Despite predictions of apocalyptic events in 2012, planet Earth shows every sign of arriving in 2013, intact.
It’s hard to believe we’re nearly 13 years into the new millenium. Time just keeps on rolling.
The impending New Year, for many people, means it’s time for a bit of lifestyle re-imagining.
Under the guise of ‘New Year’s Resolutions’, people promise themselves they’re going to do all sorts of things, like lose 30 pounds or quit smoking cigarettes.
Unfortunately, most people give up on these resolutions within a couple weeks. Why is that?
I’d wager it has a lot to do with the ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude that goes along with the type of resolutions people tend to make.
The Problem With All-or-Nothing
When we select an arbitrary goal for success (Like, “I will lose 40 pounds!”), we invite ourselves to believe that if we can just achieve that one milestone, things will be seven shades of hunky-dory.
First of all, this type of thinking is incorrect. The sensation of pride that comes with reaching a goal is great, but it’s fleeting, nonetheless.
Once you accomplish enough of your goals, you realize that things become grand when you allow them to be. Life will never be enough until you decide to appreciate what you have.
Also, goal-oriented thinking is productive in some sense, but it inevitably leads to a never-ending succession of goals.
There will always be more to do and higher peaks to scale. Constantly looking for the next summit disables our ability to reflect proudly upon how far we’ve already traveled.
Not to mention the fact that when we try to quantify success, we also quantify failure. When we define these ‘all-or-nothing’ resolutions, we also define every outcome that will fall short of our goal.
This leads to a fear of falling short, which is precisely the wrong type of motivator if you actually want to enjoy doing something (And yes friends, it is possible to enjoy doing things that are good for you.).
That fear and aversion to failure also makes it much more painful when you do fail, which you will end up doing 90% of the time when you turn life-renovation into a chore, rather than a source of joy.
What I’m Proposing
I’m suggesting a new formulation of the dusty ol’ New Year’s resolution.
What if we traded in these black-and-white resolutions (that are designed to be intimidating and frustrating) for more forgiving ones?
What if, rather than saying, “I must quit smoking cold-turkey”, we said, “I’m going to try to wean myself off of cigarettes, reducing the number I smoke each day by one with each passing week, and see where that gets me. Whatever happens, happens.”
You might think, “Nothing will ever get done that way!”
When we opt to start small, to at least do something and see where it takes us, we aren’t intimidated or afraid. The stakes don’t seem as heavy.
We’re free to make gradual, positive changes, and we’re motivated, not by fear, but by an enjoyment of small successes along the way and a desire to build upon those successes, for our own good.
We’re also able to better appreciate where we’re at right now, rather than always keeping one eye on some fantasy-pie-in-the-sky.
AND, because success hasn’t been strictly defined, neither has failure. The villainous deviant known as Failure does not have a space in this formulation. There is only feedback.
My 4 Unusual, Life-Changing Resolutions
Keeping this new way of thinking about resolutions in mind, I’m going to gently suggest a few New Year’s resolutions that will improve your life, should you choose to pursue them.
These are my New Year’s resolutions. I hope that some of you will adopt them as well.
Resolution #1: Condemn less, empathize more.
In our society, people find a whole mess of reasons to condemn other people.
Lifestyle choices, one-time behaviors, clothing styles, hobbies and interests, religious beliefs, sexual preference, skin color, etc. The list is endless.
A judgment of someone else as somehow bad or contemptible entails a judgment of oneself as good and superior.
Our ego (the part of the mind that is concerned with the self) loves this. The ego gets off to this type of thinking.
Unfortunately, holding oneself in higher esteem than others is an enormous source of anger and frustration.
When we judge certain traits, behaviors, opinions, or lifestyle choices to be inferior to ours, it upsets us to see other people enacting said traits, behaviors, opinions, or lifestyle choices.
So basically, by condemning others, we’re creating reasons for ourselves to be angry or hostile.
Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha said, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
Other spiritual teachers have been saying the same for millennia, and they’re correct — carrying intolerance and bitterness within will bring you nothing but pain and suffering.
So, this year, I suggest you resolve to, over time, quell your condemnations. Notice when someone else’s lifestyle or behavior is upsetting you, and ask yourself why. Are they directly harming you?
Probably they are not (if they are, that’s another story). You are allowing them to harm you indirectly by holding intolerant feelings within.
Recognize those feelings, and try to let them go. Ask yourself what life circumstance, upbringing, genetic predisposition, education, or other influence may have lead that person to behave or live or think in such a way.
Use your imagination. People do all sorts of crazy shit, but there is always a reason why they do what they do. Who are you to assume you know better or have any right to think poorly of them?
So, yeah, empathize! It’s pretty awesome.
Resolution #2: Reduce ego’s influence, embrace selflessness.
Remember that aspect of the mind, the ego (the self), that I just mentioned?
It’s actually at the root of much of our suffering.
The ego would like you to believe that you are the center of the multiverse — that your life, your desires, and your worries are the most important thing ever created.
The ego would also like you to believe that you are in control. It wants you to feel as if you can have everything just the way you’d like it, and that you deserve to.
Sadly, the ego is convincing. Convincing as f#%@.
It also couldn’t be more wrong. Hear me out.
The ego, like much of our mind, is an evolutionary leftover. It is a lingering aspect of a time when utterly exaggerated self-concern was necessary for survival.
Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t need it, to an extent. Society and life as we know it would not be possible without a sense of self.
However, the ego brings with it a hefty sum of baggage — it wires us to be predisposed to extreme selfishness.
Selfishness = Bad. Why?
Brace yourself. I’m about to drop a dose of truth upon you, and it may sting a little bit.
Your life, your desires, and your worries are nothing in comparison to those of the world. In fact, “you” doesn’t really exist. There is only Everything, an Interconnected Totality. We are all One, and you control very little.
You only control your efforts and reactions within a system of rigidly defined laws and restrictions (some imposed by society, some by Universal Law) that constantly limit your possibilities.
At first, this may seem depressing. But it isn’t. It’s liberating!
The ego would like you to believe that you need to be the center of attention, that life is over when things don’t go according to plan, that your future should be an immense source of worry, and that you should blame yourself for everything.
Heave a sigh of relief. It is not your duty to carry the globe on your shoulders. Bad things that happen to you aren’t the end of the world, and most often they aren’t your fault, either. They are beyond your control.
The ego will continue to try to make you think otherwise, but make this upcoming year a time to reduce its influence. Here are 3 quick suggestions to do that:
1. Awareness — Notice when you’re overreacting or blaming yourself unnecessarily and focus on remembering that the ego is exaggerating your self-importance. Learn to constantly take a step back and re-direct your thought away from the self.
2. Kindness — Do good deeds and perform random acts of kindness for other people. By spreading goodness to people, you begin to re-program your mind to think first of others, rather than yourself.
3. Empathize — As previously discussed, embrace togetherness. Love everyone. By regularly imagining yourself in the place of others, you see that their lives and their problems are as equally real and important as your own.
I can say this honestly. The positive effects of becoming a less self-interested person are glorious. They make me want to break into song and dance right now.
Reducing the influence of the ego is the way to becoming worry-free, content, and at peace. I’ve tasted these benefits, but feuding with the ego requires never-ending vigilance.
That’s why this makes my list. It should make yours too.
Resolution #3: Break away from expectation, accept life as it is.
In my last post, I mentioned that expectation is at the root of all suffering, in Buddhist philosophy.
I’ve found this to be true, and it’s related to the ego (once again!). The two go hand-in-hand.
When we expect life to be a certain way or to unfold along a certain trajectory, our ego is trying to do the impossible. It’s yearning to control everything.
As I mentioned earlier, you can only control where you direct your energy/effort and how you respond to situations. Everything else is out of your hands.
Again, this may seem depressing or frightening at first, but it isn’t. Take a closer look.
When we cease to expect life to align with a particular fantasy painted by our ego, we are free to accept life as it truly is.
We can stop resisting. Maybe you don’t realize you’re resisting, but most of us do it all the time.
We resist people, opportunities, alternative ways of thinking, difficult circumstances, and a whole host of other things all the time. Why?
Because we’re expecting something different, and what we see doesn’t align with that expectation.
However, when the veil of expectation is lifted, everything is fine, peaceful even. Everything is equal.
Breaking away from our expectation is the way to discern and understand life as it is. It’s also yet another key to overcoming needless worry and frustration.
Consider working on removing the veil of expectation this year. How?
1. Awareness — When you’re upset or worried, ask yourself how your expectations are misaligned with reality. Focus on understanding how things really are and accept them. Embrace reality, not your fantasies.
2. Say ‘Yes’ — Obviously we must say ‘no’ to some things, but saying ‘yes’ to more adventures, opportunities, and relationships is a fine way to stop resisting life. Becoming more open and spontaneous will lighten you up and allow you to feel as if you’re flowing with the river of life, rather than paddling against it.
Mostly, releasing expectation is a result of discipline and practice. Decide to begin noticing, in the coming months, how your expectations are leading to suffering and focus on being okay with any reality.
This mentality shift has already been useful for me, and I’m excited to see how it continues to bring me peace in the coming year.
Resolution #4: Reduce number of possessions.
Yes, you read that correctly. I actually want to get rid of some of my belongings this year.
Kind of an unusual thing for a soon-to-be recent college grad to be saying, don’t ya think? I don’t like it one bit. Shouldn’t that boy be seeking a new place of residence and the means with which to populate it with all sorts of goods and things?!?!
Not this guy.
Here’s the inside scoop. Hint, hint — this is the exact opposite of what our cultural programming and mass media messages would like you to believe.
WE HAVE FAR TOO MUCH STUFF!!
Like, way, way, way too much. We literally make it our mission in this country to possess boatloads of jewelry, electronics, clothing, furniture, decorations, valuables, collectibles, antiques, and everything else under the sun.
And it’s so backwards it makes me want to cry.
We don’t need 95% of this garbage.
I’ve realized that possessions, for the most part, are a source of worry and trouble. They need to be cleaned, repaired, insured, looked after, locked away, and replaced.
Many people spend the vast majority of their lives amassing extravagant piles of things and looking after them. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit bizarre?
Not to mention the fact that our money could be going to help the millions of people who don’t even have food or shelter, but instead we use it to horde massive amounts of junk because the TV tells us to.
I feel as if I may be coming off a bit harshly, and I don’t want to rub anyone the wrong way, so I’m sorry. I just really want to get this point across because materialism is such a rampant plague in our society.
When we begin to remove our attachment to things, we find ourselves absolutely unburdened by their weight. We don’t realize how they weigh us down until we decide to throw them overboard.
Don’t completely misconstrue me. I do need some things, and I will hold onto some toys that I don’t really need in my lifetime.
However, most Americans possess 10x more things than I ultimately plan to. A blogger I respect once advocated for owning 100 things or less.
100 things seems like a doable, yet ambitious number (if you’re into definitive goals). I’d guess I’ll eventually end up in the 100-200 range.
Becoming a minimalist is wonderful. It opens the door for generosity and reveals to you the things that are genuinely valuable in your life.
What things could you get rid of this year?
If you ask yourself this question honestly, the results could be amazing. I’d love to see you join me in my quest to lose some of the excess this year, if only a little.
For me, this starts now, so here’s something fun — a giveaway.
A Free Novel for One Lucky Commenter
The Scoop: I just finished reading a profoundly thought-provoking novel called The Story of B by Daniel Quinn. I think that you, dear reader, would greatly benefit from reading this book, so I’m giving it to one of you.
To qualify, just do these 2 things:
1. Share this post on either Facebook or Twitter.
2. Leave a comment in the ‘Comments’ section at the bottom of the post.
I’ll randomly select one lucky commenter one week from today (on January 6th), contact them for an address, and send them the novel.
Tip: I’d be really interested to read comments about my philosophy of New Year’s resolutions. Or, please share any resolutions you’re undertaking that others might find useful. Surprise me!
A Few Parting Words
Thanks for sticking with me. This has been a long post, but I hope it’s one you’ve found to be rich with value and brimming with good ideas.
Remember: ‘All-or-nothing’ goals are a recipe for failure and fear. You don’t need them.
You simply need to align yourself with a new path, make a decision to start small, and slowly build upon little victories. (If you need a bit more help with changing habits, read this guide I wrote.)
I hope you’ll decide to join me in pursuing these unorthodox New Year’s resolutions. Even if you don’t, do try to do something. We find purpose by building and growing.
Don’t forget to share and leave a comment! You may be the fortunate recipient of an incredible novel.
Keep me posted on your New Year’s resolution progress. I care and want to hear about it. Thanks. Until next time, stay golden. Love and be lovable.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jordan Bates
Jordan Bates is the creator of Refine The Mind and an English teacher in Busan, South Korea. He's a tenacious fellow who enjoys longboarding, creative writing, hip-hop music, and the study of literature and philosophy. He's also made it his quest to broaden the minds of others while cultivating more kindness and understanding in the world. Read the full story of Refine The Mind and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.