An alternative to new year’s resolutions
Welcome to 2023! And welcome back to Life Intelligence, where I try to help smart people get smarter about life, love, and relationships. Subscribe and join the tribe :)
How many failed resolutions does a person really need before realizing that life doesn’t change on January 1? Life changes from within before it changes on the outside. How and when that internal change takes place is everyone’s unique experience, but the right path always brings more life satisfaction and understanding of who we are and what matters most.
I am a taskmaster and time-filler, always keeping myself busy. I am also aware of the opportunity cost of my ways. My challenge has always been and probably always will be to balance the active, productive part of me with the part that dreams, plans the big picture, and takes naps.
Just like we can’t hear what others say when we constantly talk, we can’t hear the deep stirrings within if we constantly rush around, tending to schedules, commitments, and various social distractions. Even healthy commitments and productive schedules may have to be put on hold once in a while to create space to regenerate, rethink, recalibrate, reevaluate, reimagine, rediscover, and refocus.
In my case, the wet, stormy holidays brought just that. I gave up my usual hikes, walks, and social activities. At the same time, a few things got canceled. The next thing I knew, I was looking at long hours of nothing over a few days. If you know or are a type A person, you know what this means. Panic!
For me, the panic quickly subsided, replaced by excitement for a jigsaw puzzle someone gave me. My time is too valuable,” I say to myself, “to do jigsaw puzzles. But what the hack…” And there I went for hours, putting the little pieces together, soft music in the background, Lulu gently snoring next to me. My hands and eyes seeking an accurate fit, my mind meandering around random thoughts. And just like this, the rush was over. Then came a few deep and lengthy conversations with close friends that reminded me of the why and what of friendship.
I forgot my phone at home dodging rain spells for a beach walk with the dog. We sat on a dune watching the ocean churn and other people staring at the newly formed river where a dry creak had been just a couple of days ago. It seems the rain washed the tourist vibe away. Everyone became a “howdy neighbor.” It felt good to be.
In the space of about ten days, nothing really changed, but everything felt different.
I used to go to meditation retreats for this same purpose. Now I turn into a retreat every opportunity life throws at me. I don’t regret the time and money spent on formal retreats. They were necessary stepping stones. I met many inspiring people, had amazing experiences, and learned things about myself and my mind. But I’ve discovered that life and the people and challenges around me are better teachers than those I met at these retreats. The key is to pay attention.
We get stuck in modes we forget we initiated and act as if we have no choice. Then we feel stressed and resentful even doing things we love or want to do. Too many activities don’t necessarily equal a meaningful life or a better life experience.
But what is meaningful? You can only find out by contemplating the question over long stretches of time, feeling your way around life. The standard answers of “family,” “community,” and “altruism” say nothing of your individual experience. The same can drain you emotionally, physically, and financially. So, what makes something meaningful instead of draining?
How much of your experience of feeling drained is self-inflicted because you make no time to stop, reflect, adjust course, refine, and recalibrate? Identity plays a role in all of this, too. As we identify with what we do and our roles in life, we don’t know how to easily step back and take another look. We see a vacant moment as a black hole that may swallow us and everything we know about ourselves. But my experience shows that a vacant moment is a portal to a richer, fuller, more vibrant afterward.
I think of humans a little like cars. A car is made to run and go places. It can take you to work. It can haul your baggage, drive you to amazing sites with breathtaking views, camping, fishing, to a party. Some even live in their cars. But a car can only go for as long as it has gas in the tank. Every so often, you have to pull up to a gas pump. You even have to shut off the engine. Then you stand there waiting for the tank to fill up and your dollars disappear. But it’s worth every penny. You get to go again!
Humans need refueling, too. Once in a while, we need to shut off the engine. The longer we wait to refuel, the longer it takes to do it, and it costs more. It costs you stress, life satisfaction, and even health and well-being. Too much running around makes you feel like an automation rather than an autonomous creation.
Creativity needs time and space to express itself. Your future life does too. It needs you to take the time and make the space to listen to yourself, your ideas, and your dreams. It’s the only way you can point yourself in the right direction, plan the big picture, sort out the meaningful stuff, hear the contradictions, and contemplate your highest need - self-actualization.
I get that things are a little more complicated. As we throw in the mix individual insecurities, family influence, social pressure, and a bunch of other equally confusing stuff, it gets harder to find your “true north.” But if you don’t try, you will definitely fail. Failure, in this case, looks like misery on antidepressants. But, if you make it a priority to slow down once in a while, you’ll likely resolve some of the complications within yourself, too.
Without self-reflection, you will likely board the wrong train, thinking you want to go somewhere that’s not for you. Without self-reflection, you will likely stay on that train rationalizing the situation throwing more good money after bad and wasting more time. You will get somewhere for sure, but you will always feel like something is missing, something is not right, and it takes too much effort to be there. You’ll likely develop coping mechanisms and try to distract yourself as much as you can. But nothing you do will bring lasting satisfaction, contentment, and joy.
If that’s where you find yourself now, self-reflection can help you rethink, rearrange, and redesign your situation based on priorities meaningful to you. Don’t expect a quick and painless transition. It will still take work and probably years of undoing your thinking, attitudes, and habits. You may change locations, associations, jobs, and even significant others. But it will feel liberating, authentic, and even exciting, too.
Call it evolution.
Make time for evolution.
I would love to know what your new year’s rituals are. Do you do resolutions? Do you keep them? Do you take time to ponder, meander, and listen patiently to what’s calling within?
Thanks for reading.