about this embracing of change as an intention. An intention is an aim or a plan, specific steps taken towards a goal. There are no negative connotations of the place where you are currently; there is, instead, a goal of moving in one direction or another. In fact, as an intention is an idea or direction, there is less of a negative connotation or implied rigidity as there might be in a ‘resolution’. An intention allows for adaptation or flexibility. If we've learned nothing else in the last 10 or 11 months, it is that adaptation and flexibility are KEYS to success, amiright?
So, intentions rather than resolutions. Or even, habits. What about creating new habits? A habit is an action we repeatedly do, like shortcuts for your brain. The same definition applies if it is a ‘good’ habit or a bad one. Habits can and do change your life, but they do not guarantee success in your endeavor; after you have completed the action you are trying to adopt multiple times, eventually it will become almost like autopilot to perform. A habit is created by performing the same action over and over and in the same environment; the greatest success with creating a new habit is to tie to to an existing habit. You are in the habit of grabbing a sandwich for lunch, for example. Try adding a few cut up veggies and an apple to your sandwich, and soon you will up your intake of fruits and veggies.
Only you can decide what might be a good habit for you; and realize that ‘habit’ refers to the behavior, not the outcome. A habit can help you move towards a goal or an intention as it is a behavior you do regularly. A habit can improve your quality of life … again, you decide if it can and will do accomplish that. Having a habit of drinking 5 sips of water every 15 minutes is a nice, doable action; achieving and owning this habit regularly will enable you to achieve your overarching goal of staying well-hydrated. Being well-hydrated is an excellent characteristic of wellness. Breaking it down into 5 sips of water makes it very achievable and doable. It is difficult to make a habit out of something you hate; if you are trying to add a new behavior that you feel ambivalent about (like running on your new treadmill, for example), perhaps tying it to something you love (listening to your favorite podcast), and over time your brain will associate the new behavior with the thing you love… soon you will be looking forward to your runs!
Goals are great, don't get me wrong. But often, as is with a change, we don't really know how that new goal might 'fit', and oftentimes, we discover things along the way towards achievement of the goal that get in the way of success. Let’s go through an example:
· Let’s say your goal for the year is that you want to eat healthier. In fact, you want to eat vegetarian at least 4 days per week and eat zero red meat. After a few weeks of this in practice, perhaps it turns out, you actually hate the smell of fish cooking in your house, and you really can't stand the texture of tofu; can one subsist on chicken recipes alone? (The answer is yes, of course, but perhaps might get a little blah after a while). What if, instead, we back up to the initial goal of eating healthier and you decide on the intention to eat a more well-rounded and environmentally friendly diet? This opens the possibility to enjoying many amazing new-to-you foods and including a wide array of them in your diet, learning new cooking techniques and discovering dishes you never even knew existed, all the while making a positive change in the carbon footprint you are leaving with your diet choices. Goal accomplished!
· Or as another example, maybe you decide that this is the year for it, and you really want to run a marathon this year. You are going to do it; now you just have to start learning how to jog. What if, after a few training sessions, you discover that you hate distance running? Let’s go back to the initial intention, and instead, you have the intention to get into the best cardiovascular shape of your life? This intention gives you have plenty of room to explore alternative exercise options and increase your chances of success.
· How about a family-relationship related goal? What if your intention is to spend more quality time with your kids. In order to achieve this goal, you can start doing small things like turning off your phone when you walk in from work and putting it in a different room, so you can focus on your conversation and interactions with your kids. Maybe you will discover you like this uninterrupted time with your family so much, that you all embrace no-tech Sundays every week. Not only does this earn you and your family buckets of quality time, but you also manage to stay within your data plan more regularly, and you have more focus for living things in front of you instead of the little shiny screen of your device.
My hubby likes to make resolutions. For him, this practice is important and motivating: come up with a doable list, write it down, tell everyone and get feedback, and then go about doing it. I was talking to him about this post, about the verbiage we use when we think about change (especially in the beginning of a year), and he realized that indeed, if it is possible to think about the process in much more positive terms, and then it doesn't feel like such a burden to bear.
Beyond embracing change, and looking to make intentions, focus on what your goals might be, and be sure you are paying attention to your priorities. It can be easy to jump on someone else’s bandwagon, especially if they are enthusiastic. It can be easy to be swayed by what others might what to change; know what is important to you FOR you. And focus on your own priorities when you are thinking about setting intentions for the new year.
I truly believe that all things are achievable: you can train to meet your physical goal; you can find the discipline to follow a particular diet or call your mother every day or ... whatever. Ask yourself this, though: is this new action going to bring you joy and satisfaction? Will you be in a better place once you achieve this goal? Will you feel self-pride? A few thoughts about change (that I have shared with you before):
1. The most powerful changes happen in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over everything you don’t.
2. Most people make themselves unhappy simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.
3. The secret to getting ahead today is to focus all of your energy not on fixing and fighting the old and unchangeable, but on building and growing something new and different.
4. Stepping onto a new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation that no longer fits, or no longer exists.
5. Letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself in this moment.
I'm not going to tell you not to try to set goals or resolutions for the year. I believe it is very positive action to find motivation to try something new, achieve something more, or adapt to a new norm. I want you to try to think about it as that, though; trying something new, achieving something different, rather than changing something bad. Okay?
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