These 4 Resolutions Will Change Your Life by Karin Lindgren
February Resolutions are a Real Thing...
It’s February. By February we usually have all-out failed at all our efforts to be successful at our New Year’s Resolutions and are feeling humbled by how difficult it is to make new habits. We humans try all sorts of refreshing, reinventing, and general shake-downs of our diets, health, exercise, and excavation of all our bad habits. And you know what traditionally happens? Well, a week or two of energetic discipline, followed by “too busy”, “too tired”, “too broke”, and my favorite, “I don’t want to anymore”. Let’s be honest, New Year’s resolutions often make us feel like failures within a month’s time.
What is the problem? How come we can’t recreate ourselves on command? Why does enthusiasm drift and great interest fail? And new habits and problems arise out of the ashes of our old habits! For example, if I attempt to exercise more, and my meetings decrease, I find myself shamelessly arrogant or self-pitying again. If I join an “eat healthier” pact with a friend, I suddenly find myself lying and sneaking sweet treats, just like I would alcohol and drugs in the past. Strange old behaviors come up when I make an effort to just “change now”. Is it unreasonable to think I can change myself? I successfully quit drinking and using didn’t I?
For me, I quickly forget how difficult it was to quit using mind-altering substances. I also quickly forget how many problems arose when I stopped. I was uncomfortable all the time, my head was foggy, I couldn’t think clearly, and I had no idea what to do with myself. Though inpatient treatment, therapy, a 12 step program, countless sober supporters, family support, and utter, deep, thorough acceptance that I had no choice but to stay sober, I was able to force myself to sit through the discomfort and gain new healthy habits. There was a lot of behavior correction, mistakes, and embarrassment in the painful process of early sobriety. Changing myself was a long, hard process, but I can happily say I do not crave to drink or drug today.
After remembering this I can see that “changing myself” did not come from a simple thought to just do it. It was a process of learning about the underlying problems, being honest about them, and asking others how to correct them. I believe no new habits can come without this kind of work. Some habits may be a bit simpler to change, with less coexisting behavior tied to them, but I do believe if we alter some facet of our lives there will be a relational effect somewhere else, which may be entirely unexpected.
When a resolution is viewed in a more holistic way, by readying ourselves for unexpected effects, we can become more open to seeing what it will take to follow through with a lasting change in our lives. With support, we can tackle our underlying issues and GROW.
But what about making resolutions based on those underlying issues? What if we make resolutions to change the behaviors that make us feel bad and reach out for unhealthy forms of relief (like food, toxic relationships, staring at the TV for hours, overspending, etc.)? What would happen if we gently started adjusting ourselves to be better people who feel better? Would our bad habits get smaller or go away? Let’s start at the root of our troubles with some minimal improvements and see what happens.
Resolution #1: Be kind.
I’ve heard over and over that if I want better self-esteem, I should do esteemable acts, or acts that make me feel better about myself. Being kind makes me feel good, and others appreciate it as well, making this resolution an all-around win. Just remember, as Confucius wrote, “Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.” for this practice to work. Some examples of esteemable acts or acts of kindness are:
Write thank you notes for individuals who have helped you or you have seen them help others.
Offer to return someone’s cart to the grocery cart (thus putting your cart back as well).
Hold the door open for others and make eye contact with them.
Say “Thank you, I appreciate that” often and with meaning.
Call someone and ask how they are doing.
Resolution #2: Smile more.
When I entered sobriety, my smiling muscles were stiff and rusty. It had been a while since I had exercised those muscles! It has been known in medicine that smiling engages a positive feedback loop. When we smile about something we are not only feeling good from what made us smile, the act of smiling releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. It has also been found that smiling not only with the muscles around our mouth, but also around the eyes, creates a more genuine smile. And a genuine smile is contagious. Regardless of whether we feel like smiling, the practice of doing so will release pleasurable chemicals and create more smiles around us, which gradually creates a more smiley environment. Strange, but this will turn into a genuinely happy, feel-good setting.
Resolution #3: Leave Things Better Than You Found Them.
I believe this idea is rooted in the Boy Scout’s rule to “leave a campsite cleaner than you found it”. Can you imagine if the world was full of Boy Scouts? We would live on one fabulously tidy organized planet! Upon thinking about this, my OCD cleaning side engaged, and I imagined how I could make this world better with gradual little tweaks and improvements everywhere I went.
Now, I don’t travel around with a bin of cleaning supplies, but I do make a conscious effort to leave each area and each interaction with the intent of making it a little better. In personal interactions, I contribute positivity, say “have a good day” in a heartfelt way, and often bring up something funny during small talk. I want people to feel good after they interact with me, not be exposed with a laundry list of my complaints. I take the time to listen fully and not interrupt. If I visit somewhere, I make sure everything is back in order when I leave. If I perform a job for someone, I make sure I have communicated what I did, and do it a little better each time, so it is easy for them to have me do work for them. I make sure my issues are resolved before I move on, I try to not let thoughts go untied. Practicing this in life has simplified my interactions with people, made my areas more organized, my work better, and my mind less busy.
Resolution #4: Let go of the idea of perfection.
The pursuit of perfection has been a lifelong battle for me, and kept me from getting sober because I was so unwilling to admit defeat and failure. I’ll use my sobriety as an example of how the pursuit of perfection can hold us back from progress. Sitting in rehab, my life in shambles, feeling like a lifeless doll, barely able to sit up on my own, I still had fearful thoughts about not wanting to try because I might not get sobriety right. Then someone said to me something life changing, “What are you waiting for? Done is better than perfect.” And another thought by Salvador Dali, “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it”. Between those two phrases something clicked in my head and I thought, “oh”. A lifelong pursuit spoiled in two sentences. And I set off on a new course to “do” sobriety and have some mistakes and failure, instead of being trapped in planning, criticizing, contemplating, preparing, organizing how I would get sober in a perfect matter, and never actually doing it. Perfection is a figment of our imaginations, something made up of how we perceive others, something we only see in movies. It is not real, and what IS real is an ability to build progress.
Resolutions are made for progress. They are ideas we get at the right time in our lives. We hear something and it gets our attention enough that we take the opportunity for action. It doesn’t have to happen on January 1st, or detox us in 21 days, or make us lose 20 pounds. I feel confidently that if we follow resolutions to build healthy perspectives and behaviors, our outward appearances will improve on their own. Our perceptions of ourselves will clarify and we will have more successful, peaceful lives.