Forget Resolutions – Answer the Big Questions

As this year begins, forget resolutions! Until you answer the big questions, it’s pointless to make them anyway.

Is there really much chance you’re going to hit the gym an hour a day for a whole year if you haven’t explored why you’ve purchased 3 yearlong gym memberships before and worked out a total of 3 times?

Will you be able to achieve your goal of reducing clutter if you don’t know why you buy more clothes, but don’t remove anything from your closet?

Is it realistic to set a goal to prepare most meals from scratch if you don’t know whether you believe that anticipated long-term health gains are more important than the convenience that gets you through today?

We’ve talked before about setting up a life structure to support change, but that’s really starting in the middle. Before you set up that structure, you need to know yourself and be clear on your values.

Most of us believe we have a clear view of ourselves, but I can tell you from interviewing many employees and then subsequently observing their job performance, we are either terrible self-assessors or willing to be incredibly dishonest to get a job. If we’re not good at self-assessing, we’re not being honest with ourselves.

I have only a passing knowledge of Brené Brown’s research into shame and vulnerability, but it seems logical that feelings of shame regarding our perceived inadequacies or the vulnerability of being unemployed contribute to our construction of a story that doesn’t match other people’s perception of us over time. While this may feel necessary for landing a job, or our social mask may feel necessary for navigating public interactions, it is important for us to connect to our true selves. If we don’t, we simply can’t construct a life that will benefit us.

Think of it this way, if you build a house with standard height doors, it won’t comfortably fit LeBron James or Kevin Durant. If you love to sleep late and work at night, a 7am – 3pm job does not fit you as well as an 11pm – 7am job. If you value routine, outside sales will make you crazy. It doesn’t matter that your earning potential is increased because the job is not a good fit! On the other hand, if you love flexibility outside sales will let you blossom.

Asking the big questions helps to identify our strengths, obstacles, and things that bring us joy. Answering the big questions with courage solidifies our values. With the resulting clarity, we can construct a life framework that supports us becoming our best, healthiest, most joyful selves, even if our new plan is 180º from where we’ve been headed.

Is it seriously possible to go from an inability to keep a single resolution to a 180º turnaround? I believe it is. I’m not saying the path will be straightforward – your particular trail may never have been blazed before. I never expect a journey that has a straight up trajectory, or is without failure. Forward progress most often requires a foundation of commitment, diligence, learning from mistakes, and holding yourself accountable.
What does a big question sound like if I should want to ask one?

Big questions are things like:

1)What are my greatest inherent strengths?

2)What are my greatest learned skills?

3)What are my greatest weaknesses?

4)What am I most lacking right now?

5)Can I sit still in total quiet without distractions or company and feel calm and comfortable?

6)What do I have in great abundance?

7)What do I have that I can live without?

8)Am I invested and engaged in my family, my job, and my community?

9)Am I able to feel my real feelings in the moment?

10)What do I do to avoid my feelings?

11)Do I embrace my emotions, both positive and negative, and lean in?

12)Can I look myself in the eye in the mirror and sincerely utter the words, “I love you?”

13)What is the worst thing I’ve ever done? Have I forgiven myself for that?

14)If I have not yet forgiven myself for my worst action, can I do it now?

15)Do I have good boundaries?

16)Do I contribute more often to peace or to conflict in my relationships?

17)Am I more likely to display compassion or judgement?

18)Do I take responsibility for my contribution to family or work conflict?

19)How do I behave when I’m my best self and during what percentage of each day am I my behaving that way?

20)Am I willing to practice gratitude, bravery, health, fitness, kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity?

21)Am I reliable? Can others regularly count on me?

22)What kind of friend am I to myself? Do I take care of myself as well as I do my husband, wife, children, friends, coworkers, or clients?

23)What inspires me?

24)What motivates me?

25)If there were no obstacles, what would a perfect week look like?

26)What steps can I take today that will move me toward that perfect week?

27)If there is no way to change my current circumstances, will I be okay and can I learn to thrive?

28)How much time am I willing to commit each day to improving my physical health and fitness?

29)How much time am I willing to commit each day to strengthening my emotional & spiritual health?

30)What percentage of the time do I say no when I should say no?

31)What do I believe is the biggest obstacle standing between me and my #1 goal?

32)Do I have the courage to sit with my fear?

33)What one thing can I do each day that will add joy, laughter or connection to my life?

34)What do I believe I deserve in life?

35)Am I aware of the effect my choices have on those around me?

36)What one kindness can I offer someone else today?

The answers to big questions often reveal themselves in stages of realization slowly over a period of time as we gain insight. Many of us have had our relationships to ourselves interrupted in a manner that leaves us feeling alone, helpless, weak, undeserving, defective, or numb. When this is true, it can be a monumental task to reconnect with our emotions. If you have difficulty seeing yourself as lovable, deserving of good things, or feel a need to avoid all emotions, Somatic Experiencing® may be a good place to start.

Somatic Experiencing® Therapy allowed me to reconnect with my body so that I could relax the defenses that prevented me from feeling. Developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine, SE can easily be practiced with or without the assistance of a practitioner. Using SE tools still helps me trust my body to support me while I free my mind to know what I know and my heart to feel what it feels. That puts me in a much better position to answer big questions in a manner that is consistent with supporting my best self.

If you’re already feeling concerned that you may not keep your resolutions this year, forget them and try answering some big questions! After all, there’s no danger in trying something different and the knowledge you gain about yourself can give you insight into a better strategy for sustaining positive change.

Take your time, you’ve got all year! Let’s just call this a rebuilding year.

Are We There Yet?

I must confess, I’m ready for this year to be over – are we there yet? Let’s close this chapter down and get on with a new one. I’m ready! Some years bring ease and comfort and others throw the book at you. You can make the best choices in the world and still be bowled over by loss, illness, natural disaster, betrayal, or unexpected financial stress.
Today, a post about food will just send me running back to the bathroom. I’ve had 2 stomach viruses in as many weeks. I don’t have any tips to share. I can barely get myself upstairs to take a shower. Once I start following a train of thought, it’s quickly interrupted by my rumbling tummy. I’m typing this wondering if there’s any point in sharing at all? Nonetheless, share I shall.

In the past month, I’ve had two colds and made a trip across the country in addition to the two bouts of stomach flu. I haven’t worked out since I left on a trip December 13. I haven’t cooked since I returned. I had to cancel a trip to see my elderly cousin because of today’s illness. In between, I did a real estate closing and kept my grandson when his parents had an emergency. I’ve reviewed video and built graphics for our cooking show. I am tapped out, exhausted, and generally worthless.

The point is, we all have times like that. Hopefully, they don’t come often or stay long, but no one is immune. When I was growing up, my great aunts would band together to take over duties for an ailing relative. It didn’t require great discussion, they just divvied up the chores and went into action like a well-oiled machine. In my circle of friends, no one currently has access to that kind of family support. Many of us tough it out with very little help.

It can be hard to find reliable friends, partners, vendors, volunteers, and employees. Without those, life can feel like a constant fight to get something done. Many systems are broken or unconcerned about the individuals that depend on those systems. During good times, this can simply feel like a waste of time and energy. During difficult times, it can be the straw that leads to extreme frustration. Sometimes this frustration is expressed as violence – at home or in the community.

When you feel alone and overwhelmed, an ignored request can feel like a slap in the face. Unfortunately, ignoring has become standard operating procedure. Veterans’ physical concerns were ignored in order to enhance performance statistics. Overzealous police departments have ignored concerns of minority communities. Women’s harassment in the workplace has been ignored when the harasser is a powerful man. Clients ignore email and phone calls. Friends ignore invitations instead of responding that they can’t join you.

This year, I was even ghosted by an organization for which I wrote. I made all my deadlines. My posts were getting 10s of thousands of hits per week on Facebook. My editor never gave me any notes. He didn’t ask for rewrites. Suddenly, everything just stopped with no word whatsoever. This passes for professionalism? Not in my book.

There is a certain amount of power that can be wielded through uncertainty, chaos, manipulation, and stonewalling, but it is not the sort of power that inspires loyalty, respect, trust, admiration, or gratitude. In the coming year, I’ll be faced with many choices. I can choose to be a trustworthy and reliable friend. I can choose to respond even when my response is not what a client wants to hear. I can choose to be considerate and listen. I can choose to model patience, kindness, and thoughtfulness.

Admittedly, making these choices may not always be appreciated or even noticed. But that’s the thing about leading – you lead your children, colleagues, and community by your actions whether that leadership is acknowledged or not. Deciding what sort of leader you want to be determines the mark you leave on the world.

So, it’s time to leave this year behind and embark on the next one. Can I make 2018 better than any year that has come before? While I can’t determine what will happen to me or around me, I can prioritize what I make time for. I can surround myself with things that inspire me. I can determine the sort of parent, grandparent, employer, colleague, and friend I want to be, then make choices that support those values.

These final few days of 2017 when I’m lying on the couch trying to recover are perfect for reflection, truth telling, and planning. Without the stomach flu, I would have allotted less time for that so I am choosing to be grateful for the interruption. I’ll be just as grateful when I feel like eating steak again!

As you wind down your year and prepare for the next, I’m wishing you flavorful food, fragrant flowers, thoughtful friends, and strong, reliable partners!