A New Year, A New You?

“So, any new year’s resolutions?” The cashier at the grocery store asked me today. I laughed, “No one ever keeps those anyway.”

If you happen to be someone who has made, and kept, a new year’s resolution, then I want to hear from you! You might just be the first – at the very least, you’ll be the first person I know who’s done it.

The problem with resolutions is that most of us are thinking too big.

That’s right, too big.

And while it’s good to dream big, the practical reality is that big changes don’t often take root in our lives the way we might like them to. Or the way that we hope they will.

So, I’m not against resolutions. Not at all. But, if you’re making one, I encourage you to think small. Here’s why…

It may be a new year, but you are still you. You have the same job, the same schedule, and the same habits you had last year.

So, for example, if you want to get in shape this year, rather than planning to hit the gym every morning at 5:30 and completely overhaul your diet, try keeping it real. Start with a couple of small changes that you can manage and feel good about. (For example, you might stop drinking soda and start walking thirty minutes a day, three times a week.) Create a foundation of new, healthy habits, and then build on that success.

It takes time for new habits to take root, and it’s also important to celebrate small victories along the way. Utilizing a reward system when you reach important milestones can help you stay motivated.

On Courage

Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.
— Orison Swett Marden.

Have you heard the story of the baby elephant tied to the stake? When it’s small, it cannot break free, and when it is fully grown, it still thinks it is imprisoned. But in fact, it could pull up the stake and free itself at any time.

Many of us are like that elephant.

At one point we felt small, powerless, and trapped. And it was perhaps true at the time. But things change.

And we change.

But if we fail to see that, we remain small and powerless in our own minds. And the obstacles before us seem insurmountable when in fact that is not the case. Unfortunately, we will never learn that if we don’t move beyond our comfort zone.

The world is truly wide, and we can choose to leave the safety of the familiar to grow into our own future.

The Blame Game

Sometimes (ok, make that nearly all the time) it’s just easier to blame other people for things that happen to us than to take responsibility for our own role in creating a given situation.

Even if we feel that we aren’t responsible, say, for example, if something happened in childhood, as we reach adulthood, we become responsible for cleaning up the mess, even if we didn’t make it.

The unfortunate truth is that, while blaming other people feels good (and yes, I know it does), it does little to resolve the situation.

When we step out of blame, we step into our own personal power. We claim, or reclaim, our own ability to create the future we want to live in.

But how do we get there? What propels us out of The Blame Game?

For me, it is the desire for change (and the acknowledgment that doing the same old thing doesn’t get me anywhere I really want to go). The familiar can be comfortable for a time, but eventually it becomes unbearable, stifling.

Even still, The Blame Game has its allure. Things happen – difficult, upsetting things – and I look for someone else to hold responsible. Someone else’s behavior or actions to dissect or critique.

And yet, I know that I can choose to grow into my own future by acknowledging what I learned from a disappointing experience, forgiving myself for any mistakes I made which might have contributed to it, and gracefully letting go.

Every day, we have the opportunity to make the smallest choices which can make the biggest difference.

Living Well, Part II

Lately I’ve been having a surprising number of conversations that go something like this…

-Are you married?


-Do you have children?


-Oh. I’m sorry.

Usually the person asking the questions is a relative stranger, and the conversation ends with some sort of awkward pause during which I’m not sure what to say.

Apparently I’ve reached an age where to be single is unquestionably indicative of some sort of personal failing (at best) or a massive character flaw.

And being childless (or child-free, as I prefer to think of it)? In a word, pitiable.

It surprises and saddens me a little to learn that so many people consider a woman’s fulfillment to be so singularly tied to marriage and children. This goes back to a topic I discussed earlier this year in Scare-City and the Single Life: The Future is Now.

On the whole, it seems to me that people who are married are not necessarily any happier than those who are single. Perversely, it seems that many married people live vicariously through their single friends, and those who are single long to find “the one.” It’s funny because most marriages nowadays end in divorce. So, is finding “the one” more of a fairy tale now than ever?

Maybe the real theme here is that a great many people are not satisfied with the here and now. They spend much time longing for the future, or the past.

I think living well has a lot to do with being satisfied with the here and now, rather than saying “I’ll be happy when….” This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have goals, plans, and hopes for the future. But if those get in the way of living fully today, or if we feel that life can’t start until we have the perfect partner or the perfect family, then we may be denying ourselves the joys of the journey.

Each stage of life has its unique pleasures. When we allow ourselves to experience those fully, we are truly living well.

Good Fences

I’ve been re-reading Anne Katherine’s book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. Interpersonal boundaries, be they physical or emotional, when clearly communicated, can eliminate a great deal of confusion. It is, as they say, true that “good fences make good neighbors.”

But what about when boundaries are lacking? Without some way of determining who we allow to get close, and how close, chaos abounds. Other people can do and say what they like if we don’t believe we have the power to set limits. Gradually, we might come to feel like our lives don’t belong to us.

At the core of building healthy boundaries is discovering the difference between “me” and “not me.”

Sounds simple enough, right?

But is it really? Many of us have had the ideas and “shoulds” of parents and other adult figures thrust upon us at an early age. From that perspective sorting out what’s ours and what’s theirs may not be such an easy proposition.

Building (or repairing) our fences necessitates important, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. The good news is that having such conversations can build true intimacy. If we are equal to the challenge, we can negotiate our needs in personal and professional relationships to allow for more satisfying interactions.

Photo by Virginia Olson  © 2012

Echoes from the Past

Tonight I was talking with a friend about my struggle to let go of the past, and of my own need to be right about, well, everything.

He told me something someone else once told him…. That if you keep rooting around in the garbage of the past, trying to prove yourself right, eventually you very likely will, but you’ll be covered in garbage. Another option is to leave the garbage of the past behind for more beautiful scenery.

There are, as he said, echoes from the past in everything we do in the present. While we are wise to learn from the lessons of the past, we are unwise to assume that because we were hurt in the past by one person, we will be hurt in the present by another.

If we aren’t willing to risk being vulnerable, we can’t enjoy the fruits of intimacy. I’m not speaking merely of romantic relationships here, but of any close relationship with another person.

It’s difficult to be in the gap of not knowing. It’s far easier to go triumphantly forward clutching the wound, shouting “I was right. I was right all along. And here’s the proof.”

He reminded me, “You don’t have to know the outcome to enjoy the journey.” And I thought, But if I knew it would be a good outcome, that would certainly make things easier.

And then I realized that really easy things are rarely worth doing anyway.

How we see things…Part III

How we see things has a great deal to do with expectations. What do we expect to see? How do we expect others to behave?

Much of the time, we will get exactly what we expect. Then, as a bonus, we satisfy our desire to be right. I’m joking, partly. But when we get validation of our opinions or worldview, that only serves to solidify beliefs that may, or may not, serve us well in the long run.

But what about when we don’t get what we expect? What happens when people let us down?

It’s important (but, I acknowledge, also difficult) to maintain a healthy sense of balance between hoping for the best and having realistic expectations regarding the people and situations in our lives. It requires a certain level of self-awareness to realize how we can project our feelings and our fears onto people around us.

While it’s easier to blame other people, it’s also potentially more useful to inquire within. To determine how our own desires and motivations play a role in the creation, and the resolution, of any given situation. And to take responsibility for our own contribution.

Cajoling the Inner Critic

There you are, poised on the brink of accomplishing something, and it begins, that voice that tells you you’re no good, you’ll never accomplish anything, and you should just quit now.

Your inner critic (aka The Gremlin) is alive and well.

The inner critic specializes in sabotaging creative endeavors, but can show up anytime you’re in the midst of making an important change in your life.

In spiritual practice, the inner critic falls under the heading of negative mind. The negative mind, one of the Ten Bodies in Kundalini Yoga, seeks to protect us from problematic situations by pointing out hazards or pitfalls.

But if the negative mind is over-developed it can become an immobilizing influence. Thus it’s important the negative mind be balanced by the positive mind, which sees all the potential good in any endeavor. And it’s equally important that we be governed by the neutral mind, which is a manifestation of our higher self and rises above an ego perspective.

There are different ways to cope with the inner critic. Some might suggest doing away with the Gremlin altogether, though this is much easier said than done. Trying to squelch the inner critic isn’t necessarily the most effective approach, as it sets up a win/lose adversarial-type situation, an inner war of sorts.

I’ve found that an effective approach is to listen with the recognition that this is a misguided attempt at protection, and to silent express appreciation for the protective instinct – after all, this is an attempt at self-preservation – and then gently (but firmly) move forward with your endeavor.

Recommended reading: Taming Your Gremlin, by Rick Carson

“How will you measure your life?”

I just finished reading How will you measure your life? by Clayton M. Christensen (with James Allworth and Karen Taylor). The book spends a lot of time focusing on the intangibles which make up the real quality of our lives. Things like time spent building close relationships, integrity, and values. These don’t show up on any balance sheet.

Christensen, a professor at Harvard business school, observed that so many of his brightest and most promising students ended up unhappy in their lives – divorced, struggling with addiction, or in jail. All this despite the fact that they had (by all outward appearances) successful careers, enviable homes, and the like.

Christensen points out something I’ve mentioned before: “You can talk all you want about having a strategy for your life, understanding motivation, and balancing aspirations with unanticipated opportunities. But ultimately, this means nothing if you do not align those with where you actually expend your time, money and energy.”

That is, there is a great difference, for many of us, between what we say is important, and what we actually spend our time and energy on. And according to Christensen, this is where the trouble starts. In other words, when we say things like “family is important” but then put family at the end of our long to-do list, we’re in trouble.

What’s tricky is, we’re not going to notice the effects of that type of decision-making until later. No, for now, it will look like everything’s fine. But down the road, if we don’t invest time and energy in important relationships (to name just one example), over time those relationships will not survive the neglect.

Consider this: “Many of us think that the important ethical decisions in our lives will be delivered with a blinking read neon sign…[L]ife seldom works that way. Instead, most of us will face a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem like they have high stakes attached. But over time, they can play out far more dramatically.”

Every decision you make is important in determining the quality of your life and charting a course for your future. For happiness and success (by your own definition), it’s worth considering the question, “How will you measure your life?”

The Space Between

One of my first yoga teachers used to say that the space between breaths was the space of possibility. She encouraged us to focus on that space: rather than focusing on inhaling and exhaling, to focus on pausing after exhaling and before inhaling.

While many yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) focus on inhaling, exhaling, or breath suspension following the inhale, far fewer focus on this space between – after the exhale and before the next inhale. When one breath is complete, and the next not yet begun. The space of emptiness.

Being in the gap is challenging. As soon as a space appears in our lives (metaphorical or physical) many of us look to fill it (the sooner the better, and with whatever – or whoever – is handy).

One way to reshape this is to consider that emptiness is a space for possibility. And an empty space is an opportunity. To acknowledge the completion of one phase, and the beginning of a new one.

In order for something new to enter our lives, we must first create a space for it. Then we imagine filling that space with something that feeds us, that fosters growth and upliftment. Through our intention and our attention we shape the various possibilities.

And then, from what manifests, we choose…