New Year, New You

Why do this new year's resolutions look a lot like last year's?

Posted Jan 04, 2021

Read more, exercise more, eat properly, cut down on bad habits, show more respect to friends, family, and co-workers, learn a language or an instrument, or how to garden.  

Wait a second, that's so 2020.

As the French say: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Rather Rilke: “You must change your life.”

How do we really go about changing our lives in healthy, productive, meaningful, and lasting ways? Why does it seem as if we are stuck in place so often, repeating the same mistakes, defined by our foibles?

We are going about things the wrong way. Don't get me wrong: I love lists and rankings and flow charts.

Prescriptive, self-help, how-to, and adherence to rules, programs, and guidelines all serve a purpose: 

You can measure your progress.  

Today is the 5th day of sobriety; you now are at Level Two of your Creole language class; you cooked dinner three times this week; your phone shows that you took 9,116 steps today, which is 1,108 steps more than yesterday. You haven't had sugar in two weeks.

But you're still the same annoying person: And I don't mean annoying to others, I mean annoying to yourself. You still haven't accepted yourself, and that gap keeps you from accepting others.  

You're still thinking the same way, with the same framework. OK, one's character is one's fate, as Heraclites wrote, but accepting the limits and strengths of one's character provides real peace of mind.

How do you do that?

To really change your life, you need to observe, listen, and relate to the world differently. For me, the ability to make lasting change, that comes about incrementally, in tiny ways until it is pervasive, is through the psychology of Japan. Japanese psychology, described in my book, "Why Be Happy," relies upon acceptance, temporality, and fitting into nature.   

It’s a way of life: Not trying to be happy, but striving to accept who we are and where we are and who we're with. What matters most is feeling attuned not primarily to your inner world, but to the world you live in. By doing that, by focusing on the external, there is a shift from a change in habits to change in adaptation. You adapt by accepting; to accept, you have to know what you're adapting to. You must observe and listen.

The new year brings with it the opportunity to change your behavior: In addition to schematic approaches, which have value, try looking at a situation from a different point of view, or recognize that it, too, will change, and see how the situation may be stressful, but that you have the power to determine how you will react to it.

New you, new year.