Leaning Into Purpose

We see every new year as a reset button for our lives

Happy New Year!

Last night, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve showed clips of New Year’s in different cities around the world.   I was struck by the similarities in our celebrations:  fireworks, revelry, resolution, hope.  Didn’t matter whether it was Buffalo, Berlin, Bangkok or Beijing, we were all at the same party.  It was amazing!

What does it mean?  It’s just a number.  It’s just another day.  Some of us will jump out of bed and dust off the treadmill in the basement.  Some will wake up nursing a hangover and decide to postpone the New Year until January 2.

Seems we all want a reset button.  A chance to begin again.  A promise that if 2011 was not fun, 2012 will be better.  To paraphrase that wonderful song in Les Mis, not “another day another destiny,” but “another year another destiny.”   Days come and go, and while some days can be lifechanging, we have seen all to often that you band 365 of them together, and chances are, your life can be quite different for reasons sometimes not in your control.

As for me, some years have been branded.  1974 was a great year.  I also look fondly on 1968, 1985, and 1998-1999 (that was a doubly good time).  2005 and 2008 I could have done without.

So we know we’re going to have good years and bad years, so we try to do what we can to control them with our resolutions.  I’m a one-goal-at-a-time person, because if I have more than one, neither gets done.  But I have a big dry erase board just outside my kitchen with my One Goal on it, and if it’s important enough–if I’ve been driven to it by sufficient pain or desire–I get it done.

Goals are fun.  I find that the good thing about sprawling a goal on a dry erase board that’s placed where you spend most of your time is it helps to keep it front and center.

I heard a great term from Kathy Freston, an author whose concentration is on healthy, conscious eating.  She adopts a more gradual approach to achieving goals and changing habits.   She does not recommend radical conversion.  She doesn’t prescribe a 21-Day To Change Your Life plan.   In encouraging her own dietary plan she uses the term “leaning into veganism.”

I like that.  The idea is to just keep the intention in front of you as you slowly empower yourself to make lasting changes.

So, whatever your New Year’s Resolution is, lean into it.  You have 365 days to work on it!  If you vow to hit the gym every day and you skip a day, you don’t have to throw the whole idea out.  Instead of writing on your dry erase board “Go To Gym Every Day!!!!” write, “by December 31, 2012, I’ll be eating 500 fewer calories a day and I’ll be exercising regularly three times a week.”

Lean into healthy purpose, or lean into loving purpose, or lean into financially sound purpose.  But just lean into it.  Over the days the mindfulness of that leaning will creep into your daily life and drive you to that place.

One more tip for reinforcing the mindfulness on a daily basis is to steal a practice from the Ignatians–the Daily Examen.   At the end of every day, just mentally sweep through the day and think about how you did with your goal.  The idea isn’t to beat yourself up–it’s just do a checkpoint with yourself to identify what worked and what didn’t, simply to make it easier to do better the next day.

In the book Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by the Heath Brothers, (a great book by the way), one of the first rules they talk about for finding ways to change is to look at success.  Don’t waste your time figuring out why you failed–look at why and how you (or others) succeeded.   You might do that with your Daily Examen.  Forget the donut you ate.  Think about how good you felt after taking the dog for a brisk walk.

Here’s a link to the Ignatian Daily Examen, but a lay version might look like this:

  • Just chill.  Depending upon your own spiritual practice, find a way to center yourself.  Count your breaths, recite a mantra, simply focus on the God within.  Try to shut off your mind from all that internal chatter.  I simply snuggle into bed, turn off the light, and when I’m as comfy as can be, I become aware of my breaths until my mind shuts down
  • Be glad.  Be grateful.  Say what you are grateful for–out loud or silently.  Like Pollyanna, play the Glad Game–try to find ways to be grateful for good stuff as well as the crummy stuff that happened.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as they waft past.  If you need help with this, there are tons of great books on mindfulness.  Transforming your feelings is like tearing down a wall that is keeping you from living the life you want, so don’t skip that step.
  • Think about one part of the day.  Pick a successful moment and think about how good you felt at that time.  Give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Visualize tomorrow.  Think about how rewarding it will be to repeat that tomorrow.  Visualize how tomorrow you will lean into your purpose.
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