So I guess it’s time to follow through on those New Year’s resolutions… I’m reminded of a quote, “We overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.”
I have not underestimated my ability to forget the name of this person, but the point seems clear given the various fads of self-improvement out there. When we make a slapdash effort to get fit, start meditating, lose weight, etc. we often have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. If we don’t notice immediate signs of improvement, discouragement might set in and our gym membership or meditation cushion becomes forgotten.
Somewhere in our mind, we know that this will likely happen. That’s part of what creates such intense effort at the beginning – going to the gym five days a week, meditating for an hour at a time – we are trying to right ourselves before the door swings closed again and we go back to our TV-watching, sugar-loving selves (that’s my fear, anyway).
It’s important to remember that what we’re really trying to change is not our present self, but the habits that got our present self to where it is. That means developing daily rituals to help us shift our inertia-driven orbit away from what is easy and familiar, to what may be more challenging but ultimately gratifying. We never say on New Year’s Day – I’m going to have a really impressive three months, and then by April I’ll get too busy and forget it all!
Reach the Sleepy Places
Resolutions become wishful thinking if we don’t take on the areas of our life where we usually operate on autopilot. Let’s say we want to eat healthier but we’ re used to coming home from work stressed, hungry, and scarfing whatever’s around until we are reconstituted enough to make dinner. If we don’t have easy options waiting for us in a bowl when we get home, we will probably pass on the healthy stuff.
One of my resolutions is to improve the way I use technology so I don’t detract from my health. I have a condition where typing even a sentence or dialing a phone number can be extremely painful, so I route all of my computer and phone work through voice recognition. Learning and using the software’s is hard enough, yet it’s been my experience that technology and mindlessness seem to go together. How easy is it to check out in front of a screen?
It’s in these dark places where the habits are at their strongest – like mold! So if we can bring the light of our awareness to the places where we perpetually are discursive, brooding, absent-minded, etc., then imagine how much easier it will be to do it in the rest of our lives! Practicing mindfulness and compassion while using email is like training for a race by running up a huge hill. It’s hard but our muscles (of mindfulness) are getting so much stronger. We’re creating habits that will change our trajectory.
A Culture of Life
To wrest this phrase from its current politicized context, I create a culture of life at my desk. Each morning, I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to clean the surface of my desk, go through piles I left the day before. I check in with my body for a couple moments when I sit down. All around my computer are pictures of my family, beautiful places, and inspiring slogans. I even buy myself flowers occasionally – aw, shucks! They are like medicinal injections to help me be strong enough to fight off speediness, disconnecting from my body, and tunnel vision.
If I didn’t bring so much positive intention, I know it’s easy for me to spiral downward into speed, distraction, and eventually pain. I’m much more productive when my culture of life is thriving around my workspace’s since I’m not working out of a frantic state of mind which often leads to poor decisions and time management. Rather, I’m reminded of the good things in life and how I wish to conduct myself.
How can you create a culture of life at your desk or wherever your autopilot place is? What will provoke you to notice your surroundings and feel more space? (Hint: cleaning up is a really good start.)