January can be a self-hating time.
The holidays have come and gone. Maybe your holiday season was the picture of Rockwellian perfection, and it's all gone too soon. Or perhaps you're haunted by familial gibes and you're feeling misunderstood or "not enough". Either way, you're looking at your credit card statement and realizing that you probably shouldn't have tried to compensate by spending.
I'm not going to mention the weather.
January brings a new year. A clean slate! Shake the Etch-a-Sketch and begin again. What will things look like when you're happier at this time next year? Let's start by thinking about the things you feel the worst about so that you can fix them and be happier next year: Is it your fat ass? Your failure at relationships? Maybe you're too much of a spendthrift to have nice things like trips or a retirement account. That's a good start, so let's make with the fixing!
The new year is your opportunity to brainstorm the things you hate most about yourself and then parade them around on social media with the backhanded optimism of "resolutions." Write down those goals! Make sure they're measurable! "Lose 20 pounds." "Visit the gym 5 days per week." "Pick up the phone and call someone every week." "Save $100 per paycheck."
Having goals is admirable and measuring progress is helpful. But the first thing you're going to do is stop doing the work and the next thing you're going to do is stop measuring. Until next January, of course, when you begin again; "This year it's going to be different," you will say.
I'm working on this theory that positive things can't be introduced into your life when the focus is on things you want to change. The self-admonishment knocks you back and saps your energy. It's also problematic to focus on the perfect and fully-accomplished version of "you" that you'd rather be; someone who is many leagues beyond where you are right now. It's too easy to lose sight of the path from here to there and the negativity that started it all leads you back to hopelessness. The sad truth is that humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to make short-term decisions at the expense of long-term gains.
So here's my plan: rather than focusing on failures of the past or dreams of the future, I'm going to think about things I can say to myself right now. Every day. Free of hopes, expectations, measurements, or results.
"This might not work"
I'm most likely to hold back on a new endeavor because I'm afraid of how it will turn out. But what if it doesn't turn out? Is that really so bad? Is failure a bigger negative than the possible benefit of success?
Work, relationships, goals, and creative endeavors. These may not work out. What's the harm in giving them a shot anyway?
"I like you"
Has anyone ever volunteered something positive about you for no reason? "That's a great bracelet", "you're really shining in this class", "I love your attitude." It's wonderful to hear these sentiments (when they're genuine) and it's even better to feel the positive reflection and self-satifying generosity when I express them.
I hold back on this stuff - most people do (what if it comes out wrong?). But when I think about people who seem magical to me it's this quality of generous appreciation that sets them apart.
"I'll never be the same"
I won't be the same after any significant experience (unless I'm doing it wrong). That's growth. That's taking in new information and processing what I've learned. But people only ever say "I'll never be the same" after something traumatic happens.
Everyone who touches me in some way changes me forever, every project I embark on gives me a new set of skills, and every trip I take helps me see things in a new way. That's the point of life experiences.
This year, I want to say "I'll never be the same" as often as I can.
For the past 4 months I've averaged 4-6 visits to the gym each week. And my weight has fluctuated within a 5-pound range. I'm glad I didn't focus on a weight loss goal because I would have given up long ago and written the whole thing off as yet another failure.
Over half of my gym visits have been for yoga classes, and I always come out of these classes feeling better about myself than when I went in. You can push youself but there are no specific goals. It's practice, as they say; working at the same activities without any agenda, noticing when I slowly become stronger and more capable.
There's room for "this might not work" in a practice. There's opportunity for growth without stressing about where I'm coming from or where I'm headed. I'd like to apply that more - inside and outside of the gym.
My actual goals are measurable but I will measure them later. If I can remember these sentiments when I need them the most I've got a pretty good shot of reaching them without even trying.