“Inspiration may be a form of superconsciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness — I wouldn’t know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.” — Aaron Copland
The New Year, with just the change of a number, inspires us. It’s a time of awakening, a recognition that we don’t have to limit our life to what it currently is. So, many people make new resolutions or goals for what they want to achieve in 2018.
For most of my life, I was pretty cynical about the practice. I could see people making grand plans only to abandon them. Heck, I did that for myself more than a few times. Often, I didn’t even really know what I wanted to be different from one year to the next, other than a desire to be a “better person”. So, if I set any resolutions, they were simply based on trying to make me a better person.
My cynicism was based in a belief that the goals we were setting for ourselves, weren’t things we really wanted. Consider how many people resolve to lose weight, but don’t actually want to change how they eat and how they exercise. Consider how many people resolve to get a new job, but give up after one or two resumes that go unanswered, as they recognize that they would simply be doing the same work for a different boss who would likely be no better.
Our resolve to keep our resolutions disappears when we doubt that we can “become” the person we want to be. It is destroyed by self-consciousness, that quiet voice that asks “who do you think you are?” Or, the voice that speaks most to me says “you’re just not good enough.” And in time, when we hear that voice loud enough, it’s fully understandable that we give up our good intentions. In the journey for personal growth, the swamp of shame can stop us every time.
The challenge we need to undertake, is to listen to our inspiration–that wake up call that says “I want things to be different”, and not integrate that into self-conscious thinking. We need to learn to recognize when our resolutions are responses to shame–and then decide if it’s worth it to find a new motive for the resolution. Weight loss is almost always connected to the shame of “I’m not attractive.” When we set the goal to loose ten pounds by March, just so we can look good in a bathing suit for our vacation, it’s connected to the shame of “I don’t feel attractive.” So, when the fear of failure is looming over our shoulders as we enter into weeks two, three and four of our new resolution, if we are running from shame, it will catch us every time.
“Fulfillment is about being fully alive. Fulfillment is the state of fully expressing who we are and doing what is right for us.“–Co-Active Coaching, written by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl and Laura Whitworth
Instead, if we tie our goals to “fulfillment”, we will be far more motivated to work through obstacles and challenges. For example, several years ago I committed to running in a half-marathon. In my past, I had been deeply embarrassed during a running race when I was 11 years old. From that experience, I took on the belief that I couldn’t run. So then as an adult, when I committed to the race, I would have given up if I was trying to prove to my 11 year old self that I was “good enough”. All along as I was training, there were challenges and delays that kept me from progressing towards the vision of me confidently crossing the finish line. Illness, physical exhaustion, stress, busyness at work, busyness with my family–I could have had any excuse I wanted to give up. And, if my goal of entering into the race was a response to shame, I would have given into those excuses.
Instead, I was connected to a deeper desire in me–one that believed “I could do it”. There was a part of me that wanted to test my limits and see what I could achieve. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone, and stretch beyond what was once possible for me. And it was this desire, the vision of breaking out of my comfort zone and writing a new vision for who I was that kept me going. My choice to keep training was grounded in something much deeper: I was seeking a life where I didn’t define my potential by past failures, and exploring that was deeply fulfilling.
I find myself now in a new yet familiar situation, where I have to choose between responding to shame, or re-connecting to fulfilment. Our businesses had a difficult year financially, due to many factors outside of our control, and a few decisions that hindsight shows weren’t the right thing to do. With my two businesses, I’m so far out of my comfort zone that the old lessons don’t really help me any more. I’m now very much in the place of “the wilderness” as Bréne Brown describes in her latest book. And, in this place I’m finding the winds of shame to be far more powerful than when I was in a safe and understandable office job, and I was only stretching my understanding of who I am.
In 2017, I made many decisions in hope that people are good, that the world is fundamentally good, and that I am good enough–and some of those didn’t pan out. When we choose to live vulnerably, sometimes we will get hurt. And it’s this hurt that is amplifying my shame and fear–the old voices of my mental saboteurs who just want me to live a small, safe and predictable life. They are calling out my weaknesses, and pointing out the gaps, saying “I’m not good enough”. It would be really easy to give into them. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered that regularly over the past two months.
I have this theory that we make difficult decisions based on two binary possibilities– we respond to fear and make the safe choice, or that we respond to love and make the vulnerable choice. As I have been making the vulnerable choices, it feels like I’m testing the universe, to see if it is fundamentally good. I don’t really have an answer yet to that, and I don’t expect I ever will. But, regardless of the outcome, I feel like I am living more and more into the person I want to be–someone who acts with wisdom, compassion, courage and love. I’m far from perfect, but I’m proud of who I am.
For once, I’m not interested in making New Years resolutions, because I’m being the person I want to be. The shame is still there, the fear is still there, but I can recognize the sound of their voices, and I’m trying hard to not respond. Perhaps 2018 for me will be about simply being “me”, with my strengths and weaknesses, my hopes and fears, and my courage and doubt. But, I’m not about to resolve anything, simply because I just want to be present to my reality right now. In time, maybe the call of personal growth will clearly speak a new direction, but for now, my inspiration is saying that its time to stop desiring to be something and someone else, and just be myself. That inspiration feels authentic, the opposite of self-conscious.