Happy New Year! We have a strange tradition at this time of year. We indulge ourselves at Christmas, and then we pull ourselves back with our resolutions: lose weight, do more exercise, make ourselves ‘better’ people in some way. When did we learn to be so self-critical?
As a child, we didn’t say to ourselves that we weren’t good enough, until we learned from others that we weren’t perfect in their eyes. Nor did we feel obliged to ‘improve’ ourselves in some way that would match up to some ill-defined external expectation. It isn’t what comes naturally to us, yet it is what most of us learn to do. We absorb the beliefs that life is about striving to fit some cultural image of how we’re supposed to be and behave, and we lose touch with our natural preferences.
I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to want to improve yourself and your life – in fact I believe strongly that this is an innate tendency in us – I’m suggesting that the context within which we do this improvement needs to change. Instead of beginning from some cultural version of who you should be and what you should do – (which by the way is not constant: it changes from culture to culture and even over time within each culture) – why not begin with who you really are. After all, you are a unique and special being who has gifts and talents and characteristics which you were born to bring into the world. We all know what really ‘fits’ with us, because we’re comfortable and unselfconscious when we’re engaged with those aspects of us, and it doesn’t require great effort on our part.
For example, I love feeding people, and sharing a meal and ‘big’ conversation with friends, but I’m not into spending all day preparing an impressive meal – it’s the company and sharing that I value and enjoy. I used to try very hard to make the perfect dinner party: everything carefully prepared, the table neatly laid, the house tidied, to give the right impression. And by the time we got to the meal itself, I was tired and cross, and even with all the effort, I often had a dessert that didn’t come out right!
Eventually I realised that, for me, feeding people is a way of showing love for them, so I learned to cook with love, rather than fancy recipes and a perfectly prepared environment. It’s feeding, not cooking that I love.
On the other hand, I love the process of writing – that is where my creative urge is satisfied. I used to worry about whether I was writing in the ‘right’ way for some vague audience – was it my English teacher at school who told me I was ‘too pedantic’? – until I realised that when I just allowed myself to write, it flowed, and I enjoyed it for its own sake, whether it was published or not, and it didn’t matter whether someone was going to approve and give me an A- (she never gave out a higher mark than that!)
So now it’s your turn.
- What do you love doing?
- When do you feel in the flow?
- How do you feel good being? (e.g. quiet, on the move, focussed, dreamy etc.)
- What are the characteristics and talents you enjoy practising?
- Who is the unique and authentic you?
And as you consider these questions, notice how much you allow yourself to live according to your own natural preferences.
Now you have a more useful context for new year resolutions. Don’t try to match up to some external rules for how we’re supposed to be and behave. Instead let’s resolve to become even more ourselves, our unique special selves.
Where you are already allowing yourself to be how you prefer to be, resolve to maintain it – dinner and conversation anyone?
Where you are denying yourself the delight of being you, resolve to find some simple ways to be it more:
If you love dancing, however badly, clear a space in your living room, close the door, and dance for an hour to your favourite dance music – no-one’s watching or judging, except God and the angels, who are all applauding!
If you love drawing, but were told you were no artist, go and buy some lovely felt pens and a pad of paper, and draw for you, just for the hell of it.
If you love to sit and just do nothing, allow yourself an hour a week to do just that – nothing.
In its original meaning, a resolution was a way of dissolving back into, releasing into. Let’s make our new year resolutions a way of releasing into being more of who we really are, instead of who we are supposed to be. I’d rather be myself, wouldn’t you?