January, a time that can be full of promises. Often, large promises. Promises that get you fired up but are unattainable and burn out just as fast. Before I was a psychotherapist, I taught yoga full time. It keeps my mind and body talking to each other.
There is similarity between what I tell yoga students and what I tell therapy clients. Stretching is positive and leads your body and mind to new places. Forcing does not. There is that razors edge—that balance to find between challenge and injury. Sometimes we waver to one side or the other. We learn this way—we need to push more or back off. The main thing is we learn with self-compassion.
Being kind to oneself to does not mean staying stagnant. It means treating yourself as you would a friend who metaphorically falls down and needs to get back up. You would not yell at that friend and scold them for tripping.
Tara Brach, a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher and leading expert in self compassion taught me about self- kindness. About treating myself as I would treat a close friend. It seems much easier to be compassionate and gentle and forgiving with friends and yet, we can be our own worst critics. A client of mine told me, “If I talked the way to my friends as I do to myself I wouldn’t have any.”
So how does this relate to New Years resolutions? I disposed with New Years resolutions when I found that over and over again I would get excited about big changes only to be let down by my inability to sometimes start, and sometimes maintain these promises.
You might think that criticizing and being militant with yourself will light that spark under your ass to finally change those habits—whether it be to start that exercise program, or to change your eating behaviour, to de-clutter your entire house, to pick up a new skill—negative self-talk usually fails eventually.
When we can accept where we are, paradoxically, we then have the energy to move and change. When we spend all of our time criticizing and picking at our faults there is little energy for shifts.
It is cliché, I know, but taking those little steps instead of trying to leap canyons does work. I often ask myself, what one thing do I want to do differently? That one thing is usually the easiest thing for me to work with. Perhaps it is less time on social media and you cut back by a few minutes at first and then a little more and so on. May not seem like much, but in fact, there is a domino effect. When we do one thing differently, even a little differently, we feel better. We feel proactive. We feel more in control of our lives. These effects then propel us forward to take on more challenging behavioural changes.
I noticed that when walking my dog, I found myself either on my phone or lost in thought, of the past or the future. I decided to leave the phone at home on walks and to try and stay present in my senses—what was I seeing? what was I hearing? etc. Doing so enabled me to give myself a break from myself—that buzzy mind with the to do lists, should do’s and ruminations. I found myself in my life and much more present with my dog. When I walk Arlo I now see things I had never seen before, I pay more attention to how Arlo engages with his environment. Everything is always new for him even when we walk the same path or are in the same park. He has what Zen Buddhists call Beginners Mind. The time is always now for Arlo and he teaches me the importance of presence.
And so, resolutions do not have to be grandiose, they begin with the intention, then the action (baby steps) and then grow from there. Also, please remember to treat yourself with kindness and respect. In doing so stretching yourself will lead to lasting changes, new habits and a sense of accomplishment. Kindness is the door that works.