I understand why the New Year gets people all excited about making a list of resolutions – it’s a brand spanking new year, a brand-new calendar, plus it comes on the heels of the chaos and excess that is the holiday season. Most people give themselves lots of leeway around the holidays, me included – I eat and drink stuff I normally wouldn’t, in quantities I usually don’t; my workout place is closed and I’m less diligent about getting that exercise in; my house is messier and stays dirtier than it normally does; and I spend money like a crazy person (my shopping weeks in December are designated “Thoughtful Shopping,” “Power Shopping,” and “Panic Shopping.”). We all have our traditions.
In any case, by the time January and the New Year roll around, I’m pretty much done with it all. A part of me feels it kind of wrenching to go back to real world stuff, but another part of me can’t wait to put all the holiday chaos away. And once the transition is made, there is a certain relief to go back to a routine that I created for myself because it really does work for me.
Which brings me to the idea of “resolutions.”
For me resolutions are ongoing, and the way I decide which ones to commit to are to ask myself this question:
“What am I tired of feeling bad about?”
I quit smoking and drinking because I was so tired of the every-single-day wake-up routine I came to call “The Review.” Every morning I would wake up, take an inventory of how bad my body felt (how hungover, essentially), and review my behavior from the night before. Did I do anything bad? Did I do something I need to apologize for? How much did I drink? More than I planned to (again)? In other words – “How bad do I have to feel about myself today?”
And that was before I had even gotten out of bed. Every day, I started that day feeling more or less bad about myself. Usually more. Every day, I had to work hard to get myself to a place where I could feel okay about myself, digging myself out of that hole I always started in.
That was a powerful beginning to “what I am tired of feeling bad about.” I actually quit smoking before I quit drinking – smoking was another thing I had to spend inordinate amounts of energy rationalizing and digging myself out of a guilt hole about. Quitting smoking was the back-door, sideways way of quitting drinking – I realized I couldn’t drink without wanting to smoke, so I cut way down on drinking and then realized…”Oh yeah… this really is the bigger problem…” But that’s another story.
I no longer wake up in that terrible guilt/shame pit, but I am still sensitive to that sickening feeling, and the practice of rationalizing away bad habits that my conscious mind doesn’t really believe.
So I think about what else in my life I feel kind of bad about, and what am I willing to do to feel better about it? Sometimes the answer is just to give myself a break, because it is what it is. Sometimes it’s something I can tweak, or take small steps toward.
As I was quitting smoking and drinking, I knew I needed to do something physical to keep myself from clawing my own face off (lots of buried feelings were coming up), so I started to exercise. Back then, I got up at dawn and went race-walking around the neighborhood.
Nowadays, I do intense workout classes at the martial arts dojo that I and my kids did training in for years (still have lots of intense feelings that benefit from physical release).
I exercise on a regular basis not because I love it so much (I very rarely want to go to class), but because I want what it gives me – a strong, healthy, and fit body, plus the best stress relief in town. It also keeps me off that hook of feeling bad about not doing something I know I should. So I put those classes in my schedule and I just go. I’m always glad I did it. And come to think of it, it’s also good to know that I don’t let the resistant, whiny thoughts and feelings win out – because who wants them to run your life?
Coming from the opposite direction, you can ask yourself what you would feel good having done something specific. I do this every day. I look at the sink of dirty dishes, and I usually think, “I would feel good looking at the empty sink.” And I go wash the dishes. Then when I see the empty sink at the end of the day, I acknowledge to myself the little present I gave myself earlier in the day. Sometimes, like when it comes to doing taxes and other bigger and more aversive activities, I need to give myself a prize at the end.
Asking myself that question every day means I get to feel good every day. And it creates a habit of looking for ways to feel good, which means I get to have more and more of that every day.
Not a bad way to create a better year!