Nothing ever goes away
Until it teaches us
what we need to know.
- Pema Chodron
As we move into the New Year, you may make resolutions or set intentions about the changes you would like to see in your life. The word "new" and a year that is just beginning often feel like a blank slate, fostering hope that you will be able to shift things in your life. The idea of a fresh start is always a time of hope and optimism.
You may begin eating more healthy food, commit to a regular meditation practice, start going to the gym or try to be more positive; but then the old ways may start to creep back in: negative self-talk, eating more than you'd like to, sleeping in or making excuses rather than meditating or exercising. Not sticking to your resolutions may make you feel bad and spiral you into more of the old behaviors and feelings you wanted to let go of in the first place. This is probably a familiar experience to just about everyone!
However, I propose a different take on not being able to stick to resolutions, expressed so eloquently in Pema Chodron's quote above. Instead of trying to simply eliminate things you don't like in your life and/or behavior, what about being curious about them as a first step? If you are not able to do things differently yet, there is more to learn from the things you wish to change. .Those behaviors and feelings developed at some point for a reason. Are you willing to explore what those reasons might be? If you overeat, or eat foods you'd rather not be eating, what might you really be desiring? What does food stand in for? Love, connection, sweetness, or is it trying to fill an empty place inside that can never be filled by food.
Or if you are self-critical, how might this have developed? Whose voice have you internalized as your own? How might your criticizing yourself at one time have been a protection from something or someone?
All of these unwanted, unloved behaviors or feelings cannot simply be willed away. Rather they are like code or clues that guide us into our inner world to see what must be unearthed, understood and healed. As Pema says, genuine change will happen when there is nothing more to learn from the behavior. When there IS a resolution you are able to follow through on, it is probably because you had already learned all that you needed to and were ready to let go. And this will happen at any time of the year, especially if you allow yourself to be curious, rather than critical of your behaviors and feelings.
Happy New Year!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley