When Not Having a Choice is Better

pexels-photo-568027-2Years ago I was in a dark place. I had had a miscarriage and had nearly died in the process. My body and my spirit felt pretty broken and I couldn’t seem to see a way out.

Friends tried, in different ways, to help out. Some checked in. Some just sat with me. And one, in a moment of divine inspiration, found just the right thing to say – a goal I don’t really recommend as it is so easy to go wrong.

This particular friend is one of my closest and oldest friends. We’ve known each other since 7th grade. He worked from home at the time and I was a full-time graduate student. He called and asked if I wanted to join him at the dog park with my pooches.

As our canines played (well, and mine caused trouble), I described the difficulty I was having in following my usual routines. I didn’t want to go to class. I didn’t want to do the mountains of required reading. Writing papers seemed completely out of the question. I didn’t even really want to walk my dogs, a flashing neon signal that things were not right with me. He listened, really the best thing folks can do when someone has had a trauma, and during a pause he said: “What if you stopped seeing all of these things as a choice? What if they were just things you HAVE to do?”

Before I go further in, I want to assure you that I am not suggesting that the answer to anybody’s depression is just getting back to work. And I can honestly say that had my state of mind continued much longer, I likely would have benefited from medication to help my brain find it’s healthier pathways again. But in that moment, my friend’s words DID work for me.

Looking back on it now I recognize what was going on. He was reminding me that I had already made a commitment. I had already made a decision. And those commitments were to myself, to what I believed at the time was my highest good. Rather than asking myself: “Do I want to do this,” or “Do I feel up to that,” I might have just as easily asked myself if I was going to keep my commitment to myself that day. By allowing myself so much wiggle room, I was failing myself, and piling self-judgment about that failure onto my aching heart and soul.

It is so much easier to see this now, when I am self-employed and SO MUCH of my day relies on my ability to keep my commitments to myself. I could choose, at any time, to skip writing a blog post or skip creating a new PDF for folks. I could choose to skip networking lunches. I could choose to make bigger chunks of my schedule unavailable to clients. I could EASILY make myself  busy with the domestic demands of having high standards and children in the same physical space. I could do all of those things (and some days I would like to do that), but then I would not be keeping my commitments to myself.

The trouble with not keeping our commitments to ourselves is pretty deep trouble indeed. There is the initial trouble of allowing every action item to become a decision, which is TORTURE. We don’t do this with all of our action items, right? We don’t decide every morning whether or not we are going to brush our teeth. We just do it. We are committed to keeping our teeth clean. I, personally, am committed to not hearing a dentist’s drill any more often than absolutely necessary. So I don’t rethink this decision every day. I just do it. When it comes to our bigger commitments to ourselves, or to ones that we are not trained to do as children, we act like it’s reasonable to recheck our decisions whenever we’re not feeling fantastic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve got news for you. A big part of life is not feeling fantastic. Yep. And there are things you can do about that, but truth is no matter how good you get at managing your mind, you will not feel fantastic all of the time, so there will be days you won’t feel like it, whatever IT is. What can keep you going on a day like that? Sometimes for me it’s just relying on that decision by my yesterday self. SHE, who felt a little better and spent some time making decisions about what to do when, can be trusted and SHE needs me to follow-through, even when I don’t feel my best.

The other tricky bit about not keeping our commitments to ourselves is that we train our brains to distract us. When we so readily desert our plans in favor of whatever is shiny (or on FB or Netflix or even laundry), we are telling our brains that they should divert us in other ways. The message is clear: “I can be interrupted. I can be stopped.” And our brains love to hear that “I can be stopped” message because our most primitive selves, they really aren’t interested in all of this deeply satisfying forward motion. They are interested in keeping things the same. So when you reward the urge to be distracted, when you reward the urge to go off plan, you give that primitive brain encouragement to continue to distract you and tell you why your whole commitment idea really stinks anyway.

I know I’m sounding like a little bit of a hardass this morning, and it may be that I’m just talking to myself because it is rainy and miserable and cold here and it seems like a perfect day to ditch ALL of the plans. And there are times to do that. And there are reasons to not. For me, here in the dark, cold, wet gloom of Maryland February I felt the call of EVERYTHING ELSE. So I checked myself. What are my commitments to myself today? What did my earlier motivated planning self say we should do today if the field trip I was supposed to chaperone got canceled, because you KNOW that bossy bitch had a backup plan. Yes, she did. And it was even pretty nice. Just a couple of required items and then maybe a movie and a game with the kids. She planned it. I’m doing it, because sometimes it’s better not to have a choice.

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia