Why do resolutions always seem to add more to our lives? Start this year by cutting back on unhealthy areas of focus – and put that time and energy into a manageable list of things you want to accomplish in 2016
It’s easy to poke fun at the resolution-makers, those sweet, optimistic souls who write lists and make plans and hope that this year will be different, stronger, healthier – better. And it does seem naive sometimes, thinking that a person or a life can be transformed as definitively as the numbers on a calendar, that somehow with a single clock strike everything can change.
But at the risk of sounding like a starry-eyed idealist: why can’t it? Haven’t we all experienced the surreal sense of a life being significantly shifted in the space of a single second? It happens every day. So if not midnight on New Year’s Day, when?
The hardest part of any new venture is choosing to begin. It’s incredibly easy to continue putting off positive change until tomorrow, or next month; after things settle down at work, or when you have more time. Enough of that. The time is now! (Well, the time is actually two days from now, but you know what I mean.)
If you’re looking for a way to create change on a level which goes beyond coming up a weird magazine version of a “Whole New You!” or losing 10lbs, I have a few ideas that I’ll share over the next two weeks.
But before we even begin discussing the “what” of your resolution list, we should discuss the “how”.
Change works best when it’s built to be sustainable. I don’t know about you, but “sustainable” doesn’t come naturally to me. When I make up mymind to do something, I want to do it now. This means that on 31 December, I sit down and write out plans for a new workout regime, a new diet, a new chore schedule and early morning meditation sessions.
New Year’s Day finds me waking up bleary and cotton-mouthed, enthusiasm significantly dampened.
By the time 15 January rolls around, I’ve said to hell with everything except a halfhearted attempt at daily meditation. Which, if I’m honest, is really just sleeping upright.
One year I was able to break this cycle, and I learned so much from the experience that I’ve decided to replicate it again this year and share my abundant wisdom with you too. I learned that it’s essential to begin slowly, create gradual shifts, and commit to small steps you can achieve, rather than setting your sights on scaling mountains right away.
Instead of facing New Year’s Day with a mile-long list, I pick six to 12 things I’d like to bring into or improve in my life (ie a regular yoga practice, more volunteer work, closer relationships, better budgeting, etc), and I devote a month or two throughout the year to tackling each one.
By splitting a giant resolution list into manageable chunks, it’s easier to focus on each area you’d like to improve, and get accustomed to each new habit before taking on the next one. It’s the opposite of multi-tasking – a series of focused, conscious, deliberate changes. And they’re far more likely to stick.
Now, typically when we think of resolutions we often seek to add more to our life. We add workouts and classes and meal planning days. We add responsibilities and expectations and place new demands on ourselves. In doing so, we are seeking a full life, and a beautiful one too – incredibly worthy goals, but we often end up overextended instead.
So instead of adding more, more, more, what if we began by subtracting?
We all have areas of our life where we sink too much time, money, energy or all three. We put our hearts into so much that harms us – unhealthy relationships, hours of TV watching or internet browsing, fast food or coffee habits that deplete us, cluttered closets and garages that overwhelm us.
Take a look at your life as it stands. What’s important to you? What do you value most? What nourishes you and excites you? What makes you a better person?
Now look at how you spend your time, your money and your energy. Are you putting your money where your mouth is? Do your actions match your words? Are you living one reality while dreaming of another? This may sound like hippie nonsense, but if you value growth and learning while living a life devoid of the same, the chances of you being happy are pretty slim.
Pare down. Rid yourself of excess. Keep what feeds you, and leave the rest behind.
Devote a month or two to getting rid of a few items a day. Put a box in your living room and choose one thing every day to add to it – clothing you never wear, electronics you don’t use, duplicate cooking gadgets, books you hated and will never re-read. If you join a buy and sell site, you can earn some extra money by getting rid of any gently used items; charity shops always appreciate good-quality donations; and many electronics stores take gadgets back for recycling.
Literally freeing up space in your home is a visual, tangible reminder of your intention to do the same in your life.
Take a few weeks to examine the demands on your time and re-evaluate how the hours in your day are allocated. Some (such as work and cleaning the toilet) are non-negotiable. Others, such as catching up on a TV series, gossiping or even your commute, are worth a second look. A long commute may be made more convenient by car, but if you take the train or the bus you can use that time to read, do crosswords or daydream about strangers.
Begin 2016 by creating space. Think of it like Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
Your life is your sculpture. You’re chipping away at it every day, whether you’re conscious of doing so or not. Be intentional with how you shape your life. Carve away what doesn’t feed you.
This article was written by Madeleine Somerville, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 29th December 2015 15.34 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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