Should We Just Resolve to Persevere? Maybe That’s Enough

A show of hands from those of you who have already fallen off the wagon of your New Year’s resolutions? Right, I thought so. This post, now two weeks past the date I had set on my schedule – one of my resolutions – is living proof of why my hand is raised high, too.

By mid-February, the newness of January’s resolutions has likely diminished quite a bit, just as the excitement over winter’s first snow has worn thin, with each new snowfall the wonder of it replaced by the weariness of having to clear the driveway yet again. The excitement and resolve with which we all begin a new year can become frayed as the hard work it takes to stay with a promise made to yourself becomes a reality.

By now, I am over winter and ready for spring, but I recognize that no matter the time of year, there are often “winters” of the spirit, too, times when we are weary, overwhelmed with the minutiae of our days and weeks, and just feeling uninspired by life. The sky is cold and gray, and so are we.

This would be a moment to say something along the lines of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” True enough but we’ve all been around long enough to know it isn’t always that easy. Maybe the tough going we face is related to poor health, grief, financial concerns, depression, or just big life questions, to which there are no easy answers, no readily available bootstraps with which we can pull ourselves back to our feet.

It is during these winters of the spirit, that maybe a gentler approach is needed to achieving the goals set with so much enthusiasm in January. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” To persevere through the winter in anticipation of the spring, to not give up, but to do your best to stick with it, even if ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – falls short of what you hoped to accomplish. Maybe it is late, but here it is, and maybe that is enough. Enough to do, enough to expect, enough to carry me through until the new habits are formed, and the second wind of springtime hits in oh about a month or so.

Healthy Friendship

Over the holidays, I regularly host a large ornament exchange, to which i invite about fifty people, and maybe twenty to thirty come. We always have a great time, and many of these friends tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (who were the basis of our acquaintance, friendship and frequent socializing years ago) are grown and gone now, and with our busy work schedules and other commitments, many of us only see each other at this annual event; and sadly,we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be, and if this solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, it can have an effect on our health and of course, our overall quality of life.

Let’s face it, adult friendships are typically forged through work or at school or sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make the social connections that everyone needs to thrive. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill our social calendars (if that’s what we want), but also to stay physically and mentally healthy. We are above and after all, social beings, and one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is to cultivate our social lives.

One way to do this is to build on the wonderful way in which all of us become much more ourselves in middle age. By this time, pretense has fallen away. All of us have won and lost at life; we’ve questioned our decisions, and made small or radical changes as the years have gone by. We realize the value of companionship, of being seen and appreciated by someone we too see and appreciate. Without anything to prove, we can just enjoy each other. The pressure to impress is over.

I find that I am conversely more protective of my alone time, and at the same time more open to saying yes to social outings with acquaintances and neighbors I don’t know so well. The paradox has provided a certain balance while making life more interesting. I’ve even found a few new friends along the way. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “The sun of real happiness shines in your life when you start to cherish others.” What are you waiting for?

Small Steps Toward a Creative New Year

Something about the New Year encourages us to take stock of our lives and to fashion resolutions about what we imagine will take us closer to the lives we wish we were living. Sometimes it is the practical (I will organize my kitchen cabinets or else!) or the physical (Yoga every evening, no more snacks!). But think about it. No matter what the motivation seems to be, underneath it all, each promise we make to ourselves, each goal we set, is designed to bring us closer to whom we really are and how we need to live in order to satisfy our soul’s deepest cravings.

We are inherently creative beings, and for that reason, many of us hold a vision for our lives that includes a more creative version of ourselves – someone who paints in their free time, has a novel going on the side, or spends hours crafting handmade gifts on the weekends. But creative resolutions can be tinged with a sort of desperation as the years go by, because let’s face it, rarely are they accomplished in their entirety. Rather we begin with great intentions, can’t keep up, and in the end are right back in the same spot the following January.

This year, I am trying a different approach. American essayist John Burroughs once said, “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” Knowing I will not be able to become creative in all the areas I personally would like to improve (cooking, painting, knitting, sewing, gardening, etc.), I’ve decided to begin by building small habits, which I hope will lead to small (and eventually greater) victories. I know myself better by now, too. Will I realistically go from take-out and thrown together after work pseudo-meals like apple slices and popcorn to a menu from the pages of a Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook? No. But can I do one thing better? Can I try to do the food prep for the week on a Sunday afternoon so I have more time to cook creatively during the week? Or just make a game of trying one new recipe a week? Instead of trying to craft handmade everything for everyone, can I choose one or two things I’d like to make or learn to do for fun, and then gift the results if I choose to?

You see how this will go. Redo the whole garden? How about building the habit of watering regularly? Or maybe planting one new bed? Write a novel? How about a letter? Or a blog post? (You are reading the result of one of the new habits I am trying to cultivate!)

Happily, creativity begets creativity, and each small step we take in the direction (the creation) of our vision, the easier the next steps will be and the more creative our daily lives will become.