Unfortunately my family and I have had a sad start to 2018. One of our two young cats got hit by a car and died by the side of the road. For the week after New Years Day our house was filled with tears, anger, silence, sadness, aching hearts and the sickening dread that comes each time we remember that he’s never coming back. It’s been tough, and the sadness will stay for some time, but already I can see the lessons that his loss is teaching me about my life, about what’s important to me, and how to BE each day rather than automatically focussing on DOING.
I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goals and intentions but haven’t set anything in stone (except to meditate more). There has been something of a backlash against New Year’s Resolutions because they often fail. Some people ask what’s the point of putting yourself through the pain, only to slip back into the bad habits a few weeks down the line. Others argue that if a new habit is worth cultivating, don’t wait until New Year to start it. And others say that New Year is the worst time to start afresh because we still have a cupboard full of mince pices, or a body recovering from the crazy busy-ness of December, so why start on the back foot? And there is validity in all these arguments.
GIVING UP BAD HABITS
Historically I have always made New Year’s Resolutions because – as a perfectionist – being a better person and piling on the pressure of impossible standards was my modus operandi. In recent years – as a recovering perfectionist – I don’t pile the pressure on myself at the start of January, with an impossible list of 10 new habits to work on all at the same time, expecting to have nailed them all by February. At 45 I’m more realistic because I know myself much better.
For example, Dry January is not my thing because it makes me miserable to be ‘banned’ from doing anything – sadly, it just makes me want it more. Instead, I’m learning to make my choices on a day to day basis, and as a result I’ve drunk a lot less without the annoyance of not being allowed to. When it is my choice to abstain it feels so much better, and if I want a nice glass of wine with my dinner then where’s the harm in that? But this is me. Other people can do cold turkey on bad habits more easily – my husband for example. Knowing yourself and what you want for yourself is key, I believe.
My husband wants to lose some weight and get fit for a sailing challenge in the spring, and he’s happy to say no to alcohol to do that. I want to sleep better and have more energy, so that’s my motivation to not drink as much as I did in December. Telling me not to drink for a month activates the rebellious child in me who wants to do what she wants and always has a better argument in the moment. Another example is that in December I started being gluten free because I’m testing whether it effects my sleep or not. I know this sounds the same as ‘banning’ it, but it wasn’t a sudden decision, but a gradual development. Instead I practiced making wise choices everytime I could have had gluten based on my main motivation: getting a good night’s sleep. This has resulted in me gradually training myself to be gluten free, becauses my desire for the energy and vitality that good sleep gives me is more compelling than a biscuit, cake, or even sourdough pizza (I know! Who knew I would ever be able to say no to that!?). Instead of banning anything, I’m practicing listenting to my wise soul voice in the moment and choosing not to eat gluten or drink so often. You need to know yourself and choose the best way for you.
CULTIVATING HEALTHIER HABITS
Starting new habits is equally challenging because we have to fight against our brain’s automatic behaviour. We tend to do and think the same things every day, so inserting a new habit can be challenging. I find that tagging a new habit onto an existing habit is a good way around this. Whenever I do x, I’ll follow it with y. For example, whenever I brush my teeth, I’ll spend two minutes being grateful for what happened today. Or when I finish my morning journalling/stretches/shower, I am going to do 5 minutes of meditation. It’s much easier to remember and get into the flow of.
Also, starting small is a great idea. 20 minutes of meditation would be a fantastic start to my day, one that I know in my bones is good for me and the happiness of my family. However, having let my mediation practice slip over the last year, I know that expecting myself to do 20 minutes of meditation every day right off the bat is not going to work. So I’ve set myself the target of 5 mins a day. And it’s working. I’ve done it every day since the 2nd Jan. I’m using an app on my phone to record my progress too which is motivating. It’s called Streaks, and it works because you don’t want to break your streak. When I see that I’ve meditated 8 days in a row, I don’t want to break that streak and go back to 1 again. It’s motivating for me.
A new practice that I’ve started this year, and which is really motivating me each day is choosing three little words that remind me how to BE with the people I love. My words for 2018 are love, compassion and integrity. Integrity has been one of my highest values, but which historically I have found most difficult to live up to.
For me integrity means focussing and doing the things that are most important to me. It’s living in alignment with my heart and soul, and my highest values – like compassion, connection, vitality, love, growth, adventure, service – and setting boundaries that protect these values. One of the reasons for my ‘failure’ to live in integrity in the past has been my perfectionist habit of wanting to keep people happy – ‘people-pleasing’. Perfectionists are people pleasers because they mistakenly believe that if they keep everyone happy then they will be judged as a good person, or they believe that trying to keep people happy will prevent them from having to deal with uncomfortable emotions that come from arguments, upset and saying no.
But what I’ve learnt the hard way is that trying to please other people, avoid conflict & negative emotions, and shying away from saying no, instead of sticking to your principles and values is a one-way ticket to resentment, dispair and depression. Having the courage and energy to establish ground rules about how you want to live, and to stick to them has been incredibly empowering and fulfilling.
Each day since New Year I have put on my (very short, ‘only include the important stuff’) To Do list the following two items: 1. Act with Integrity, and 2. Be Love and Compassion. This has been a great reminder that I can choose how I act each day with my children and husband, when I start to feel stressed, sad or irritated, or when I notice that I’ve clicked into automatic pilot. These words remind me to choose a healthy option for dinner, instead a feeding the kids a processed pizza because I’m too tired to cook. It reminds me to write a card to someone I’ve not spoken to for a year because connection is important to me. I reminds me to take a deep breath and choose to let my 15 year old son stay out for an extra hour after our agreed pick up time, because I want to live with compassion.
What are your words for 2018? What values do you want to live by each day?
Comment below and let me know what words are inspiring you this year.
If you would like to work with a coach to identify your values and create more integrity, fulfillment and (as a result) more confidence in your life book a chat with me.