Quick Note: Happy Freaking New Year everyone!!! 2012 is going to be freaking epic. Awesome. Unbelievable. Stupendous. Fantabulous. The. Best. Year. Ever. I’ve got so many wonderful things in store for you this year, I’m bursting at the seams to get going after my super-duper spa holiday. Watch this space, y’all. It’s going to be so worth it. Yay!
It’s that time of year. A brand spanking new year has begun, unsullied, clean, ready to be molded into whatever we want it to be. Every year at the beginning of January, we set New Year’s resolutions. We may even set Goals. We plan to quit smoking, to finally lose those 10 pounds (or 20 or 30…), and to learn how to speak fluent Portuguese. We plan to go to the gym every day, and volunteer at the homeless shelter, to stop being workaholics, to leave random love notes around the house for our honey to find (because we saw that on Oprah and it sounds like a great idea), to smile at strangers on the street for no reason (because we love the idea of being THAT person), to pay for the coffee of the guy behind us in line once a week just to make someone’s day, and to never, EVER get stressed again. Starting January 2nd, we’re going to become RAW vegans and meditate daily, no, TWICE daily, and we’ll use our vacation time to go to India and work with orphans. Maybe we’ll quit our jobs and finally write that novel and dedicate ourselves to saving the planet. We will become perfect, enlightened beings, who walk about barefoot and in flowy linen clothes, with a permanent, serene smile on our faces, leaving everyone we meet to wonder what our secret is and how we got so freaking happy. Yes, this is the year that we will completely and totally change everything about ourselves, and finally achieve perfection. We are full of hope, full of enthusiasm for the future. The possibilities are endless. This will be our year, damn it!
Enter January 3rd. We find ourselves hiding out in the bathroom to avoid the family, chain smoking and horking down donuts like they contain the antidote to a lethal poison we just ingested. We had a massive fight with our sweetie in the morning, and instead of leaving love notes about the house, we had the distinct urge to stab them with a fork at the breakfast table. Repeatedly. That serenity we were hoping to achieve has been replaced with homicidal tendencies and a nervous tick. How great would it be to get a monster truck and just plow our way through the morning traffic? Surely, if we restricted ourselves to crushing just the BMW drivers, no one could really blame us, could they?
Every year we decide to become Mother Theresa (only with better hair) and every year we fail miserably. But it’s not our fault. It’s the damn system. New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work. By setting New Year’s resolutions, we are actually setting ourselves up for failure. That’s right: We are virtually guaranteed to fail. And then we beat ourselves up for being weak and unable to change.
Well, I say, no more. I stopped setting New Year’s resolutions years ago, and I’ve been happier, more productive and much more successful since. Want to know my secret? Of course you do. And because I’m such a nice person (with GREAT hair), I’m going to give it to you.
There’s nothing magic about January 1st
First of all, I have to point out that there’s nothing inherently special or magic about the end or beginning of the year. It’s simply a convenient time to take stock, do a review of where we are, where we were a year ago and where we want to be one year from today. It’s a great time to set a milestone. You can and should do this exercise at any time throughout the year. So the pressure we feel to get things done by December 31st is completely arbitrary and self imposed. Let’s cut that crap out right now, shall we?
The secret is to continuously work towards improvement (and we’ll define “improvement” in just a second), instead of shelving our goals and then doing a mad sprint to accomplish them by the end of the year (and subsequently beating up on ourselves when we fail to meet this unrealistic expectation), or alternatively, to set hugely unrealistic goals, only to abandon them minutes or hours later (the self flagellation remains).
It’s about how you feel
Although I do make a little list of what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year, my only REAL goal, my only REAL measure of success, is the answer to this question: “Do I feel better right now, than I did at this time last year?” I ask myself if I’m in better emotional shape than I was a year ago (again, an arbitrary but useful milestone). And if the answer is yes, I’m happy with my progress. Notice, that I don’t try to measure HOW MUCH better I feel. I don’t focus on how that feeling has manifested. Am I happier? If the answer is yes, I’ve basically done my job as a human being. If not, I simply didn’t focus on my goal throughout the year and I would vow to do better in the coming twelve months. I say “would”, since that’s never happened since I’ve begun to measure my success this way. Once I set the intention to feel better each year, I very naturally began to manifest all kinds of ways that helped me to do that. I didn’t go from miserable to happy in one jump, but I steadily improved. And isn’t that what we really want?
Why do you want to quit smoking? Because it doesn’t feel good for you to think of yourself as a smoker. You don’t like the associated feelings you have about smoking (being unhealthy, stinky, a nuisance, an outcast who has to stand outside with all the other outcasts to shamefully puff away…) You think you’ll be happier if you quit smoking. Why do you want to lose weight? Because you hate feeling fat. You don’t like feeling out of shape and squeezed into your clothes like a bound sausage. You want to feel sexy and slim and attractive and healthy. You think you’ll be happier if you’re thin. Everything you want to do is only on your list because you think it’ll make you happier. So why not just go for the happiness?
Oh, I know. You’re thinking “If I don’t set specific goals they won’t get done.” You’ve probably been setting New Year’s resolutions for years. How’s that been working out for you? Have you lost those 10 pounds yet?
As I said, although my main measure of success how happy I am overall, I do make a little list of things I’d like to accomplish every year. Only, this list doesn’t look anything like a list of resolutions. You can definitely be more specific about what you want, but it’s good to focus on what you REALLY want, instead of the actions you think you need to take to get there. The idea here is to set Intentions not make resolutions. These intentions should be about the feeling you’re trying to reach, not action items you think you need to force yourself to take. And they (the intentions) should feel good. Most of the time, our resolutions feel awful, because they activate the exact opposite of what we truly want. Let me give you some examples:
Resolution: I will finally lose those 10 stinking pounds this year.
Underlying thought: I hate my stupid, fat, uncooperative body.
Intention: I will feel better about my body this year. I will feel healthier and more attractive. I will learn to like my body more.
Notice that I used words like “better” and “healthier” and “like more” instead of “good” and “healthy” and “love”. Why? Because, unless you’re close to actually loving your body, these lofty goals are going to trigger major resistance. If I ask you “Can you feel better about your body? Even just a little bit better?”, you’re probably going to concede that yes, you can. But if I ask you “Can you LOVE your body?”, you may well think “Sure, if I lose 50 pounds and get plastic surgery and have my brain transplanted into someone else’s body.” If you’re simply aiming for improvement instead of perfection, you trigger a lot less backlash.
Ok, let’s do another one:
Resolution: I will quit smoking this year.
Underlying thought: I will stop being a weak, spineless, unhealthy addict. I will finally get my family and friends to shut the hell up about it. I will stop being embarrassed about the only freaking pleasurable thing I have left in my life, but that others (oppressive assholes), who really have no right to tell me what to do, want to take away from me.
Intention: I will focus on my health this year, on becoming healthier and feeling better in my own skin. I want to breathe easier and feel more comfortable in public. I will learn to reduce my stress in ways that I can feel good about and I will stop tying how I feel about myself to what others think (You’re focusing on how YOU feel, not on the injustice or on how others view you.)
If you continuously make improvements to how you feel, instead of focusing on arbitrary actions, you could well find yourself sitting down one December 31st, ready to make your yearly list, only to realize that you’ve slipped into a state of happiness. You may not be clad in linen, walking barefoot around Calcutta, handing out love and flowers. You may not have the perfect body, or the prefect relationship or the perfect job. And yet, inexplicably, you’ll still somehow have found happiness and joy. You’ll celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come since the last milestone, instead of beating yourself up for what didn’t go well last year and for the fact that you’ve fallen short of where you wanted to be. Did you progress? Did you improve? Did you learn anything? Did you grow? Are you happier? Then pat yourself on the back and do the happy dance.
Are you happier now than you were a year ago? How have you progressed since January 2011? What do you wish to feel better about in 2012? Share in the comments!