New year conversations about intentions, resolutions and change can be inspiring, tedious, or both. It seems that everyone is going to eat better and exercise more. Make the first thing the first thing. Spend more time and less money. For some of us these conversations trigger questions. Lots of them.
I find myself wondering why do we do this. Where does it hurt and why? How do pain and discomfort show up? What result are people looking for? How are we going to know when we get there?
Permission to Pursue Resolution
While it’s tempting to attribute a bit more altruism and pursuit of positive change to the “new year – new you” phenomenon, I really think it’s more about suffering. Maybe the end of a year gives permission to give voice to our disappointments. Perhaps the opening of a new year gives permission to pursue resolutions and change.
Discomfort gets our attention: when my favorite jeans are too tight I choose to eat less and exercise more. When the dog is obnoxious I commit to more training. Headaches? More water. Credit card bills? More business and less spending. If the suffering is still at too low a level to get our attention, we’ve always got advertising and other forms of media to help us ramp up. “Life suffers.”
Changing the Picture of Motivation
It may be useful to look more closely at the pain we accept, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Somehow it rarely occurs to me that change is possible unless or until the pain level becomes unacceptable. Severe pain changes the motivation picture from “carrot and stick” to “all stick, all the time.” It locks doors and limits our ideas about options. Perhaps resolutions start to reverse that process.
What makes a level of pain something we finally reject? One answer is that it has started to impair the ability to function — and that can show up in the mind, the body, or the heart. How clouded is our thinking? Are we making self-defeating choices? Setting ourselves up for success or for failure? There’s lots of information available when we start to look at pain as a messenger rather than a two-headed monster to be avoided at all costs.
Changes for a new year of can involve lots of quitting: smoking, drinking, vaping, swearing, sugar and spending are some I’ve heard recently. I’ve certainly made my share of “I’m going to stop ________” resolutions. Most of those didn’t carry me more than a few days or weeks down the road. But change is going to come whether we embrace it or not: if we continue to engage in destructive behaviors our bodies will respond in ways that bring even more pain. If we continue to overspend, our debt will change as well.
Straddling The Line
I seem to have more success when I acknowledge the constance of change and when I add a positive rather than when I determine to stop a negative. I continue to discover that opening to transformation works better than simply seeking relief. “Eating more fresh fruit and veg” works much better for me than giving up sugar.
As the “new year- new you” stories already fade from the headlines, I continue to think about the process of change.process of change. I want to straddle the line between the relief of suffering and the peace that can come with opening to transformation: both provide motivation and remind me that change is coming — whether I acknowledge it or not. Maybe instead of dramatic lists and proclamations I would do well to think in terms of getting out of the way and “nudging” my habits in the direction I’d prefer.