First of all, let me just state that I am actually a fan of opportunities such as New Year’s when we sit back and take a big picture look at our lives, re-commit ourselves to the things that we think are really important, and do a re-set of any of the aspects of our lives that do not correspond with those. Personally, I like to use birthdays and the turn of the year for that activity: two things that happen just because the earth is managing to move around the sun, not because of anything I did. That strikes me as appropriately humbling in some way. It helps me ask, “Since this planet is going to keep on spinning on its path regardless of what I do, how do I make a difference with the time I’ve got?” For me those two events every year are just about equa-distant on the calendar, so they work well as two opportunities throughout the year to re-calibrate. That’s why on my birthday you’ll find me placing more emphasis on managing a long walk in the woods than on throwing a big party. Then I come down and have a clambake and drink some home brew.
Those are the big opportunities, but I actually think that to be really transformative this sort of activity also needs to focus on the fact that the earth is not just moving around the sun annually, but spinning on its axis daily. And we don’t have anything to do with that either: so what can we do today that is under our control that will actually mean something?
New Year’s resolutions strike me as very similar to diets: they don’t work, or at least that’s what most of the research would lead us to believe. I think that’s because at the same time they’re too short term as well as too long term. Too short term because they imply a one time thing, something you’ll accomplish this year (or in the case of a diet, 6 months or 30 days or until I lose so many pounds or whatever other useless marker someone is trying to sell you). And too long term because any truly transformative change that is going to go the distance is going to be about what you do today, or even this moment that you’re currently living in.
As I stated, I think it’s great to set goals and have a big picture in mind. But what is going to help you to evolve into achieving those goals is going to be more about the little things you do every day. Maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how small a step can I take in the various aspects of life that make up my wellness? For instance:
Nutrition. Rather than how many pounds am I going to lose, or how radically can I transform what I eat, how can I add a few more vegies to my plate, or another color to those vegies instead of just green, or one fewer source of refined carbohydrates (sugared drink, piece of white bread, donut, etc.).
Fitness. Rather than obsessing about how far you have to go to become an iron-person, how can you get a little more movement in my day? Take a little longer walk? Take a walk at all? Park in the back of the lot and walk to the store? Take that one flight of stairs to the office instead of the elevator? Two more reps with your exercises?
Stress management (my “everything else” category). Instead of jumping to a 30 minute deep meditative experience every day, where is space that you can carve out for a few minutes to just unplug and breathe deep?
Instead of worrying about single-handedly solving the homeless problem or resettling every refugee, what is something you can do for someone around you today that adds some value to their life?
Instead of obsessing over that person who did that horrible thing years ago , how can you give a pass to the person who cuts you off in traffic or puts you on hold again, and train yourself in little things to one day let go of the grudges that are still compromising your immune system and cutting years out of your life?
I could go on regarding whatever is making your cortisol flow. Ask any financial advisor, for instance, who will tell you that it is the little things done consistently that will transform that aspect of your life over time. For me, the important thing about that is to every day share with other people or do something else to let go of these things in order to remind myself of how little importance that really has in how significant my life will be in the end.
You get the picture. By that I mean the little daily sketch you make of some aspect of your life, not the big painting on the ceiling of the chapel that those sketches will eventually create. The problem with big resolutions is that they focus on the significant goals down the road, something that can be daunting and unmotivating. Put more than one or two of them together and they can seem downright unachievable. And the reality is that you may not achieve them at all, because you choose not to: in the process of the evolution in that direction, you may discover that your goals and values change over time: or that you as an individual have a mind, body and spirit that requires a slightly different mix and methodology of the components to your wellness than what the “experts” tell you. You are the expert on you, and the secret to discovering the intricacies of what works best for you is hidden in the small and perhaps seemingly insignificant daily opportunities that you take advantage of on your journey of wellness.
Maybe in the end we will discover that it wasn’t so much about where we were heading, but what direction we were heading in and taking the little steps every day along that path.
Maybe in the end we will look back and discover it was more about our evolution than about our resolutions.
And that we make a path by walking.
Happy New Year.