This article first appeared in Thrive Through Transitions newsletter January 13, 2017. Subscribe to the newsletter here: http://bonniehutchinson.com/newsletter/
Forget self-improvement! Resolutions that make you happy now.
When my son was in his twenties, living with a couple of other twenty-something guys, he told me one January that he and his housemates had made a New Year’s Resolution.
“Really?” I said. I was a little surprised – the guys didn’t seem like “New Year’s Resolution” types. “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?”
“Well,” my son said, “We’ve decided to be celibate for a year.”
I was more than surprised. After a moment I said, “Not that it’s any of my business, but I, um, wouldn’t have expected that.”
“Yes,” he said. “We decided that if we keep our resolution for a year, we’ll have something to celebrate next New Year’s Eve. And if we don’t keep our resolution –” He stopped and grinned. “Oh well!”
In the January 2017 Oprah magazine, Martha Beck wrote a piece that riveted my attention. She talked about how, when she really looked at her 2016 resolutions (which, she said, were pretty much the same as her 1987 resolutions), she decided to contemplate them from a different perspective. She asked herself, “Do these goals resonate with me? Are they really what I want most in the entire world?” Her answer was, “No.”
She thought about how she actually wanted to spend the next 12 months and made new resolutions.
I laughed out loud when I read her resolutions. Examples: “Gain weight.” “Make messes.” “Forget what I’ve learned.”
As I read her explanations, though, I realized how profound were her new resolutions.
In each case, she took a previous resolution that had essentially been some sort of “self-improvement” attempt. Reflecting more deeply, she chose instead to flip her attention to what truly mattered to her.
For example, in regard to “weight,” she thought of people past and present that she admired and realized that she had no idea what any of them weighed and didn’t care. She decided to shift her attention to “weightier” matters. As she wrote, “weighty as in ‘of great importance,’ a definition that does not apply to dress size.”
She reported that she feels instantly lighter when she stops asking, “Why are my thighs so squidgy?” and starts asking, “What would really make me happy right now?” As she says, “Whenever body shame creeps up on me, I resolve to refocus on adding meaning to my life.”
In each of her other new resolutions, she re-framed a previous self-improvement resolution to a perspective of appreciation, gratitude and deeper meaning. Instead of bemoaning being disorganized, celebrating her ability to combine things in unusual ways and come up with unconventional solutions. Instead of focussing attention on the needs and expectations of others, distancing herself from people who drain her, being more attentive to how she really feels and making sure her actions match her truth.
As I reflected on what really matters to me, I realized that while there are concrete achievements I’d like to accomplish in 2017, what really matters to me is how I feel moment to moment, which in turn impacts what I can achieve and what kind of presence I am in the world.
My new practice is this. Whenever I feel myself slipping into (or already feeling) dark thoughts or dark emotions, I ask, “What would make me happy right now?
I don’t always remember, but when I do, that question takes me to counter-intuitive actions (like having a nap), and reminds me of the blessings and abundance in my life. And that truly does change everything.
In that context, while perhaps a bit “gamey” and quirky, the logic behind my twenty-something son’s New Year’s resolution, was impeccable!
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” ~ Lucille Ball
“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ~ Louise L. Hay
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~ Jean Shinoda Bolen