I bet I almost had you with the title there. However, while we can make fun of the legions of overly enthusiastic New Year’s resolutioners that will start new exercise, crazy juice detox programs and other similarly well-intentioned but ultimately doomed ideas, it pays not to feel too superior or get too smug. Some of these people genuinely want to make a change, and I challenge anyone to honestly say that they don’t get a little reflective and perhaps even a little motivated to do something different when a new year rolls around. I feel a similar thing near my birthday, recognising that this line in the sand can be a good starting point or ending point.
I have not made a new years resolutions, the joke that I made the new year’s resolution not to make new years resolutions is somewhat appropriate. I believe, like Tony Robbins teaches, that I can make the decision to change in an instant, that like Ray Lewis has implored with passion, “I am not the man I was a few moments ago”, while I recognise that the act of implementing and embedding that change takes time, the decision, that choice, is instant. I wrote about wearing different shoes, that for me was a decision to change.
My big project, and if you like, my project for 2017 is to be intentional in implementing changes I have already made but failed to embed as habitual behaviours, like wearing different shoes. I have lots of shoes, more than one watch, bracelets that like, oodles of t-shirts that all fit perfectly, I have lots of choices. And because I haven’t really ever thrown many things away, I have now amassed a lot of stuff. I should say that with clothes, in my ex-relationship I only had around 10 t-shirts in my wardrobe at any one time and things could disappear for months, so it was prudent when I needed an item daily to have more than one weeks (I had 10 sets of thermal underwear for example). When I moved out, and it wall all brought to me, I realised how much stuff I really had and actually was able to get rid of things that were just not me, especially clothes I had worn trying to be someone else.
The thing is, probably like anyone with self-esteem issues coming off the back of a life marked by abuse of some kind, while I had choices available, I simply acted out of habit. Wearing the same t-shirt for days to save washing, not showering to save water or because I had got in trouble for the time it took. Things like why are you showering now when you could be with your kids, or you can’t shower now I am waiting on a parcel and going out, they create behaviours that stick. In my case, I’ve started noticing I have quite a few of these behaviours that I can break away from.
However to break these past habitual behaviours I have to be intentional. At one time, I thought simply making the choices available would be enough, and I have wasted a lot of money having multiple items in pursuit of the magic number of choices that will set me free. Failing to recognise that too many choices will paralyse just as no choice will imprison. The reality is, I had the same prison I had all along because the bars were in my mind. Breaking out of the prison of my mind has been the theme of the last few years, in fact, the purpose of the majority of what I do is now as a result of that endeavour. How I look, how I spend my time, the relationships I cultivate and who I cultivate them with have their root in destroying that prison. Somewhere along the line, I realised that while the doors were unlocked and I could now come and go as I pleased, I was choosing to return to the prison. The prison had become my home, and I was comfortable in it, I was scared of the outside world and of freedom. I would go so far as to say not only was I comfortable in my prison, my prison was comfortable for me, it protected me and kept me feeling safe, markers of my institutionalised brain.
Having had a dysfunctional and abusive childhood transitioned into troubled teenage years and into a dysfunctional abusive marriage I learned protective behaviours, patterns of reaction and thought that allowed me to be happy and cope with the situation. It felt normal, I believed that my experience was the majority experience, that what I saw was the same face that I gave to the world and that behind it people were just like me. Statistically, looking at the prevalence of abuse, I was onto something. The reality is, the majority of people do not live a life like the one I had, and that my belief that was happiness and “perfect” relationships were things other people had was based in truth. I still feel that the life I have now is somewhat unreal, going to end inexplicably and that something will be revealed that causes it to crumble away, even though I have nothing and no idea of what this “thing” could be. My experience of happiness is of something fleeting, transient that is replaced with hurt. When it came to happiness there was always a price to pay, and part of me is waiting to find out what that price will be.
That was my life experience, and when you experience a life of consequences and finding happiness in adversity, where success is taken away, belittled and celebrated so you can be knocked down, you build yourself protection. The sad fact is that the better you manage to protect yourself, the more effective your barriers and coping mechanisms are the more imprisoned you become, the easier you are to abuse and the tighter the abuser’s grip becomes.
I was lucky, I was thrown away, however, while I avoided having to run and escape, that ultimately was all I avoided. I am not a man who walked out on his family, instead, I was made into something worse. My freedom from abuse has come at a cost, the piper has to be paid, happiness has a consequence. The pattern is hard to break.
However, living intentionally is about breaking the grip of the past on the present. Being intentional is about living in a way that recognises that the situation that made my mental prison a sanctuary has passed and that the prison is only that, a prison that holds me back, confines me and isolates me, depriving me of my liberty to be happy. That living in the prison is no longer a wise choice, and that my enjoyment of life and the richness of relationships is never going to happen behind the walls and bars of isolation. The challenge is to act despite fear; fear transcends rational or logical thought, in my case this is a fear that used to be a danger. Because just as the film tells us, fear is not real, danger is real, when danger transitions to fear because the danger is over, acting on the change is much more difficult because your fear is rooted in what was a reality.
So this is not technically a new year’s resolution, I made it before new year, however, it as a resolution for the new year. It is not new, when I embarked on my post marriage life I was immediately living differently in a practical sense, but mentally I was also immediately living intentionally. The difference is that now, I recognise what I am doing is intentional and deliberate, I realise that it takes commitment, persistence and dedication to change intentional behaviour into habitual behaviour, and last of all, I am systematic about my intentions. I am not driven by not being someone, which my early efforts certainly were, I am driving by a positive vision of who I am and having how I act and who I am inside, be congruent. Not drifting along on habit, I feel, is a challenge for anyone, for someone escaping or surviving abuse it is more difficult because the behaviour previously had utility. In the same way screaming and crying works to get a new-born baby positive attention and its needs attended to, it doesn’t take long until the reaction is very different. Outside the abusive situation, it can be very much the same. What worked to protect you in danger does you harm when you are not. This can be extremely pervasive, not just in how you handle personal conflict, but in my case it extends to the smallest thing like how I get dressed, the clothes I wear, how long I spend getting ready, whether or not I shower, yes, which shoes I put on and even the music I have in a playlist.
While I may resist the temptation to make a New Year’s resolution, I am not immune to the pervasive spirit of reflection. In fact, I embrace it. If more people took the time to reflect, and even knew what constructive reflection was, as opposed to maudlin in the past, then I think people would find more happiness and direction. When I write a Monday Night Reflection, I am not the same person when I finish as I was when I started, they change me because I want them to and because taking the time to pick a thread or two from my life and look more closely at who I am, what I do, how I behave and what I think makes me more conscious of what I am doing. Reflection drives me to be intentional, to choose who I am and how I act in the world. Reflections drive thoughts and other reflections as well as creativity.
Finally, while I may not have made any Resolutions, I have made plans. My big project to be more intentional extends past just wearing different shoes and taking a shower more often. Living intentionally is also about setting goals. I am wary of setting goals, I deliberately set only one or two big goals for a year because I know that within a big goal there are a lot of steps and milestones (little goals) to achieve along the way. In my creative life, there are an almost infinite number of possibilities I could explore, my focus is on a few, Learning to sew using a sewing machine, as well as by hand, and ultimately learning how to make clothes, and other fabric items is one of them. In my professional life I have one goal which will involve a lot of milestones, and when achieved could result in some amazing rewards for me. These rewards are what many people would call goals in themselves. For example going to a big conference would be a goal for most people, for me, the goal is what I need to do to earn the right to go there. The conference could be cancelled, I could get sick, I may have a responsibility that precluded my attendance, a whole bunch of things could stop me going to this conference, however, what I achieve to earn my place cannot be taken away. The recognition of that achievement can be denied, but the work, the effort, my achievement on the journey and what I learn on that journey I possess by my effort. That is what really matters to me.
It is then into 2017 with deliberate intentions and s.m.a.r.t. goals I go and I, of course, wish anyone who reads this a productive and happy year – new or otherwise.