We visualize the shiny, unspoiled new year and fill it with dreams; fueled by optimism (and maybe a little champagne), becoming a size 0 triathlete who grinds her own flour, has a hot, home cooked dinner on the table every night and volunteers for fourteen charities dressed like a modern June Cleaver seems more than doable.
And yet, like the home you moved into with thoughts of Architectural Digest-worthy decorating ideas, somehow all those well-laid plans are dirtied and destroyed like the cat barf stains on your carpet or the dirt on your floor-boards you don't notice until company's coming.
It all goes to shit, and since you've already screwed it up, your resolutions get tossed in the garbage with the noisemakers and swept-up confetti.
Fortunately, there's a simple fix to this problem that will actually help you reach any goals you have.
Stop making resolutions, and start making mindful choices right now.
Dr. Wayne Dyer posted the following on his Facebook page in anticipation of the holiday tradition:
Forget about those New Year's resolutions in which you decide on the first day of January how you will be conducting your life for the next twelve months. Instead, set up day-to-day goals for yourself, and then resolve to begin living with present moment awareness for the rest of your life. When you get good at living your present moments one day at a time, you'll see yourself changing right before your own surprised eyes. Remember, anyone can do anything for just one day, so tune out the sentences that keep you locked into your old self-defeating ways and begin to enjoy each day of your bright new year.
When we get focused on the long-term, we forget about all the little steps in between where we are now and where we'd like to go. If you've ever been on a hike with a significant elevation change, it can feel impossible as you look up and see how high the top is. Some turn away without even starting, some can't get past the height even as they climb and turn back. When I focus on just the next few steps or making it to the next switchback, however, piece by piece I find I can make it to the top.
We don't climb the hill all at once, we do it step by step, and so it is with our goals. Who cares if we have to stop and rest sometimes or if it takes us longer than the others? Who cares if we need a little help from others along the way like I did when we hiked a volcano in Guatemala? (God bless the locals and their donkeys for hire.) If I focus on taking just the next step right here in this moment, if I commit to myself to make choices that put me further down the path rather than choices that seem shiny in the moment, there's no way I can fail, long term.
Keep Your Brain On
I'm not naive enough to believe this is easy. Staying present is a challenge when life's distractions get in the way. The trick is to pull yourself back into consciousness once you realize you're asleep in the poppy field and get back on the path.
I struggle with staying present myself. Two items on my long term list are to eat healthy, home cooked meals instead of Tour de Trader Joes frozen entrees and to maintain a clean home so I never have another, Oh shit, your mother's coming to visit and the dust bunnies outnumber the people moment.
To that end, I scheduled today to make my meal plan for the week, grocery shop, and do a quick clean up of the living room since the newest cat seems to believe the scratching pad is his mortal enemy and their are little bits of it scattered all over the floor. I also wanted to clean out my closet, purging it of all the junk I never touch unless I'm cursing at it in the morning because I can't find what I wanted to wear that day.
Enter potential distraction.
A friend I haven't seen in a while despite living in the same city emailed yesterday to see if I was available today. Ordinarily I would have dropped everything to go since her life consists mostly of driving her kids to various practices and activities while somehow managing to run a home and teach part time. However, as I considered it, I realized I'd have to set aside the tasks I'd planned that would make next week run more smoothly and support my goals.
In the past I would have dropped everything, and there are times when that would be a good choice for me. However, I realized that, for today, for where I am and what I want for myself, that choice would take me too far off my path. We'll connect eventually, and I won't be stressed or distracted if I take care of my business first.
A Strategy or Two
So how do we stay mindful instead of getting distracted like the dog from Up? This is far from an exhaustive list, but these strategies have served me well when I've used them consistently.
First, write two or three goals you have for yourself. If they're ginormous, you might want to break them down a little smaller. Instead of Take over the world, you might, instead, write Take over the strip mall across the street. You get the picture.
Once you have your goals, post them EVERYWHERE. On your mirror, in your planner, on your cubicle wall, anywhere you'll see them frequently. As a student, my brother put his goals for the semester in every notebook and folder, and while I mocked him initially, I tried it and it works.
We often lose sight of our goals because, well, we forget them until we're face down in the cheesecake, strawberry topping stuck in our hair. If we open our wallet and, "Lose 5 pounds," is wrapped around our debit card, we'll be more conscious of our choice, even if it's to splurge and savor the dessert.
The second strategy is to spend 10-15 minutes every morning reviewing your goals and visualizing how you want to move through your day in service of your goals. No, you don't have to chant, Om, or light patchouli incense for it to work. If it seems too woo-woo for you, think of it as programming yourself for your day.
Finally, if you screw up, this is not an all or nothing game. What went wrong? What distracted you? Use what happened to help you in the future. Reaching any goal is a process, and if making one mistake made success impossible, well, we'd all still be sitting in the dark and cooking over an open fire.
I wish you the best moments of your life this coming year. Be persistent. Be kind to yourself. And, most importantly, be present.
What are your goals for today?
How do you stay present?
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Image by: Stewart Black