Self-care for the new year
With the new year approaching there is that itchy feeling to start something big, something new, lose weight, sign up for a new course, change a habit from the 1st of January. I was really surprised to read that new year’s resolutions are basically almost as old as humanity. Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year. In the Medieval period knights had to renew their vows every year to reaffirm their commitment and the idea “to reflect upon self-improvement annually” has been a part of many cultures and religions throughout the centuries.
On the Western hemisphere it’s the time of the year when gyms get overcrowded, workout classes packed, courses booked out and many people have high hopes about the power of the new year and leave their fate to the magical 1st day of January. I used to be one of them. I used to put this huge pressure on myself that I should turn my life around by 180 degrees overnight. Literally. Because that’s what we expect with taking new year’s resolutions.
This is my second new year’s eve as a mom and I must admit, my desires for drastic changes have dropped significantly, partly due to the immense amount of sleep deprivation I have accumulated in the past 13 months, but also because I feel that the message I want to model for my kid is to do something every single day towards my goals, my personal development. The lesson I want to teach him is that any day could be a good day to start something new, take a new approach. Even with this enlightened idea in my mind, I must admit that making changes, being on the personal development journey is damn hard. Losing that baby fat is very tough. Exchanging habits is an extremely difficult process. So I wanted to put together a little self-care package that could support me and maybe you in 2019. In this post I share a few approaches, concepts that I found very interesting and helpful, they depict perfectly what is missing from the new year’s resolution concept.
Setting intentions instead of making resolutions
The other day I listened to the latest episode of the From the Heart - Conversations with Yoga Girl podcast, where she was talking about her rituals for the new year and how she is setting intentions rather than making resolutions. (If you want to listen, the part about the new year’s rituals starts at 31:00.) She suggests to take a stock at the end of the year about what happened, what feelings we had and evoking what emotions we want to invite into our lives in the new year coming. These feelings then could act as our inner compasses when we want to check if certain ways, decisions, elements in our lives serve that intention, that leading emotion or not. So for example if I want to feel rested in the new year, I can find actions that serve this intention, like setting up a schedule, going to bed always at the same time etc. When I arrive at a situation that affects my rest period (getting a party invitation, being sucked into a Netflix series), I can take my intention to feel rested and decide whether that party, trip, TV series serves that or not. Setting intentions to me also means to be compassionate towards myself and to define my motivation from a loving place instead of pinpointing what is wrong with me. This intention, this motivation is going to be the fuel for the change or shift we want to induce.
Doing research to fire the motivation
“Education is the best motivation” - says Shona Vertue, personal trainer, yoga teacher, fitness educator. “If you understand why you’re doing something, you’re more likely to do it. “ This is 1000% true for me. (And yes, I intentionally wrote 1000 instead of 100.) It worked when I wanted to quit smoking (more about this later), it worked when I was training, and this is how I like to teach yoga myself. I know how easy it is to lose myself in the flood of information out there on the internet, but it’s worth investing the time and effort to find the best resources for the change that we want to introduce into our lives, because doing research is also empowering ourselves to be successful on the journey we want to take.
Looking at your new habit as a staircase
Setting an intention, finding the motivation and then supporting that motivation with evidence is a great start, still not enough. I’ve recently read a great metaphor that says taking on new habits is like climbing the staircase. The article that explained the analogy focused mostly on fitness performance, but I believe the idea can be applied to other habits as well. To climb the staircase, first we need to conquer each step on its own and this requires breaking our new habit, desired change into smaller pieces. (I know, stair climbing doesn’t sound too sexy, right?.) What if, we could make the steps small enough to fit them into our lives? What if we looked at each step on its own without being discouraged or intimidated by the height of the whole staircase? What if we chose a staircase that is not too high, but still feels motivating? And don’t forget, parents are not climbing the staircase on their own, we need to find steps that feel comfortable enough even if we carry the entire family on our backs. Sometimes literally.
I was a smoker during my university years (probably one of my silliest decisions back then). At the end of my studies I felt that cigarettes had taken over my life and I wanted out. I’d heard stories about people who decided to quit smoking one day and from the next they never looked back. Good for them. And good for anyone who can make such radical changes in the blink of an eye. I am not part of this club unfortunately. When I stopped smoking, I was cigarette-free for a while, then something happened and I slid back. Soon after I stopped again and I slid back again, but this time it happened later. This went on and on until I did my research about the effects of smoking and until I felt more comfortable in my new habit, than in the old. Western experts talk about neuroplasticity (“the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life (…) to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment”), while yoga philosophy writes about samskaras (mental and emotional patterns), that can be influenced and rewritten by the yoga practice itself. The two concepts are very similar to each other and they both explain how changing patterns/habits is basically an action of rewiring through consistent repetition of a new pattern/habit.
Every bit counts
So it might feel that we have everything set for making the changes we want, but there is one very important piece missing in my opinion: preparing for the bad days. I used to have an “all or nothing” kind of mentality with making changes and that already set me up for failure. I either went into the change with full power or otherwise I didn’t bother. WRONG! Because there are the days (or rather nights) when we don’t sleep, when we are sick, when our child is sick, when our family requires our full attention, when we lose a job, when we have a packed day, when we get our periods, when our partner gets her period and so on. Those are going to be the days when the neatly prepared schedule to fit in some physical exercise, or friend-time will go out of the window. That’s when we hit the wall. In the past I chose to give up because on the bad days I couldn’t stick to the plan. Now my plan is to do a tiny bit every single day and be over the moon with it. Even if it’s only 5 minutes.
So that’s my little new year’s self-care package. Hope we all find the ingredients for this recipe in 2019: a handful of intentions, a pinch of motivation, a tablespoon of quality resources to strengthen the motivation, a hint of self-compassion, small bits of actions and consistency. Might not sound like the most fashionable meal of all times, but when all the pieces come together, the result tastes amazing!