For about a decade now, my heart has ached when seeing people get bombarded with “New Year, New You” campaigns at this time of year.
I wrote specifically about that in 2015, see: Nonviolent Alternatives to NY Resolutions.
In contrast to “new you” urgings, I’m sat at the keyboard on a grey January morning, happy with the “old” me and curious what a year lived from THAT place might be like.
What would you say to that?
What’s wrong with the “old” you?
Have you noticed how the idea that you should become “better” accompanies the “shoulds” supplied by the suggester?
The assumption is that you can’t be happy, healthy, acceptable or loved unless you satisfy certain, external recommendations.
And for sure, those come with an attractive promise: that any uncomfortable feelings you have when you think about yourself will lift.
You are “good”, as long as you do what’s recommended.
And anxiety does – temporarily – lift when your attention is on pursuing the promised fix… because your attention is not then on you.
For a moment there, it looks like you actually could avoid the part of human experience we call negative emotion.
Except that… many, many people seem to have an opinion on what you should be doing.
Much more than you could possibly incorporate.
And if it were possible, would you even want your life to be the sum of external recommendations?
17 ways to improve you (only kidding!)
I am kidding but you probably recognise the phenomenon of bullet point advice for living.
Wanting to live well, you may well have read a lot of this kind of advice.
After all, it’s everywhere online and in your face on Facebook ;-).
And if advice teaches anything, it clearly demonstrates that “shoulds just don’t get”.
Do you recognise this loop?
1. You spot a piece that alerts your thoughts to a “problem”, often in the form of “X number of ways to improve Y”, where Y is a worry.
2. You feel encouraged: “Help is at hand!”
3. You try to take on the advice. You print it out or scan or save for later.
4. Later, life happens as it has the habit of doing. The phone rings, it’s time to cook some food, etc.
5. The seven or seventeen golden nuggets, if still there at all, stay with you only as a sense of unease: a new “problem” you now have, namely that you don’t act on good advice.
Why it’s better to start from inside out
Of course, if you’re worried about something, you need to start somewhere and it’s a blessing there’s so much support online.
At the same time, if not careful, you can grow worried about yourself from comparing your life to the numerous, fabulous, external life recommendations that are available these days.
What if far bigger problem than not following worthy “shoulds” is that you’re so pre-occupied with those that you’re too busy to hear what your life is actually needing next?
Take for example a common January worry about not exercising enough.
Many people take on new, “best practice” exercise regimes at this time.
They take a lot of effort to start with and typically don’t last long.
Personality transplants usually don’t last, just like new growth doesn’t spring into action in the midst of winter.
How would it be if, instead, you first came home to yourself, to deepen awareness of what’s going for you and what you need to start with?
What coming home looks like
I witnessed a beautiful example of coming home to self, in order to solve a problem, on a training in Findhorn.
We were practising giving and receiving empathy and one person enquired into her not exercising as much as she’d like.
She thought out loud, supported by advice-free listening, to understand how it happens that she keeps getting out of step with exercising.
Instead of wondering how to make herself exercise, she first took time to see her experience through the eyes of compassion.
See yourself beautiful, not broken
When the woman paid kind attention to herself, she began to see what was actually happening for her.
She realised that she did in fact have an exercise routine that worked well for her except that it dropped away whenever she returned home after working on an assignment.
Enquiring further, she discovered that the transition time between working away and returning home was quite tense for her.
She spent an awkward, rushed day readjusting to home rhythms but then she worried about “lost time” so much that she’d stop before returning to her exercise practice. To make up for the transition time.
Listening more, she saw that the one day transition was not a waste of time but in fact too short to properly change gears after working away.
From there, the solution was simple and ergonomic.
She extended her transition to two days, which then felt healthy and productive and enabled her to actually look forward to exercise as part of her routine at home.
Imagine if she’d got seduced into a new, “recommended” exercise regime instead!
Added to her insufficient transition time it would have been sure to fail and to add stress where she needed understanding and support.
(If her realisation was that she needed a new exercise routine, she could have scanned the range of available formats to find one that would serve her life. Even in that scenario, the solution would have been outside in and not chasing worthy “shoulds”).
A blessing for your life from here
Allow me to end my encouragement to keep coming home to yourself with a blessing: a beautiful vision I came across, articulated by Harold Kushner.
“When your life is filled with the desire to
see the holiness in everyday life,
something magical happens.
Ordinary life becomes extraordinary,
and the very process of life begins to nourish your soul!”