Groundhog Day begone

January, with all that emphasis on resolutions and making new habits, has wrapped up. Phew. I think most of us set our sites high, ending a bit exhausted and discouraged. Then here comes Groundhog Day, with the promise of spring (more implied change) and the metaphor that the pop culture movie created, i.e. to NOT live the same patterns (mistakes?) again and again in an endless Bill Murray loop.

I didn’t post last week, counter to my resolve to post weekly, for two reasons:
1) I was in jury duty ALL DAY Weds. as the court tried to empanel a jury for a DWI case. That was a day with an undercurrent of the difficulty in changing habits. All around me, fellow potential jurors had tales of victimization at the hands of drunk drivers, often repeat offenders. Change is hard.
2) Friday I was excited to attend a continuing education workshop led by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I’d already purchased the book before I knew he was coming to town. Hanson talked about the easy, concrete ways to make changes in our brains that last, certainly a necessary foundation for changing behavior.

Juxtaposition of these two events shows the range of beliefs: change is easy, change is hard. Which is it? Whichever we adopt is powerful in steering our lives.

It’s both–and mostly depends on focus. If we look for big picture, total life revolution, we’re likely to be disappointed. Sometimes, massive steps are essential: if you’re arrested for DWI, it’s time to never again get behind the wheel after having a drink.

Shifting focus clarifies small revolutions. If you expected your January efforts to completely transform you, you’re probably disappointed. One mom described planting flower seeds in a pot with her son. An hour later, the boy was sitting on a stool by the pot, staring at the dirt. “Watching for my flowers to appear,” he explained. We laugh at his innocence. But are we applying the same unrealistic standards to ourselves? Scolding ourselves for not keeping our resolve 110%? Giving up because the pace is too slow, and we’ll never arrive?

In the words of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson’s character in Star Wars: Episode I), “your focus determines your reality.” Rick Hanson (only a psychologist–not a Jedi master) said this is fact. When we focus on what we don’t accomplish, and how we feel badly, the brain connections for those feelings are strengthened, reinforcing the endless loop. If we can take in how each cookie resisted, each yoga practice, each deep breath is part of action on the path to change, the brain reinforces positive instead, keeping us out of the Groundhog Day rut. Reminds me of my old favorite, the “Did Do” list.

What have you accomplished this year? Tally the moments and take credit!

New Year’s resolutions make me a better person, right? Says who?

Just about everyone, I’m afraid. Seventy-five million plus hits on Google for “new year’s resolutions” suggest the annual lure to magical self-improvement thrives. Nearly half of all Americans make resolutions. The magic of a new decade adds hype. Certainly this will be The Time, finally, to achieve that goal–drop that weight for the final time, tone that flab, toss out that pack of cigarettes, or perhaps evolve into a more patient person, censoring those intermittent cranky verbal explosions. The collective “how to” wisdom gets more specific each year: set manageable goals, change just one habit, own your intentions to others.

Perhaps you are serious about this advice and wish to set a goal you can actually reach this year. I’m at your service–even if I’m launching this on January 4th , not 1st. I could beat myself up about my tardiness, imagining what an experienced blogger would offer (post mapped out weeks in advance, launched at 12:01 a.m. on 01/01/10.) However, a survey reported by proactive says that after the first week, one in four resolutions have already been trashed, just like so much holiday wrapping paper. Perhaps it’s fortuitous that I was distracted by the end of year household mess (execute post-holiday clean-up, donate to charity, submit health savings account receipts, pay property taxes.) Maybe this post will reach you just when you’re sick of yogurt, sore from yoga–and aching to abandon those noble resolutions.

If my procrastination and distraction mean my timing is great, here’s a resolution for you: embrace your humanity. Forget being better at anything. No eating less, exercising more, Zen breathing when some maddening underling (child or employee) eggs you toward one more scream. Affirm that you are a lowly Homo sapiens, not Superwoman/supermodel/supermom. You will make mistakes, lose your temper, oversleep, overindulge in occasional fudge or champagne, miss appointments, and/or swear too much. And you will work to end the judgment about the inescapable fact that you are an imperfect–and still valuable– person. Trust that, most days, you are doing the best you can–and that’s perfectly good.

Shift the focus away from your inevitable screw-ups to your successes. You are a human being with feelings–sometimes powerful ones, which are proof that you are very much ALIVE. Embrace your humanity! You can give your children a valuable lesson: that people, even moms, get mad–and then apologize and say “I love you.” Embrace your humanity! You can leave your favorite coffee cup on top of the van as you back out of the driveway, crush it as you drive off, swerve to the curb as the tire blows, and be late for work or school. S*#! happens, and you survive it. This is a chance to pronounce that even when  life bulldozes right over you, you can embrace your sense of humor –and your humanity.

Resolve to affirm that you are who you are, with strengths that outnumber your weaknesses. Feel good about all that is right with your life, rather than aiming for improvements that are merely icing on the You Cake.  This is, after all, a resolution we all can achieve. And if you work on embracing your humanity all year, one screw up at a time, those other goals have a way of taking care of themselves–or ceasing to matter before 2011 even rolls around.