by Berenice Boxler.
I borrowed the title of the article from a book that fascinated me from the start. Clemency Burton-Hill, a British radio presenter, introduces a classical piece of music every day. In her preface she speaks of a “space to pause, think and reflect, to become one with ourselves and just be.” Some people meditate or practice yoga, she writes, and for her it is music that is part of self-care and her daily dose of well-being. I am curious to see what happens after a brilliant Bach prelude.
The same procedure as every year…
Every year, the last days of the year invite us to take stock and make resolutions for the next year. There are the classics like “eat less sugar”, “do more sports” or “discover new things”. And every year there is this initial motivation and big plans, which after a few weeks often fall victim to the daily routine and everyday stress. Frustration and self-doubt arise, an all-or-nothing thinking (“Well, it doesn’t matter now anyway…”) and dissatisfaction kicks in. Why is it so difficult to keep New Year’s resolutions? And why do we do it again every year, even though it never works out the way we want it to be?
Doomed to failure
New Year’s resolutions are usually made at the end of the year. It is the time of great calm and the slowing down of everyday life, no phone calls or e-mails come in, no alarm clock rings in the morning and the Christmas treats are enjoyed with the thought: “That’s fine for now, but next year I’ll pay more attention to what I eat”. People celebrate, relax, maybe have a little argument with the family, but the work is resting or at least quieter. In this atmosphere, it is easy to plan and imagine how the change should look like. And then January comes and we are surprised to discover that the merry-go-round of life suddenly starts to turn faster again. Work colleagues are annoying us, the traffic jam robs us of valuable time and the exercise is more strenuous than we thought – if there is any time left at all to do sports. We have made our plans without considering the reality of life.
And yet we try to do it again every year, this time it must work out, the suffering may be deeper, but so is the potential fall. Even though we may tell ourselves not to make any resolutions this time, it is often impossible to escape the pull that the word “new” creates. A new chapter, a new beginning, and this time even a new decade.
So how is it possible to really initiate changes that will take effect in the long term? The American meditation teacher Oren Jay Sofer has an inspiring approach to this, which he applies to communication*, but which is helpful in all areas of life: aligning life according to the most basic needs instead of strategies.
The big “WHAT” – strategies in everyday life
Most people organize their lives according to strategies. A strategy is WHAT we do. It is bound to a specific place, person, time or object. We pursue many strategies every day. For example, WHAT I do is a weekly shopping in a particular supermarket that has organic products. Another strategy is to get on the home trainer four times a week, if possible, to put an end to the December sluggishness. Or I plan to prepare an important telephone call tomorrow morning. And when the kids are in school, I will work on my projects. Life is made up of plans and schemes, and although organizing can be tiring, it is often necessary in order to cope with the complexities of everyday life. And the famous New Year’s resolutions also fall into the category of strategies: from January onwards, going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes, shopping for fresh goods twice a week and cooking for myself, going to the cinema regularly with friends, watching less TV and sleeping more, etc.
But what happens if one of my children is home sick tomorrow morning and I don’t have time to prepare? How do you think I’ll feel if I’m still so tired or even sick this week and can’t do any sports? What happens if the supermarket doesn’t have the ingredients for my planned meals and I have to go to a second one in addition? And what does it mean if my friends are too busy or there is no good film shown in the cinema? Anything that disrupts our plans or strategies creates stress, frustration or anger. And when that accumulates, the brain likes to generalize such as “It never works out!” and “Why does this always happen to me?!”
Having fixed strategies in your head creates a comfortable feeling of control – but you cannot control life. Life is the way it is, not the way we want or plan it to be.
The deep “WHY” – human needs
Needs are the reason WHY we do something. They are not tied to places or people. A strategy can contain many needs. Marshall Rosenberg, the “father” of non-violent communication, has compiled a whole range of universal human needs. For example, there is the area of “physical well-being” (such as air, food, outer peace, shelter, security, etc.), then “play” (joy, humour), “autonomy” (freedom, choice, space, etc.) and “connection” (acceptance, communication, respect, empathy, trust, intimacy, community, etc.) and others.
Each person has a hit list that determines what is important for him or her individually. Some prefer to work autonomously and therefore may work as an independent entrepreneur or in key positions, others function best within a team, some are drawn to nature on a daily basis, others need interpersonal harmony to flourish, and therefore say “yes” to most requests so that other people won’t be disappointed. Whether we are aware of it or not, everything we do as human beings, we do to satisfy one or more needs. For example, if I want to go to the cinema with friends, the following needs are beneath the wish: pleasure, community, friendship, relaxation, lightness. A workout, on the other hand, is based on movement, health, challenge and self-care. And cuddling with the children serves the needs for connection, warmth and affection.
There is no right or wrong regarding needs, there is only a “That’s how it is. That’s what’s important to me so that I can live authentically.” The more aware we are of what drives us deep inside, the better we can follow this inner desire and align our lives accordingly. And then it becomes much easier to deal with the adversities of life.
What does it look like to live a life according to our needs?
If my need is to live healthier, there are so many strategies I can apply: going for a run, dancing, muscle training at the gym, doing yoga, eating more greens, consuming less sugar and caffeine, getting more sleep, meditating, taking the steps instead of the elevator, etc. It doesn’t matter if I’m sick today or the traffic jam takes up my time: some strategy is always possible. If I have decided to bring more human connection into my life, then I can go dancing, go to the cinema, contact friends (even if it would actually be “their turn”), sit in a café and maybe start a conversation with a stranger, join a club, try something new outside of the house, see people in my immediate surroundings in a new way and really look and smile at them, do a particular kindness exercise, etc. The list is endless.
So why not pick out one or more needs that could use a little more attention and nourishment, and make these your New Year’s resolutions? Here you can download a list that might bring some inspiration.
Aligning 2020 according to needs and values
In 2019, my word of the year was “self-care”. This year I have chosen “kindness, compassion, connectedness.” There are countless possibilities to fill these words with life, and all of them will have an effect on me: “What we focus on will grow.” This has been proven by research in neurobiology. My invitation is not to concentrate on what is not (yet) going well or what could be better. Life is never perfect, never finished. Our mind produces so many ideas and wishes, so many possible disasters, but none of them are the real life. Let’s concentrate on what we are longing for deep inside – and try to align our actions in micro and macro steps along everyday life, which will undoubtedly surprise us again and again, whether pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. But then we cannot “fail” at all, yet simply grow a little bit more every day. And then it can really become a “year of wonder”.
* In the upcoming weeks I will be organising two workshops on the topic of “Mindful Communication”: 25.1.2020 in Luxembourg City (in English), on 8.2.2020 in Hosingen (in German). There are still places available!