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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

ACTION: New Year, KNOW You

The new year inevitably brings with it the illusion of a fresh start. "New Year, New You!" it says...everywhere. (For real-- google it.) The underlying suggestion is that we're not good enough, we need to change.

I'm not knocking change. As humans, we thirst for positive changes, for reaching new ideals. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

But January 1st carries with it the implication that, with the simple flip of a calendar page, everything will be different.

Suddenly, magically, this is the year you will finally lose the weight, get organized, read more, stop yelling. We make the resolutions, envision the changes, and then...  stay much the same. Even if we start trying to enact the changes, by summer (if not sooner) most resolutions are abandoned, forgotten, disregarded. (Check out these interesting stats on resolutions.)

Are we failures or fools? Do we lack self-control? Maybe. But I suspect it's more likely a matter of heaping way too much pressure on the so-called fresh start, and being unrealistic with ourselves about who we are.

Two things I've read since the clock struck midnight marking 2016 have led me to this conclusion.

First, this perspective on happiness. Alfred D. Souza notes: "For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life." (*Emphasis added by me.)

This sentiment resonated with me because I'm guilty of this. I seem always to be waiting for something to end before I can enjoy something else. But guess what happens? Even if the original something does end (& it sometimes doesn't), something else moves in to take its place! In turn, I'm constantly waiting and rarely enjoying. How sad.

Thus, what I need to be doing is consciously enjoying what's happening now. Sure, certain aspects of my life aren't currently at my self-imposed ideal. I can work on that. But working towards a goal, or working through a struggle, or accepting things as they are right now shouldn't keep me from enjoying life overall. 

Think about it: Every day--every moment in every day, really--is a fresh start.

So I've adopted the word ACTION as my motivator, my reminder. Action encompasses movement, activity, and now-ness. (Look at that--I created a new word form!) I'm not passive if I'm taking action, which means I'm living.

In an effort toward their own action, people might do well to release the propensity for beating themselves up when they lapse in what they set out to do, and start fresh right away (as opposed to "tomorrow" or "next week" or "next January 1st"). Just start fresh in that moment.

For instance, if you resolve to eat healthy food but find yourself elbow-deep in a bag of potato chips: stop. Fold up the bag and get rid of it. Go drink a glass of water. That's so much better than shrugging, muttering, "Well, I'll try again tomorrow," and continuing to shovel chips in your face. Try now; don't wait. Take action now.

But wait-- about those chips...will your hand be right back in the bag tomorrow?

You know yourself well enough to know if it will.

Which leads me to the second piece I read and loved. In Holstee's Mindful Matter series (which comes to me in my inbox and has some marvelous, thought-provoking ideas), Sheena Greer talks about taking on too much in The Cup List: On Living Realistically. The bit that stood out to me most was, "Realizing there are certain things that will simply never work in my life is not admitting failure. It’s being reflective about who I am, what I’m capable of, and what aspects of my life I truly need to change and what ones aren't worth fighting. If we are to successfully stretch our attention outward, we must first bend back into ourselves. And then move forward."

In sum, if we aren't honest with ourselves about who we are, we can set unrealistic expectations for ourselves that are destined to fail.

So if you're addicted to potato chips, it's probably pointless to swear off potato chips. Instead, buy yourself those snack pack portion-controlled bags and allow yourself one bag a day. 

Yesterday, on my ride home from the gym, high on endorphins, I felt the full impact of Greer's meaning for me.

I don't love the gym. In fact, I kind of hate it. It smells funky, it's sometimes crowded (especially this time of year), and the act of going there--stopping what I'm doing and changing into gym clothes and driving over and hoping the machine I want to use is available and functioning--can be a drag. In fact, because I spent so much of the latter half of 2015 sick, I ended up taking a hiatus from the gym for several months and have been considering canceling my membership. (For perspective, I'd been going to the gym almost daily for nearly three years until this past September when I had to take a break. Yesterday was my first day back.)

All morning yesterday I poked around, not sure if I would muster the gumption to get my butt out the door. But I did. And on the ride home, I was thrilled that I did.

Why? Because I realized anew that the gym WORKS for me. When I go, I achieve several things--things that are important to me--at once.

1. Since I work from home, getting out of the house provides a nice break from the demands of both my kids and my office. It's like a reset button each day.
2. I'm keeping in shape, strengthening my body.
3. (&, for me, most important) It's where I read for pleasure. I realized yesterday I hadn't read a single book since September, but I'd been tearing through titles before that. (I set up my iPad in front of me on the elliptical and read. It's a wonderful mind escape that distracts me from the monotony of the physical movement and makes the time pass quickly.) It's not that I don't read at home, but it turns out I don't tend to start books at home. There's too many distractions. At the gym, I can read uninterrupted for 32-minute stretches, and when I'm sufficiently hooked on a book, that's the point where I'll start stealing time at home to read more. I've said it in the past (but had forgotten until yesterday): I go to the gym so I can read. (And also, so I can eat cookies.)

I need the gym as part of my life and would be losing too much if I stopped going entirely. I'm glad I realized that about myself because it helps me stay realistic about my goals.

So now, because it's now--not because it's the dawn of a new calendar year--I propose that we not feel compelled to "fix" ourselves, but instead to know ourselves. If there's something there that we'd like to change, we should go about enacting that in a way that is in keeping with who we are and what matters to us. And, most importantly, we should always strive to remember as we move forward that there's no sense waiting for later to enjoy our lives now.

Happy action, people!

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