Tips for a Less Flagellation-Filled New Year
Resolution babble is everywhere right now: “New year, new you!” “12 ways to transform yourself in 2012!” “Turn over a new leaf in the new year!”
I’m reminded of the passage I read years ago by Pema Chodron (I paraphrase): “Self-improvement is actually a subtle form of aggression against oneself.” When I first read that it turned my brain upside down wondering how something so seemingly healthy could be, as she implied, a tad abusive.
Nowadays (and especially at this time of year), it’s easy to see it starkly with all the promises of the stunning before and after pictures you’ll soon have if you can only make the right resolutions. In short, self-improvement is usually an internal way of saying, “Be better already, would ya? You are so [enter word of choice here: lazy, fat, depressed, broke, etc.]. You suck. Go change.”
It’s not just the yearly resolutions. Think of our manic goal setting, intention repeating and general progress-hungry selves. To not have goals in life seems so fatalistic and so downright un-American that most of us breathlessly chase our next big goal without ever pausing to reflect on what it might say about our deepest beliefs about ourselves.
Are we really so untrustworthy in the presence of a tray of cookies that we need a rule to rely on about just how many of those tempting cookies we’re allowed to consume? Do we need to set up our year’s workout schedule in advance because we simply don’t believe we’ll have any internal desire to move our bodies if left to our own devices?
More often than not, resolutions wind up being the proof that we can’t trust in ourselves enough to change without wrangling ourselves into submission. At their core, our attempts at transformation can be an addiction to being at war with ourselves. They certainly aren’t doing much good in making us less fat, broke, lonely and depressed by the time the next new year rolls around.
All that said, we do love a chance to evolve and to experience life more fully, and that sure beats settling for sleepwalking through the rest of one’s life. So perhaps we need to reframe what resolutions can be in a culture addicted to before and after pictures. Since there’s plenty of prescriptive bullshit in the self help arena, I hesitate to give you some tidy how-to package to take away from this.
So instead, here are some options for a less flagellation-filled New Year:
• Listen instead of declaring war.
Are you feeling the desire to eat five doughnuts? How about instead of promising yourself that you’ll go on a 70-day juice fast after you finish them, you instead ask yourself the question, “If I’m not hungry, and that food is going to make me feel awful, why do I want it? What is it I’m really craving?” I have no idea what the answer would be for any individual—and maybe you would wind up choosing to eat the doughnuts anyway—but I know that by posing a question, and then listening to the answer with compassion, that you are at least one step closer to ending the war with yourself. And that’s not too shabby.
• Decide on a theme for the year.
Instead of listing goals for every category of your life ad nauseum, why not instead decide on the one larger theme that you would like to invite in for 2012? With this you can energetically crack the door open to new possibilities without striving and sweating your way to “success.” Do you want to cultivate more patience, joy, presence, or compassion? Then pick it as your theme and bring yourself back to it throughout the year. I’ve done this for ages now and I can say that when I hold that intention all year, magic can happen without my prescribing exactly how it should unfold and being attached to what the end result looks like.
• Notice your end of 2011 snapshot.
Take a mental still frame of where you are right now and what gladness it brings you instead of spending that time projecting all over the future. Write it down if you wish and have a moment of presence. Note: this isn’t a past tense exercise (“this year I got a job promotion, fell in love, etc.”) but instead a present tense noticing. For example: “As I sit down to write this I notice that I am grateful for work that I love, a beautiful home and I look pretty snazzy in these pants.”
• Lighten up.
Instead of browbeating, flagellating, and otherwise contorting yourself, choose a little levity. At the very least, allow yourself to giggle when you notice your striving, (internal) trash talking and goal setting ways.
Brooke Thomas is a Rolfing practitioner, a helper-outer of other holistic practitioners over at the Practice Abundance Course, and the founding editor of The 11 Project, which is seeking out the best of what humanity is up to.