Use Annual Themes to Get Past Limiting Resolutions

Several years ago, I abandoned the idea of New Year’s Resolutions and replaced it with the concept of an annual theme.

A theme has greater transformative power than a simple point solution. Moreover, you can’t really “fail” at a theme. You can grow more or less mindful of a theme as the year progresses, but it doesn’t set you up to disappoint yourself or beat yourself up over an unmet goal.

These thematic thoughts provide a touchstone through all the ups and downs of the year. Actions make more sense with reasons behind them. Think about previous years when you’ve tried resolutions, especially common resolutions like exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking. You can’t just get commitment off the shelf as a pre-packaged “product,” which is really what resolutions like that typically are.

If you didn’t succeed with your past resolutions, ask yourself whether you really anchored that goal on a deep reason – to perform better at work, to live longer and with greater health for your loved ones, to have more impact in the world around you. When you do have a deep reason, which you can keep in mind using an annual theme, you’ll do better with your goals.

You can use an annual theme in many more ways. A resolution typically only applies when the topic comes up, even if it comes up in your thoughts often. You can use your theme as a lens through which to look at many circumstances and situations. You can even use it as a mantra if you choose to meditate.

For 2019, my theme is “grow.” I appreciate the double meaning of personal and business growth and of cultivating in the world around me. A grower prepares the soil and plants seeds. A grower acts as a committed steward from green shoots to flowers and fruits. A grower pulls out weeds. A grower cares and cares for.

I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for the level of focus on priorities and outcomes that I intend to bring to the coming year.

What would you choose as your theme for the year?

7 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself and Get Unstuck

I’m late. I thought I would write a new piece on kindness in the workplace last month, and then this month, but until now, nothing. I found myself writing “kindness post” on my daily to-do list, each morning rewriting it, rewriting it, starring and circling it, but still, nothing. I needed a way to get unstuck.

Over time, the disappointment became louder than anything else I might have felt about the piece, the elusive piece, whose theme I kept failing to catch when looking at my values and experiences. Even though I moved it to my next day’s list again and again, the prospect that I ever could, or would, get it done receded. The tide of motivation went out, exposing all the dead fish and debris of dread and failing to meet my own expectations. I even questioned my resolve to keep up this project.

Today, however, is different. As I looked at my day ahead, at my desk, sunrise coloring the sky behind me, I realized that I couldn’t write because I wasn’t being kind to myself. I had fallen into the self-compassion trap. I had stopped giving myself credit for all the hard work I do for my clients, for my dedication to my partner, for the time I spend caring for my two cats, for making myself available to friends. Every time I thought about writing the now dreaded “kindness post,” I let the fact that I hadn’t yet written it become the focal point, eclipsing any thought or passion for the topic of kindness itself.

By some sudden grace (yes, I believe in it, even with no apparatus of faith behind it), forgiveness came. I forgave myself for not writing, I acknowledged the task for what it was, and I felt not obligation but gratitude for all the relationships and all the beings that had received my time in the interim. I allowed kindness to return, not as an imperative, but as a gift, a gift whose benefits I, too, share. That was the answer to help me get unstuck. By letting self-kindness in, I saw the very topic I needed to write about was kindness to oneself.

I hope my long preface sets the stage for the rest of this post, with 7 specific ways you can break through motivation blocks to help you get unstuck by being kind to yourself.

1. Take inventory.
When you have something undone hanging over your head, you can lose sight of all of the positive, constructive ways in which you spend your time. Make a list of ten valuable things you have done recently and recognize yourself for what it took to do them. Even the smallest things you do depend on your skills, your authentic self, and the ties you have in this world. You can easily take them for granted.

2. Take action.
While you may not be ready to pull out of the procrastination-guilt loop quite yet, you can help break up the logjam by doing kind things for others and by directing kind intentions to them. Offer to help a colleague, do something unexpected for your friends or family, or help a stranger. I don’t have a scientific explanation for why, but it does somehow clear your energy and open you to the task that’s haunting you.

3. Take a break.
You won’t get very far sitting and staring at a screen, or paper, or a workspace. If you stay stuck in a working context, you may find your level of anxiety increasing, to the extent that you lower the chances you will find a way to start or resume work. Instead, just walk away. Read something unrelated, or even take a literal walk to change your surroundings and allow serendipity to take over and motivate you.

4. Take a shower.
There’s a reason why the idea that your best ideas come to you in the shower has become a sort of cliche. A shower is a place to relax, take time to do something for yourself, and let yourself be both distracted an purposeful at the same time. In fact, numerous studies on brain chemistry and brain activity tie our mental state when showering to increased creativity and increased likelihood of mental breakthroughs.

5. Take a picture.
You can overcome obstacles to motivation by making efforts to be creative in another medium. Even if you don’t believe that you need creativity to get your looming tasks done, the act of creativity can help you look at your motivation differently and find ways to overcome it. You can use the camera on your phone to capture an unexpected angle in your office, in your home, or somewhere in your daily perspective. Look closely at it and open yourself up to seeing the world, and your responsibilities, from a new angle.

6. Take solace.
You’re not the first person to get stuck, and you won’t be the last. This is not the first time you’ve gotten stuck, and it won’t be the last. You can reflect on times when you have gotten stuck, and unstuck, in the past. Tell yourself the story of how it happened and how you eventually broke through. Ask people you trust and respect to tell you a story about a time when it happened to them. You’ll find those stories can heal, and overcome.

7. Take care.
You may find that you start to beat yourself up over an uncompleted task. It’s entirely natural, and often gets worse the more committed you are or the more accountable you feel. You can, however, forgive yourself for not doing something that you needed or expected to do. Just remember that you are more than your responsibilities. If you let yourself off the hook for this, chances are, you’ll stop writhing and start writing, or doing, or working, whatever it is that’s blocking you.

Apply these 7 techniques, or your own variants of them. You’ll make great progress, clear the way, and find that they help you get unstuck.

A 10-point Guide For Self-kindness

Self-kindness is one of the seven dimensions of kindness.

Self-kindness, or self-compassion, is one of the seven dimensions of kindness.

  1. Self-kindness unlocks our ability to be better and do better.
  2. Being kind to ourselves should not be equated to being self-indulgent, any more than being kind to others should be equated to being weak.
  3. It is more productive to acknowledge and accept our difficulties and imperfections than to deny and fight them.
  4. We make better progress overcoming the obstacles that challenge us when we forgive ourselves for our own mistakes or for our circumstances.
  5. Letting ourselves off the hook defuses the anticipation of fear, worry, and regret that holds us back from taking action.
  6. We break the cycle of harmful, futile, judgmental thinking by dwelling mindfully in our own humanity, a humanity we share with others.
  7. By holding ourselves to realistic and humane standards, we open ourselves to greater kindness in the world around us.
  8. We can honor ourselves as people whose actions can improve individual lives and the world around us.
  9. Strength and patience that start from within have greater impact than superficial empathy.
  10. Current psychology research shows greater linkages of self-compassion to positive mental health outcomes than those from self-esteem.

Values and Kindness

“Importance” is fueled by others and what one does to increase it. “Self-worth” comes from within and is sustained by oneself. While the behaviors that issue from each may seem similar on their surface, the difference emerges with just the merest scratch.

In other words, you cultivate your values when you are kind to yourself. Values and kindness go hand in hand.