I don’t much like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. There’s something implicit in all the ‘New Year, New You’ messaging that says, “You’re not good enough.” It appeals to our old friends The Self Limiting Beliefs – those external judgements and expectations that we’ve internalised until they are nagging inner voices, constantly telling us what we ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ do.
My coaching philosophy is built on the belief that we ARE inherently good enough – just as we are. Sometimes, however, we get stuck in behavioural patterns that don’t serve us well. So coaching work is often about changing these patterns and bringing out the best in ourselves – the best that’s already in there. This work is about attending to our own needs as well as, or instead of, the external expectations. It’s about listening to our own inner wisdom. When we bring out the best in ourselves, we create the conditions for happiness and wellbeing to grow both in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Now, there’s a New Year’s intention worth striving for!
Be Kind to yourself!
An alternative to a New Year’s Resolution might be to think about how you can attend to YOUR needs and set your OWN expectations. Instead of beating yourself up for not being good enough, you could practice being kind to yourself.
A possible starting point for this is to take a positive psychology approach and pay a visit to your archive of memories of when you have been at your best. Recall those magic moments when you lost yourself in what you were doing – the joyful, effortless, masterful experiences of flow where it felt like you were born to do it. What are the qualities you associate with those moments? What made them special? Remembering these can help you to hold in mind the mental state and the conditions you need to be at your best. Once you’ve identified these needs, then you can go about attending to them.
For me to be at my best I know I need to feel a sense of spaciousness and freedom. Strategies I’ve developed to meet this need all create ‘pauses’ in my life; Waiting until tomorrow to respond to the email that evokes a strong emotional reaction and arrives just as I’m packing up for the day; Building in a time buffer at the beginning and end of scheduled activities; Taking a 3 minute breathing space between meetings; No longer bringing a packed lunch to work, so that I leave the office in the middle of the day to pick up something to eat. My inner voice constantly tries to sabotage these strategies by telling me I must try harder, and sometimes it gets the better of me, but I know that to be at my best I need to ‘try softer’ (a wonderful term coined by a sports psychologist I once worked with). So, I keep practicing.
Being kinder to myself also means giving myself permission to actively seek out and do the things that bring me joy and boost my energy.
Even when life feels really tough there are small moments of nourishment to draw on if we allow ourselves to notice them. A kind word said to you, a hot cup of tea, a walk outside. What are the things that nourish you? What is it about these things that make them nourishing? Is it connection with others, a moment of peace, being active, learning something new? How can you include more of these in your life? Perhaps it feels selfish to even consider this? But caring for yourself so that you are at your best, your happiest, your most fulfilled, will also equip you better to care for the people around you.
Just recently I allowed myself to get a ‘real coffee’ machine. I live with a coffee-hater and so for years have denied myself the simple pleasure of sitting down and indulging myself for a couple of minutes in my otherwise whirlwind life. Now, the very act of making that beautiful cup of coffee once in a while is practicing self-compassion – it says ‘you matter to me.’
What simple acts of compassion and kindness to yourself could you practice?
Practice, Practice, Practice.
Psychologist Anders Ericsson suggests it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something. Most of us have been beating ourselves up continuously from pretty much the day we came into being. We’re probably pretty expert by now, so it will take a lot of practicing self-compassion to catch up! We know from neuroscience that every time we repeat a behaviour we reinforce the neural pathways associated with it, so our ‘beating myself up’ neural pathways are pretty well trodden. Changing habits, then, is less about stopping doing something, and more about the laying down of new pathways and treading them often enough that they become more frequented than the old. Then, and only then, have we successfully changed a habit.
From this we can conclude that New Year’s Resolutions are destined to fail, unless you are willing to stick at it for the long haul. So expect to forget and to lapse into the old behaviour – it’s part of the process. And when it happens, don’t beat yourself up. You haven’t failed. Just notice what’s happening and gently and kindly remind yourself of your new intention to practice…. every time you are kind to yourself you’ll be engraining that new pathway. Repeating this process over and over again will make the intention stronger until eventually one day you’ll surprise yourself…
Wishing all of you a healthy and happy 2016, filled with many nourishing activities!