I paid more attention than usual this year to people’s New Year’s resolutions and to the obligatory articles in the media about the most common resolutions and how long people keep them. Unsurprisingly, people want to improve their health, financial security, and happiness. Unsurprisingly, their resolve does not last much longer than their holiday leftovers.
Looking at resolutions and how we word them, it’s easy to see why people hasten to break them. A resolution to improve your life couched in terms of self-hatred is doomed to fail.
“This year, I’m finally going to get off my lazy ass and lose these extra 25 pounds that are making me look like the fat pig that I am.”
This is a vicious thing for a person to say to herself. If someone else said it, it would be a relationship-ending insult. If you heard someone say it to a friend, you would rise in furious defense. But people say this kind of thing to themselves all the time.
Of course, we rebel against the nasty person telling us we’re fat, lazy pigs by doing the opposite of whatever she wants us to do. If past is precedent, most of us will overthrow this tyrant before February.
A self-compassionate resolution might have a fighting chance:
“Starting today, I am going to take better care of myself. I’m going to move more, in ways that feel good. I’m going to fill myself up with more fruits and vegetables and protect my body from too much junk food. I am going to find healing, loving ways to deal with sadness, stress, and boredom, so that I don’t overeat. I’m going to forgive myself when I make a mistake and move on.”
“Starting today” can happen on whatever day we choose. We get a lot of New Years in every calendar. In addition to January 1st, we get our birthdays, our own private New Year. For students and teachers, the beginning of the fall term is a chance to begin again. The Jewish calendar has four different kinds of New Year celebrations for different purposes throughout the year, like Tu Bishvat. The trees won’t mind your borrowing their New Year at all. The Christian liturgical calendar offers opportunities for new beginnings in its seasons of Lent and Advent. The earth itself gives us equinoxes and solstices, and even cross-quarter days, if you like your new beginnings about six weeks apart.
You can always begin again.
My resolution this year began as a blessing and turned into a rubric. “May you be content with the consequences of your choices,” I wrote on Perfect Whole’s Facebook page on New Year’s Eve, and every day since, I have asked myself whether I am content, in this moment, with the consequences of the choices I have made, and if not, what I can do to change.
The choices can be as minor as what I chose to eat for lunch, or as major as what I decided to do for a living. A bad choice can have good consequences (“I should never have married that idiot from the motorcycle gang, but I love this beautiful child we had before he went to prison!”). A good choice can have bad consequences in a given day (“I’m glad I went to pharmacy school, but if I fill one more Tamiflu prescription today, I’m going to scream!”).
I’m looking more closely at how I spend my time, too. I chose to spend an hour on Sunday night watching Downton Abbey, and the consequences were well worth it. On the other hand, I have also chosen to spend some time recently reading A Discovery of Witches, and I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the consequences of that decision. I chose to spend most of the weekend writing, and the long chapter I finished drafting was a consequence that made me very happy.
Choices are permanent. Managing the consequences of those choices is an ongoing, moment-to-moment process. One of my resolutions is to ask myself this question frequently. I do a quick CCC (“Content with the consequences of my choices?”) check in my journal, and it’s amazing how much nonsense the question cuts through, how quickly it gets me to what I really need to be thinking about.
Of course, we get angry, anxious, and sad about the bad things that happen to us that we can’t control: illness, accidents, death, bad luck, car trouble, irritating family members. But that only makes the things we have freely chosen all the more precious. I may, for example, get the flu through no choice of my own. But if my husband brings me tea and chicken soup until I’m well, I can still be content with the consequences of my choices. I didn’t choose the flu, but I did choose him.
So, are you content with the consequences of your choices? If not, what are you doing to change them?
One of my resolutions for 2013 is to finish the novel I’ve been working on, which I may have mentioned once or twice before. I’m close to completing the current draft. Revising will take several more months, after which I would like to find an agent to sell it to a publisher. Since this project is my primary creative focus, I will be taking a hiatus from Perfect Whole, updating it from time to time, rather than on a schedule. I will also continue to post on Perfect Whole’s Facebook page.
I have been very happy with the consequences of the choice to write a new Perfect Whole essay twice a month for the past twenty months. Now, I’d like to focus my writing time and energy on the novel, and see what consequences arise.
Thank you for reading. Happy New Year. Every day.