New Year’s Revelation

On December 25th – Christmas Morning – I ran a short 4K. This was the final run to complete my 2018 goal of running 1234 Kilometers or roughly 800 miles. Yay!!! Right?

A few days before, though, I cut my big toe, but with a few dozen K left to “complete” my “challenge,” I just barreled through it. Infected, swollen, in a lot of pain, and getting worse… but there was that goal that I set and nothing – including my health apparently – was going to stop me!

I was excited to have it completed, but that excitement quickly faded. My first thought was “I’m never running again!”

Change in Pace

Somewhere in the middle of the year, I realized I don’t like running. In fact, it became a burden. I liked seeing the numbers tick down, but this goal wasn’t adding to my daily happiness. It was a task I had to spend a lot of energy on daily, not just to do the running, but to motivate myself to do the running.

As the year came softly to a close, I felt really good. My practice was becoming stronger and more consistent. That felt like I was beginning to live my own dream.

These two contradicting experiences left me with a startling revelation:

There’s no point wasting time on an effort that isn’t adding to your daily happiness.

Our emphasis on the ol’ I’ll be happy when… tricks us into setting goals – resolutions – that we think are going to make us happy.

There’s no guarantee that post-completion, the goal was going to be worth setting.

To emphasize that even further, the good feeling I had at the end of the year had nothing to do with completing the running goal. I would even say that the absence of having to decide when, where, and how long of a run did more for my feeling of softness then completing the goal.

Focus Shift

We often – unrealistically – set time transitions as a trigger to “reset” or “restart” or “change.” In reality, you can reset, restart, or change right now while you’re reading this. I believe this socialized trigger mechanism – beginning of a new year, new season, new moon cycle, etc – that says we should make a change may be distracting us from the more important picture:

We should add energy to the things that already make us happy.

If you feel good playing guitar, play guitar more.

If you feel good after eating fresh food, eat fresh food more.

If you feel good spending time with friends, spend time with friends more.

…instead of making a drastic change in course.

The Plan

By this time, most of us have made New Year’s Resolutions. Have you written them down? Good! We’re going to use them.

If you’re like most people, somewhere around the turn of the year, you sat down and forced out a set of goals for the new year. You may have even spent a week-in-review or followed a reflection guide. Whatever you’ve done to create your plan, let’s have that plan handy.

Step 1: The Good

Look at your current plan and underline, check, or highlight any of your resolutions that are doing more of what you already currently feel good about.

Step 2: The Bad

Look at your current plan and put a ? by any of your resolutions that are doing more of something you don’t like doing. Here, we’re not nixing those resolutions, we’re just questioning their value.

Step 3: Reflection / Tracking

Reflect on or track what makes you feel good while you’re doing it. Reflect on or track what makes you feel bad while you’re doing it. For some of us, taking 30 minutes to reflect on these things works just fine. For some of us, take a week to do this step. Journal at the end of the day or keep a note in your phone throughout the day. I use Google Docs and create a doc for every day.

Did talking to James make you feel alive and inspired? Did eating pizza for lunch make you feel sluggish? Did singing at the top of your lungs to that old Rage Against the Machine song make you feel vibrant and happy? Did taking a 20 minute shower make you feel relaxed and calm?

Step 4: A New List

  1. Take one thing from Step 3 and write it at the top of your list. Add “Do this every day:” before it.
  2. Does anything from Step 3 overlap with Step 1? Great! List those, too.
  3. What’s left on Step 1? Does it really need addressing? You can’t do everything and you can re-do this plan anytime.
  4. Look at your original plan or list. Which of the things not highlighted or question marked are an attempt to be a better you? Not to change who you are, but to grow who you are. Add one of them.

Your New Year

This new list will help you focus on more of the things that already give you a feeling of happiness. You will focus your energy on daily happiness, rather than a drastic shift. Now, instead of spending your focussed energy on sweeping changes that may or may not increase your happiness, most of your focussed energy can go to things that will directly boost your day to day experience.

Instead of spending energy trying to right-turn your ship, spend that energy moving further in the directions that already work.

THAT is a new year’s revelation.

Photo by Spenser Sembrat

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