New year, new start, new plan, but same old you. Ai-yah! It’s the perennial conundrum that!
At the start of every new year, it’s “traditional” for those of us who follow the 365-day Gregorian calendar to make some sort of list of resolutions at the start of the new year. Many of us do.
We start the process by reviewing our actions and our lives over the past year.
Self-flagellation ensues. Some of us pull out special whips for the occasion. (Most of the rest of us use wet spaghetti noodles to beat ourselves up, I think, but some folks get really serious with it and go S&M on themselves. Ouch!)
WHAT USUALLY RESULTS WHEN YOU MAKE NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS
In any case, we take the Polar Plunge, driving ourselves into the freezing-cold waters of the self-judgmental seas of You-Ain’t-Enough. Our Inner Critics have a field day.
All sort of disappointments and dissatisfactions get churned up within ourselves that sometimes spills over onto the other people in our lives during the scheduled frenzy of the purportedly glorious harvest celebration gone glitzy.
We make up special to-do lists of outrageously ambitious, overblown goals that target our awfullest “faults” that we are determined we should obliterate once and for all, or we aim to acquire esoteric skills we say we should absolutely have.
Then, (hup-hup-hup!) off we go at a double-march to start yet another run at the dream of “fixing” ourselves one more time. Beating ourselves up along the way, we drive ourselves along.
And, for at least 80 percent of us who do this dance, the Smarty Pants in the white lab coats say, our latest new year plan somehow dies a quiet death within a couple of weeks of its inception. Again.
ANOTHER TAKE ON NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS
One of the gentlest and most insightful looks at this annual phenomenon is this “Ask a Psychologist” YouTube video uploaded by founder Dr. Elliott Carthy in 2021. It is called “Watch This Before Making Any New Years Resolutions.”
In his notes that accompany the video, the good doctor says, “I have no training in making resolutions as part of being a psychiatrist, but there are some really interesting parts of my training that have translated to more broad goal setting in my life.”
Then he explains about a thing called “meaningful reflective practice.” What this training does, he says, is help the practitioner focus on better understanding their own self and what works in their life instead of the more usual focusing on other people’s expectations of them.
SOME KINDS OF GOAL-SETTING MAY BE LIKE DOING THOSE STUPID OUTLINES BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY START TO WRITE…
Carthy’s little explanation of the meaningful reflective practice reminds me of my earliest lessons in writing essays.
It occurred to me that all of my English writing teachers started out by trying to get me to write an outline, laying out all the points to be covered in a piece, and then writing the thing.
I suck at outlines. I don’t know what I think before I get it down on paper. I have to play with all the potential ideas and likely-looking concepts first.
My work-around back then was to write the durned piece, tossing in ideas willy-nilly and pulling them out again if they didn’t fit. Once the essay was done, I could construct an outline that listed all the talking points I had included in the thing I had written.
Essays became my favorite way of arguing. Nobody could talk back and distract me with other interesting concepts or get me so riled-up that I start spluttering.
Eventually I got so good at it that I could write the piece and put together the outline at the same time.
I have noticed, though, that writing’s a lot more fun since I tossed the outline thing into the cylindrical file.
ONE MORE LESSON = ANOTHER INNER PEACE SYMPTOM
Perhaps this “meaningful reflective practice” – a thing that has become automatic with me – was the reason I came up with this IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):
ANOTHER IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that your life is your very own story and it all begins and moves and ends with you. [The only thing you can change in the story is you. The rest comes along after that.]
SO, HOW DOES A LIFE-STORY WORK?
The thing about your life-story is this: it runs through your head all the time, every moment of your life. Whatever you tell yourself about your life, you need to be aware that all the thoughts you’ve ever thought about it, keeps cycling through over and over.
It’s how you make sense of this very big and confusing old world all us humans are creating together with Life Its Own Self. It’s like you are standing there watching the world unfolding all around you and you keep saying, “See, see! I’m right! This is how it is!”
The story in your head may not be an accurate picture of Life Its Own Self, but it’s the one with which you are most familiar so it just keeps running through you, the same way that your blood keeps running through you.
The story that keeps repeating in your head is so familiar that it is likely that you don’t even know what you are actually telling yourself. (Fish don’t notice that they are swimming in water, you know. The water is just there.)
Many times the story in your head keeps you doing the same old stuff over and over again. Those thoughts keep you repeating the same old stuff you always do. Usually you keep on getting the same old results you’ve always gotten.
Sometimes this is good. Sometimes not so much.
WHY WE DON’T REALLY WANNA CHANGE ANYTHING
The only way to get yourself to do different is to start telling yourself a different story. At least, that’s what all the wise guys down through the ages keep telling us.
However, if you actually try to do that, you may find that you really do seriously consider your life-story to be like your life’s blood. You may not be so yipsy about interrupting or changing its regular flow.
After all, to stop or divert the blood flowing through you by yourself, you have to do something drastic. And that’s why, despite all the urgent motivational talking about it and all the rah-rah-rah, for most people committing life-story hara kiri is actually not a popular option.
BECOMING THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IS HARD
It isn’t easy to change the story in your head. It takes a heck of a lot of effort to move your life around to accommodate any kind of change in your story because everything around you in the life you’ve made so far can be a major thing that anchors you to your old story.
It is very easy to keep doing the same-old and most of us won’t change our stories much unless there is some big life-event that forces us to do different. Changing even a small part of your story entails a lot of hoo-hah and humbug. It is likely to be a giant pain.
You have to make room in your life for even a little change because any change in your story is probably going to displace something that’s already in your life. Who wants to CHOOSE to do that kind of hassle? Haven’t we got enough to do already?
Doing different tends to be what we humans do only when we hit a wall or when the ground under our feet falls away. At least that’s what we tell ourselves and tell ourselves and tell ourselves. (That’s part of our story too, you see.)
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THAT?
Veteran coach and management consultant David Allen has a whole system that you can use to manage your actions and tackle the conundrum of personal productivity. You may want to take a look at his book, GETTING IT DONE: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
His later work, READY FOR ANYTHING: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done, is also a good one and a lot less intimidating.
Using Allen’s strategies can help you figure out how to set up systems that allow you to stay on top of all of the everything coming at you, especially during times of severe stress.
Click the button below to explore the GTD website.
Allen’s work and the massive numbers of people who have gotten good results by following his method do make a case for the concept that managing your actions well can help you reach a point where you can get yourself out of the overwhelm threatening to engulf you.
- You can use it to clear the space around you so you can see where you are standing and what is all around you.
- It can even help you figure out which of the available options and actions you can choose will help you start to make some needed changes in the old same-old story that keeps running in your head.
- It can make room in your head to go figure out your new story.
I actually immersed myself in the GTD thing for a time. Getting through deconstructing, dissecting, reframing and reconstructing the various aspects of the actions I was making in my life using the methods Allen delineates took me at least five years of concentrated effort.
I maintained the thing for quite a while after that. I still fall back into patterns I formed then when things get hairy. The GTD system helped me enormously when I got serious about changing my own life story.
The impetus for this form of hara kiri came from having to deal with losing my beloved husband right around the same time that I was dealing with empty nest syndrome as well. Life whacked me upside the head good and I was really dizzy. That was why I was moved to go do something about it.
GTD was one of many systems and aids that I tapped, trying to answer the question, “So, who is just-Netta NOW?”
It did work…sort of. It helped me figure out what I did not want in my life and helped me dump a lot of detritus that were no longer relevant to me. I could use it to reshape my life and tuck it all in around me so it fit me better.
It worked because it suited my way of walking. It worked because I already had space in my life so I could actually set aside time to practice it with the kind of intense focus that is needed to make anything of this sort work.
The system does take a lot of time and it does take a lot of effort. As usual, half-assed effort and trying to short-time it do not work so well. You do have to put your whole butt into it.
Every system is a series of routines strung together so that they all work effectively and well. Open-ended ones like the GTD method can help you shape your world.
AND A METAPHOR
It seems to me that playing in a brand-new-to-you system feels like moving into an older, fixer-upper house. Some parts of it will work for you, other parts need to be worked around and still others leave you cold or just have to go.
If you bang away at it, move walls around, give the thing your own kind of styling and do a bunch of living in it, the old house can become home.
And that can be a very good thing.
Here’s a poem:
Over and over again I am shown that I do not control
The way the world dances and flows onward.
I can only do what I can do.
Nothing more, nothing less.
One more time I am shown that I am a helpless leaf
Fallen into some burbling stream, moving on to I don’t know.
I can only stand empty.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Waiting and trusting that the Tao will flow as it flows
And clarity will come one fine day when I do not expect it.
I can only keep on trying.
Nothing more, nothing less.
By Netta Kanoho
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