December 28, 2010

Resolve to be yourself.

New Years resolutions — an opportunity to better yourself or a setup for failure and disappointment?

I don’t know too many people who can manage to keep their New Year’s resolutions for a solid year. Most of us base our annual goals on a vision we have of the person we want to be, not the person we actually are. And while I believe that most resolutions do come from a good place in the heart, they can so often be misguided and, frankly, unrealistic. And then when we don’t meet our own lofty goals, we feel like failures. No bueno.

Willpower has never been one of my stronger character traits and so I have traditionally not had a lot of luck with New Year’s resolutions. But a few years ago I made a shift in the way I resolve. I decided to start basing my New Year’s resolutions on a metta practice of kindness and self-love. How? By committing only to do things I am naturally inclined to do anyway. You might say that my resolutions are more like things I let myself get away with. But, with the proper spin, they seem like examples of betterment.

That first year, I decided that instead of pressuring myself to read yoga classics and self-help books (this was during my yoga teaching era) I would, for twelve whole months, read only gratuitous fiction. The truth is, I love to read, but, like most people, I can’t get through a book if it’s not compelling for me. And I am entertained by novels—not instructional manuals.

For that lovely year, I didn’t even consider dipping into anything but pure, raw, gratuitous fiction, no matter who tried to sell me on the new Deepak Chopra, the old Rumi, or the latest pivotal must-have self-actualization masterpiece. And I had a built-in excuse to say, “Wow, I really wish I could read that, but unfortunately I made a New Year’s Resolution… Maybe next year.” For one year, I had the time of my life reading completely made-up stories. And guess what? It was the first year I ever kept my New Year’s Resolution.

This shift was a eureka moment for my self-esteem. By committing to do something I really secretly wanted to do anyway, I exponentially increased my chances of sticking to the plan. And it worked! Since then, I have carried this philosophy of self-acceptance into other areas of my life. I’ve never been a big fan of manifestation and the Law of Attraction, but I am a huge advocate of acceptance: of self and others.

Here’s what I resolved last year:

Not to try one single dietary program or cleanse or what-have-you just because someone else advocated that it would be “good for me.” I did not do the Master Cleanse; I did not become a raw a foodist; I did not embrace veganism; I did not cut out gluten; I did not make sugar my enemy; and I did not put wheatgrass in any of my orifices at all. (Mind you, I have tried each of these things at some point in the past.)

I did, on the other hand, eat mindfully and according to what felt right for me at any given moment — even those moments when peanut butter cookies felt right. (Admittedly, there were a lot of those, and this might not have been my skinniest year ever, but it was one of my most nurturing, as least as far as food was concerned.)

The verdict?

These last few rounds of resolutions have worked so well for me that I’ve actually adopted them into my life as permanent (so far) practices. I still read primarily novels—although I occasionally make exceptions for a really riveting “good for me” enlightener—and I still listen to myself first when it comes to making food choices. (Albeit while staying as informed as possible — in fact, one of the last non-novels I read was the brilliant Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Great book. Of course, he’s a novelist, so his tome on the factory farming industry reads like a story.)

The nice thing about choosing to make New Year’s resolutions from a place of surrender is that you greatly decrease your chances of failure (and its kissing cousin, shame).

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