If you’re on my mailing list, then you’ve either participated in this activity or you’ve read about it already. This has been my new year’s ritual for several years now, and I believe whole-heartedly in its power.
I created this ritual because I never liked the idea of resolutions, but I still wanted to mark the beginning of a new year and the change that it represents.
The Resolutionary War
Most of us know that New Year’s resolutions are often broken by the end of January. The best example I can give is from the gym. Every January 2nd, I show up at the gym at my usual time to find that it’s packed to the gills with newbies. Then, by March 1st, the numbers have decreased, and I see mostly just the people who have been there all along.
Why do we do this?
I think most of us have become numb to the idea of resolutions. Resolutions are like diets. They’re events. They’re uninspiring. And most people state them with unconscious intent.
Another reason resolutions don’t always work is because they’re often made from the level of the effect. A person might look at the effects in her life (i.e., her weight), and she thinks that the level of the effect is where to approach change. (i.e. losing the weight) She doesn’t stop to recognize the deeper causes of that effect. Maybe she has been unhappy and unfulfilled because she never pursued a bigger life goal, and food or apathy became a way to avoid that truth. Maybe she has been angry with someone for years and she has held onto that anger (and that weight).
If she were to look at the issue from the level of cause, she might make an entirely different resolution. Facing the avoidance or the fear, dealing with the anger, or being willing to forgive… these are the level of cause. They’re obviously only a beginning, but they provide at least the foundation for a whole-life change, as opposed to the Atkins Diet and a two-month relationship with the Y.
A Better Alternative
One year I just decided to revolt against resolutions. I had my very own “resolution revolution.” I decided to simplify, to focus, and to be gentle about the approach. Here it is:
Pick a word for the year.
Just one word. That’s all.
Then, hold that word in your mind throughout the year, and let your word guide you to take action. For instance, let’s say you want to make a resolution to lose 20 pounds, and to change jobs. Rather than say, “I resolve to lose 20 pounds and get a better job,” (which can be somewhat overwhelming) you might sit with this thought for a little while. Write in your journal. Maybe then you would recognize that you’ve been scared to look for another job because there might not be something out there, and maybe you’ve been overeating to stuff down the fears that come up and the feelings of insecurity.
So, instead of making resolutions – which do little to inspire you – you choose the word “courage.” Courage then becomes what guides you. Each day you focus on that word. When you don’t want to go to the gym, you don’t berate yourself with the threat of your resolution. Instead, you motivate yourself with your word. “Courage.” You say it aloud to remind yourself. And you go because learning how to not be scared of change is exciting to you. The word then builds on itself. You might decide to take a yoga class even though the skinny yoga girls have always scared you. You might find that you have a little more energy with each new thing you try. Maybe this energy motivates you to call an old friend in your field and let her know you are looking for another job. Courage becomes the guiding force, not the harsh standard. (And WAY better for you than a pound of bacon and four eggs for breakfast, too!)
My Own Examples
One year, I chose the word “Generosity.” All year long, I held that word in my consciousness. I left tips for housekeeping at each hotel on my road trips. I paid the toll of the car behind me. (This is surprisingly embarrassing to do!) I observed when I was feeling too scared to be generous, clutching to my “hard earned” money. What I found was that the word “generosity” also taught me about courage, willingness, letting go, and wealth. Each word will bring a string of words along with it. But don’t try to force it. The process will be organic and perfectly designed just for you.
The year I chose Gratitude, I started a gratitude journal and began to experience “Abundance” as an additional bonus.
What word to choose?
I have found that most people just know right off which word resonates with them. Every year when I’ve sent this idea out to my email list, I immediately receive about 25 responses from people who instantly know what their word is.
I have compiled a list of possible words below. As you read through them, see if one stands out for you. It’s tempting to choose four or five, believing that you can do it all! (Or that you’re that messed up and can’t possibly narrow your flaws down to one helpful word!) I recommend that if you don’t know how to choose just one, narrow it down to no more than three. One is ideal. It gives you focus. If you master that one word, you can choose another one in June.
Here are a few of the responses I got after I sent out the email newsletter last year:
“Great idea! My word is “savor,” something that covers all senses and thoughts, and something you absolutely cannot do when hurrying!”
“I think mine is going to be ‘No.’ I am notoriously bad at using the word and end up trying to do too much or give too much and by the end of the year, I am completely drained. Maybe I will learn that it doesn’t make me selfish, just self aware.”
“My word this year is Creativity. I just had Marie Callendars rhubarb pie heated with Haagen-Daaz vanilla ice cream for breakfast. Pretty creative, huh?”
“Commitment feels like it’s my word, re-defining it from something that is burdensome (current perception) to something that is gratifying, like a good workout or a job well done or being in integrity.”
“A year ago, you sent out an email about choosing a word for the year. I thought that was a wonderful idea, and I shared it among several friends. I chose “Trust” as my word, and was given, as a birthday present a couple of months later, the word in stained glass. It hangs in my front window. It’s amazing to me how my ideas and interactions with trust have changed with one year’s marginal focus on it, 12 months of intermittent reminders that this word is important and related to almost everything I do. It’s been a very good thing. Palpably so.”
Please feel free to share your comments. It’s great to have a blog, in addition to a mailing list so that I am not the only one to see the responses! Happy New Year everybody!