Someone asked me, recently, about my take on New Year’s Resolutions–being a life coach, and all. Did I think they were helpful, for people? Pointless? Annoying?
My answer: I think New Year’s Resolutions are like anything else in life. Your experience of it is all how you relate to it. (And, by the way, we could be talking about whether to set goals or not set goals; whether to own a day-planner or not to own a day-planner; whether to have quarterly objectives or not to have quarterly objectives, etc.)
Every year, around this time, there’s a rash of articles on NYRs–here’s how you make them and keep them; a little tough love around keeping them; why it’s so helpful to keep them; the proof that they can work; the proof that they don’t work; NYRs are awful and you shouldn’t do them; here’s my rebellious stance on not making them and why I’ll never make them, again.
Truth? It’s all how you relate to whatever it is that you’ve got your attention focused on. People who enjoy making NYRs enjoy setting goals and following through. People who don’t care to make NYRs, just don’t feel called to make them.
And people who are passionately against them? If we just cut to honesty: clearly, there’s a trigger there.
Can’tcha smell it? That passionate rejection can carry just the wee-est (if that’s a word) hint of insecurity about, ahem, not following through on things. Perhaps the slightest little soupçon of judgment permeates their souls when they don’t follow through (again, another year, again, another year) on a resolution.
Or, even–a major shame attack (because it’s another year, again, another year, again, another year, again, and they’re perpetually saying they’re going to do stuff, and then not doing what they say they’ll do).
That place of self-criticism is a hard, hard place to sit with.
So, the answer often becomes to push it to the external: Damn those New Year’s Resolutions! They are the problem! I’m not taking it any more! I won’t subject myself to that, anymore!
Be the Steward
The thing is, this isn’t about what’s external to you. It’s internal. Your experience of anything is all about how you relate to something. You are not “subjected to” New Year’s Resolutions. You are the steward of your life, not the intangible NYR. You’re choosing how you use them.
If you use NYRs (or goal-setting, accountability, day-planners, organization kits, The Desire Map, a life coach, so-and-so’s 3 step plan, a workshop, a guru’s teachings, etc.) to beat yourself up and make yourself wrong for those times when you don’t follow-through or don’t see the results that you want, you’re going to have a miserable experience.
If you use NYRs as a practical means to an end, and you create the experience of setting them and following through as a positive addition to your life, you’re going to have a good experience.
For example: Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was an entire process of understanding what made her happy as an end-goal, focusing on a specific aspect of happiness each month, charting it and tracking her progress, noticing the places where she needed to change up what she was doing…and it made her happier.
If she had treated it as a chore; if she had had a field day of criticism when things didn’t go as she’d hoped; if she had not been accountable about charting her progress and then turned on herself for not being accountable…surely, it would have been miserable.
Again, this is about being the steward of your own life. This is about deciding what narratives you’ll choose to take away from any experience. This is about taking personal responsibility for one’s own insecurity or sadness for any time that you didn’t follow-through in the past–without the critical bashing, without the shaming, and without making yourself “bad” for whatever behavior you chose.
What You Truly Want
In other words, if we all looked at the things that were triggers for us (like New Year’s Resolutions, not to mention people we don’t like, jobs we hate, etc.) and decided to examine why we were so triggered, why there was such a passionate need for outright rejection, and especially if we searched ourselves for any statements that put the “fault” for our feelings on something “out there,” like an arbitrary old New Year’s Resolution…we’d get much clearer.
Perhaps we’d all even get much clearer on what we truly want, because I’m guessing what we all want beyond NYRs like “lost 10 pounds” or “write a novel,” are things like…Love for ourselves. Acceptance. The ability to reconcile our behavior without self-hatred. The capacity to deal with and work through our own insecurity. Happiness. Peace. Choices that reflect what we truly desire and that honor how we want to feel in our day-to-day.
The rejection, the trigger, the lining up of a position to fight against something, just places another layer between you and what you actually desire.
A willingness to look at the (admittedly intense) feelings of “I don’t like that!” and “That’s where the fault lies!” and “I’m sick of this!” permeates that layer.
So perhaps there’s just one New Year’s Resolution that we could all make that would significantly better our lives–commit to looking at everything that you fiercely reject, not with the aim of somehow mindlessly affirming your way to liking it, but so that you clearly understand the real, underlying motives of why you so fiercely reject it.
Resolve to bring more awareness into your heart. That’s a resolution that betters not just you, but the entire world. That’s the kind of resolution that will give, and give, and give–as long as that’s how you choose to relate to it, of course.
What are you ready to destroy, burn up, leave behind?
I have been thinking about the so-called “destructive” urges, and how I resist them. Perhaps you do, too. Perhaps you think of destruction as negative, violent, hostile, aggressive.
And…maybe not. Maybe we do the world a kindness when we raze something to the ground when it’s no longer structurally sound. When we’ve been tolerating it for far, far too long. When we’ve tried every avenue for working around, working with, and working through, and the exhaustion can no longer be borne.
There can be different flavors of destruction.
Sometimes destruction is expressed as sheer waste. It takes something full of potential and tramples it, kills it off with no regard for or respect for its inherent life force. That’s the kind of destruction that I learned, early on: Someone crossed me, I’d put them in their place. I’d let them have it. I’d burn bridges to save my pride.
The kind of destruction I’ve felt called to, lately, is the kind where I’m burning off the last of something that needs destruction because it has served its useful purpose. It’s destruction as an act of creation. I’ve looked at what it might be there to teach me, and when I surrender, instead of coming to a place of peace with it, thinking, “Ah, yes, now I can keep this around because I’m at peace,” I think, “I’m at peace–and–I just don’t need this around.”
A few things I’m destroying in the new year:
- Relationships that leave me feeling off-kilter. He-said, she-said, so-and-so said. Flimsy commitments. “Maybe” we’ll get together sometime–no follow-through. Lacking support. Triangulation dynamics. Breaking confidences. Lacking accountability. Making excuses. Going through someone else to communicate a message. Not taking ownership of behavior.
- Any expectation whatsoever that I’m to respond to all emails, text messages, or phone calls for fear of upsetting anyone. My dance card is full; I’m here to dance. We could all do well, to get off of our devices.
- Gossip. I don’t want to hear your gossip, be around you as you gossip with others in public forums, or gossip, myself.
- The barking dog who lives nearby (not literal destruction of the dog, of course). After two years of golly-gee-gosh, couldja-maybe-do something about your dog that barks for hours, please, pretty-please, with my neighbor, the formal complaints with animal services have been filed and the homeowner’s association has been contacted. Fear of not being “nice”? The flames are feeding high, burning that one.
- Pretending it didn’t happen the way that it actually happened. I know the truth. I won’t lie for you, anymore.
- The boundaries that keep me from breaking wide open. Here I am, declaring it to the Universe, knowing the risk I’m deliberately invoking: Universe, I am willing to be broken wide open, to be completely undone and undefended and tender.
- Clutter, and especially the feeling of guilt over getting rid of the clutter that I’ve been given that I specifically requested not to receive, in the first place.
- That little clammy moment of hesitation where I ask, “Is this money going to be appropriately spent?” before I donate to charity. Time to just give.
- Debt. I’m almost done paying off my student loans and my car. In 2014, they’re gone, and I’ll be debt-free.
- Assuming responsibility for what’s not mine, to save someone else from taking responsibility, themselves.
- Including everyone. This one is especially hard. I want to think of myself as “inclusive.” I’m realizing that not every person, and not every relationship, is quite right for the exact process that I’m in at any given moment. Good people, just perhaps not matches for certain life experiences.
- The shelf in my living room corner that I haven’t really liked for well over a year, yet that I leave there because I think, “I still don’t know yet what I’d put in that corner.” Same goes for the painting hanging above the television.
I have no preconceptions about what should come up to replace any of this–this isn’t a list that arises by saying, “I know what I do want, so let me destroy what I don’t want.” I only know what it’s time to let go.
What have you tended to, worked with, and examined, to realize that the natural life cycle of that relationship, that item, that belief system, has met its time for…destruction?
Deeply contemplate this, and contemplate it from the place of getting honest about what you know is worn out, lived out, tried out, wrung out, and simply does not work.
“I don’t get it,” you say.
“I really, really want things in my life to change. I mean, I am serious. I’m not joking. I’m sick of things being the way they are, and I’ve put my all into changing things. I’ve been willing to invest in workshops, to hire coaches or go to therapy, to write those hard letters where I say all the angry things that I’ve held inside and then burn them, to meditate, to look at forgiveness and acceptance. I want to stop feeling so [judgmental, controlling, disconnected, imbalanced, tuned-out, emotionally exhausted–insert the feeling state of your choice].”
This isn’t the rambling of someone who is all talk, with no willingness to take action.
This is the cry of someone who is frustrated because they sincerely desire change and are willing to take action, but they don’t see that their efforts correspond to the changes they’re working for.
This is the cry of someone who is exhausted by her own efforts. There’s a real sense of despair, in this place–it can feel about as stuck as you can get. At least when you haven’t tried to change, you can say, “The reason life doesn’t feel so great is because I haven’t really applied myself.”
Few things are harder than saying, “I really applied myself, and it still wasn’t enough.”
Just Relax? Nice Work If You Can Get It
It’s usually right about this time when someone will remind you to relax, to surrender, to accept, to go with the flow, to not fooooorce it.
I’m a huge fan of all of these things, and yet I’ve come to understand that there are pieces that come together to foster surrender and acceptance, and that surrender and acceptance are not “light switch” states of being that most people can easily flip on or off.
One piece to getting there? Understanding your own unique discomforts with freedom.
Freedom Can Be Uncomfortable
Any new and unfamiliar feeling state can be profoundly uncomfortable. Pema Chodron cites Chogyam Ringpoche as talking about how when we first practice courage, we are not all puffed-out chests of pride ready to walk into battle. At first, courage looks like “shaky tenderness.” It doesn’t yet feel like something you can actually use, or something you can lean on.
So many people think they’ve never arrived at courage, when in fact they were there–it just didn’t look the way they thought it would. They speak up for themselves, but their voices shake and their hearts pound in their “shaky tenderness,” and they assume that this isn’t what “real” courage looks or feels like.
The same experience can be true with freedom.
We often think of freedom as being a relief, a release that washes through the places in our bodies and souls where we feel tight and constricted.
Yes–it is–but not necessarily when it’s brand-new.
When freedom is brand-new, there can be a profound spaciousness, a sense of things being far too vast and out of control and open, like cresting a roller-coaster. Remember that only the person who believes that roller-coasters are fun has the faith that hurtling down at 100 miles an hour will be safe.
The first time any of us are on a roller-coaster, we aren’t quite so sure it was a good idea, until we’re unbuckling the safety belt and laughing with friends at what we just survived.
Freedom and Identity
When the new-found freedom is freedom from an old pattern, an old way of being, it feels like having lost an identity. I still remember the very first time that I ever–ever–responded to something from a different place than my old, habituated pattern.
My husband had unintentionally made some kind of mistake. My old pattern was running–judge him, blame him, tell him how he should have paid more attention so that the mistake didn’t happen, raising my voice, arguing, dominating.
I was standing next to a bureau and I distinctly remember holding onto the trim of that bureau, trying to slow.my.brain.down. because I was conscious that I wanted to do this differently, yet thoughts were going at warp speed with all of the arguments and justifications and the Stories.
I collected myself enough to say, “Hold on, hold on,” and to close my eyes, and breathe for a moment, and he let me do that, waiting.
In the next moment, somehow I knew that I was right in the midst of changing a very old pattern, and it felt so wide and open, like a new possibility had just been handed to me and I was going to be lucky enough to be able to take it!
–and running a parallel track to that was a sudden terror. I even felt slightly dizzy, and it was hard to articulate what to say, next. Yes, me–me!–having trouble with words.
I began to cry. Without the armor of judgment and blame, the identity I’d held for years of always having the snappy comeback was absent. Vulnerability was what was left. I didn’t know what to do or what to say, next. Finally, I just said what I felt: “Everything in me wants to make you wrong and yell at you, right now, even though I know that you didn’t actually do anything wrong.”
That identity-armor of judgment, blame, distancing, and snappy comebacks? It was my protection from the world, from the judgment and blame of others, and most especially, from ever having to feel as vulnerable as I felt in that moment.
It was freedom. It was utterly beautiful, and utterly uncomfortable.
Trust the Wisdom in the Experience
When we release an old way of being, something new comes in to fill that space. When what comes in to fill that space is freedom, the spaciousness that accompanies it and the underlying recognition that freedom is a state of acceptance and thus one lacking in control, can feel overwhelming.
What do I do with this feeling?
Who will I be, if I behave in a new way?
How will I handle life?
How will others react?
These are all questions that an identity system asks. Here’s an example: If you’re the family people-pleaser, you’ve asked yourself what to do with feelings of discomfort (answer: people-please, as that pattern reduces anxiety); who you will be (my role: people-please to make others happy), how you’ll handle life (answer: in the short-term, maintain the peace through people-pleasing while growing resentful and disconnected in the long-term), and how others will react (answer: I notice that when I people-please, everyone else isn’t as angry. Sounds like a good route to take).
What happens when the feeling comes up again, without the identity of people-pleaser? Without knowing who you’ll be, how you’ll handle life, how others will react?
What happens? No one knows. Everything is suddenly up in the air, whereas before this it was pre-defined and you knew, more or less, how the chips would fall.
The more you drop the identities that keep you from freedom, the closer you get to true freedom–and the more you drop the identities, of course, the scarier it will be at first.
This is where courage comes in. Courage is the practice of trusting in the wisdom of the experience. You feel the fear that comes along with this new, shaky freedom, and you say to yourself, “The fact that this is coming up doesn’t have to ‘mean’ anything. Let me see where this goes. Let me see what happens next. Let me stop. Let me breathe. Let me take a moment. Let me trust. I can do this, even if there’s fear.”
Choosing Your Freedom
Funny thing, choosing to practice courage in that moment–notice that stopping to breathe, being open to seeing where things go, and trusting in the process sounds an awful lot like what most of us think of as…freedom.
Notice what happens when you arrange your life so that you can start a 30-day yoga challenge, and then suddenly you don’t want to go. Notice what happens when you swear to yourself that you’ll speak up at the next meeting, and then tell yourself you have nothing worthwhile to share. Notice what happens when you’re furious at your husband, and you have a moment where you take a breath, but then you say “Fuck it” and get the pot-shot in, anyway.
We’re either choosing the identity, or we’re choosing freedom. Click to tweet: http://ctt.ec/bvdxb). So if you really, really–really!–want your life to change, it’s good to ask yourself what your identity systems are made of, how they operate, how they help you to navigate your life, and why you turn to them in the first place.
Then it’s good to ask yourself if you’d be willing to release even that–everything you think you’re so certain about, within yourself–in service to a new and unfamiliar change. You’re surrendering to…
Not needing to know.
Not relying on a pre-determined set of “answers.”
On the other side of that, there’s spaciousness. Openness. Uncertainty. Vulnerability. Courage. Freedom.