Why are the promises we make to ourselves, the most difficult to keep?
What I love most about the beginning of the year is the seemingly infinite space available for setting goals and creating change. 365 days. I can accomplish something in that time. Right?
New Year’s resolutions are like plans you make with a new acquaintance after a second glass of wine. The intentions are there in the moment, but somehow life gets in the way. Still, the ritual of the resolution can be fun and meaningful, and the idea that there is a day every year where you get permission to start over, to begin anew, is inspiring.
So what of all the broken promises?
“Mungo promising sunset” by Pierre Pouliquin, is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Ultimately New Year’s resolutions can be hard to keep.
So why even try?
I’ve set a fair number of resolutions over the years and through my own growth and failure have learned a thing or two. Working toward big change is exciting. It means you still see potential in yourself. But the million little steps towards big goals can feel daunting, and before we reach our destination many of us abandon the treacherous path and return the comfort of a road that was paved for us long ago. That’s not to say you shouldn’t set goals for long lasting change.
I’m talking about the value of instant gratification.
As humans, we are pleasure seekers, and quick success can serve as a great motivator when the work that it takes to create lasting change becomes too difficult to maintain. The following is a list of smaller, attainable goals, aimed at building connection, opening space, and keeping you going when your journey toward your resolutions proves trying:
1. Clean a room… or a drawer, or a closet, or some other cluttered space that’s been sitting untouched. Heck, organize the pictures on your hard drive. I cleaned houses and helped organize spaces to pay the bills when I did my undergrad degree. The look on my client’s faces when the contents of their lives were neatly organized in the space around them reflected the incredible power of such a seemingly simple act. When I worked with the client to decide what they still valued and what could be given away the experience paid off tenfold. Cleaning can be a spiritual experience. It can show you where you’ve come from and where you want to go. It can show you what you want to take on that journey and what you want to leave behind. Inevitably, the way we manage our surroundings can reflect so much of what occupies the space in our lives. A great way to rediscover who you are and who you want to be is to mindfully clean and organize your belongings.
2. Create something. Cook, write a bad poem, build a bird house, or paint a picture. Resist the urge to research too much into that which you choose to take on. The point is not to do something well, it’s to be willing to create something, a manifestation of your deeper self without expectation of success or perfection. Just be present with yourself and except that the dollar store canvas will never sell on EBay, and your macaroni necklace may end up the kitchen bin without a single admirer. Validation can be a prison. It can keep you from enjoying the simple pleasure of being. Create something with no bigger expectation than spending time with yourself. There is no greater gift you can give yourself than the gift of time free of expectation.
3. While on the subject of time, free of expectation, spend time with someone completely outside your range of age doing something that they want to do. Build a snow fort with a five year old, play cards with your Gran, or take your neighbour for coffee. I’ve found that if you are willing to spend time with people of another generation, you can learn and experience amazing things. By sharing time with them on their terms, you become open to possibilities and perspectives of life outside your realm of experience. So meet them where they are and be willing to make room for their views.
4. Learn something new. You don’t have to dedicate weeks to a class or spend a tonne of money on lessons. There are tens of thousands of online tutorials and free apps that can allow you to open yourself to new skills and experiences. I recently began using Calm, a free app that teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation and reminds you daily to take 10 uninterrupted minutes for mindfulness training. Some other favorites of mine include Khan Academy (free online world class education where you can learn everything from art history to computer programming), Justin Guitar (quality online guitar lessons), and CreativeLive (online art classes that are free while they are live streaming and available to purchase for future viewing). There are also more mainstream sites like YouTube, Pinterest, and TED talks, which are rich with information and lessons on practically everything. Even Stanford, Harvard and Yale have free classes online. If you want to deepen the experience, learn something from someone you know. Learning new skills can awake dormant parts of yourself and connect you to new communities of people. Building new skills that connect to your interests is foundational in creating a passion filled life.
“Walk in Crocodile” by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, is licensed under CC BY 2.0
5. Face your fears. There are rational fears, and then there are fears that are no more real than the monster beneath your bed. The older I get the more reluctant I am, it seems, to try those things that I may be horrible at but would love to do. Have you ever noticed the physical responses to fear and anxiety are similar to those of excitement? A colleague of mine recently said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Facing fears in small doses can build the skills you need to take on a similar fear based task with greater competency. Once again, the key is to start small and face your fear without judgment or expectation of yourself. Failure is not a four letter word. Growth doesn’t happen by only doing those things which we are good at. Can’t do it alone? Find a supportive friend to help you through. Keep it safe and keep it simple, and when you’re done congratulate yourself for making it through. Sing karaoke, jump from the high dive, or start dating again, courage is the key to the lock that fear has been keeping on your life.
The beauty of a New Year is that it marks both a beginning and an end. So many of the changes we hope to make are subtly dressed in the expectations of our former selves. By incorporating smaller changes with immediate results into your resolutions, perhaps you can leave some of your expectations in 2015 and look at yourself with new eyes, so that when the path gets rocky you stay the course.
About Jeannette Bodnar
Jeannette Bodnar is currently completing her practicum in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Winnipeg. When not searching the internet for destinations she can’t afford to travel to, she can be found experimenting in her kitchen, reading a good book, spending time with her family, or fully engrossed in a Netflix documentary. Jeannette has been in a successful, happy and unwavering relationship with coffee for the past twenty years.