This week, our Facebook newsfeeds will be flooded with links to New Year’s Resolution Lists. The Top 187 things that we’re leaving behind in 2013, that we’re bringing into 2014. New mantras, old habits, and promises of effective and immediate change.
If I’m honest with myself, I have a laundry list of personality traits I’d like to dispose of, or reinvigorate, or kind of ignore for another year. I could tell you that I am wanting to be more honest, drink more water, be more vulnerable with my family and friends, take more risks, love more deeply, speak up more, set healthier boundaries, decrease the cheese intake. I really want to do and be all of those things. But there’s this little nagging voice inside my head that says: you have too much on your plate, you’re going to forget half of these things, you’ll be good for a week and then BAM you’ll be knee deep in a Stouffer’s Family Size Mac’n’Cheese.
I can recognize this voice as the voice of my Resistance. Steven Pressfield in his masterpiece, The War of Art, writes:
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
Obviously Resistance doesn’t just strike writers, Pressfield goes on to name the most common times it will creep up. He calls them Resistance’s Greatest Hits:
2. The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
3. Any diet or health regimen.
4. Any program of spiritual advancement.
5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
6. Any course of program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
7. Education of every kind.
8. Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
9. The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
10. Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
So knowing we have all these goals and all of this Resistance, what does it really take to change? How do we actually release the habits that have kept us anchored for years? How do we know when we’re truly ready for something new? Basically, how do we sit down to write?
Change is uncomfortable. It can hurt. Sometimes, it makes us feel ashamed like we should have been doing this better all along. Sometimes, it feels futile because we don’t think anyone else notices our progress. Sometimes, it gets us angry because we think we're changing so much and everyone else is at a standstill. All of these discomforts are strong enough to make us want to hide. Cover. Lie. Resist.
But here’s what I know for sure: when we decide we’ve had enough, we get to work.
Real change requires no effort. Not that you won’t stumble into Resistance, not that we won’t have our doubts, not that we won’t run into roadblocks - we will. But the pain of staying the same will be far greater than the pain of changing.
We need to have had enough.
Enough of the relationships that don’t feed us. Enough of the food that drags our energy down. Enough of the work schedule that leaves no room for play. Enough of the hateful self-talk that steers us into depression. Enough of being surprised when someone we shouldn’t depend on in the first place lets us down. Enough of lying to ourselves.
Perhaps the biggest step I’ve ever made to effective and immediate change has been telling myself the truth first. “Hey Court, guess what? That is not the person you want to marry. / That friendship makes you sour and mean and gossipy. / You are bored out of your mind when you’re doing _______. / You are operating out of perfectionism and not passion.” All truths. All painful at the time. All followed by swift decision-making that led me to immediately enact change.
Maybe choosing New Year's Resolutions based on what we've had enough of is the surest way to keep them. But we won't know what that is until we get really honest with ourselves. Painfully honest. Until the pain of lying to ourselves becomes greater than the pain we might feel by switching it the hell up, change will feel like a boulder we shove and shove but can't move. And listen, if you don’t want to change bad habits - if you want to stay friends with downers, or hold onto a love that isn’t going anywhere, or stay stuck at a job you hate, that’s fine, too. Just be awake enough to realize you’re choosing it. Understand you just haven't had enough yet.
It's true that having had enough means things can get messy. And it makes sense that we’re afraid of cracking, of breaking open, of being so totally exposed that we can’t protect our one and fragile heart. But the crack, the brokenness, the exposure is exactly what cleans up the mess. The perfectionism and denial cocktail won’t keep bad things from happening to us, it won’t keep everything in its place, it won’t even keep us from dying. What it will keep us from is knowing every inch of our imperfect, resilient hearts. And when we practice honesty, get fed up, and start letting go of that which diminishes our spirit, we realize just how resilient our hearts can be.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen