When I quit coffee 4 1/2 years ago, it wasn’t because I wanted to quit coffee. I was committed to making room for a new level of health in my body and decided a 21-day cleanse was my road map. I knew I could drop coffee for three weeks and had no intention of giving it up altogether. After all, I identified as a coffee drinker. I loved everything about it — the ritual, the smell, the coffee shop and the sipping in meetings. So it came as a surprise to me when, after 10 days of no coffee, my mind was clear and my focus sharp. There was no need to go back to coffee because I now had something even more satisfying.
Every year at this time, millions of people are setting intentions to change undesired behaviors, accomplish personal goals or otherwise improve our lives. Yet every year, usually sometime in January or February, we default to our usual patterns and give up on those illusive goals. What if you could have it all? What if you could reach your personal, professional and public service goals and avoid that horrible feeling of failure because you didn’t manage to keep your new year’s resolutions?
When I realized that doing well on my personal goals helped me reach my professional and public service goals, and vice versa, I stopped the empty promises at year’s end and started dreaming big all throughout the year. I asked: What can I create for my life? (Instead of: How can I stop doing certain things?)
For many people, rejecting or shedding the expectations of others is a real challenge. It takes a lot to undo the years of build up that society, our families or our colleagues have been piling on us. All the “shoulds” stacked up on top of each other can build a wall so tall you can no longer see over it. And chipping away at that wall is hard work. I should play piano, I should go to law school, I should know how to cook, I should have kids someday, I should, I should, I should. New year’s resolutions can keep people playing small and operating from a place of deficit instead of plenty.
Women, in particular, are socialized not to seek pleasure, fulfillment and self-actualization. So our internal dialogue is one of lack, shame and isolation. Many of us inherently know this but are not sure what to do about it. And this is reflected externally, in the programs, policies and services currently available that do not address women’s specific needs. It is time for us to reclaim our pleasure, our joy and our purpose.
When you have a clear vision of what you want your life to look like and feel like, there is no room for the undesirable behaviors the usual new year’s resolutions inadequately address. When you identify with the life you dream of, there is no room for activities that don’t align with it. Here are four things you can do right away to bring awareness to the life you dream of, find the inner wisdom that connects you to that identity, articulate your dreams and integrate them into your life:
Create awareness. Resolve to make no more empty promises that keep you stuck in scarcity instead of abundance. Reflect on and jot down (writing it or saying it aloud is important) what has brought you joy in the last year and what has not. What made you feel fulfilled? When did you reach your full potential in some area of your life, or close to it? What would you like to create for yourself in the coming year?
Listen. Reflect on what came up in step one and begin to release self-criticism in order to invite self-compassion. Then, create an openness to hear what is next for you by saying, “I am open to receive what is next — show me.” Hear the answers while you do your favorite meditative activity, e.g. walk, cook, exercise or meditate.
Take action. Articulate your dreams in three areas — personal, professional and public service. Position your goals as positives, not negatives, e.g. instead of resolving to stop binging on television shows at night, say you will read a book every week. What one to three things could you do on a regular basis that would make a big impact on each goal?
Integrate. Integrate your plans into your daily life by being realistic about what is doable and what will be manageable. Practicing self-care and gratitude, as well as having compassion for others and yourself will go a long way to helping you maintain your action plan. Part of integration is accountability — tell someone what your plans are and have them do the same. Then, check in daily or weekly to keep each other on track. And instead of pressuring yourself to do all of this on the first of the year, give yourself permission to explore these ideas during the whole month of January, starting your action and integration plan in February.
So, what worked for me about quitting coffee? It wasn’t a new year’s resolution. It wasn’t a quit for the sake of it. It was tied to something bigger, my health and well-being. I was able to change my identity as a coffee drinker.
Instead of resolving to quit something “bad” in the new year, try resolving to gift yourself pleasure, comfort and fun.
For more on goal-setting and the Well Woman Transformation Framework, check out www.wellwomanlife.com/147show.
Giovanna Rossi is president of Collective Action Strategies and producer and host of The Well Woman Show on KUNM Radio and NPR One.