Sensational Living®

February 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


This column is being offered in February, a full month after New Year's resolutions were theoretically made. Have you fallen off the wagon? Did you climb back on, or did you stay off? If you climbed back on, good for you, and read on for some moral support. If you have stayed off, read on for some guidance to make your journey easier.

The primary reason for a setback is feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Part of this comes from trying to change everything at once. Don't do it! I would guess that whatever you are trying to change has been going on for rather a long time. Why, then, would you expect to change that behavior overnight? Gradual change, partial change, and incomplete change are all acceptable, whether dealing with BIG changes, or little changes. In this column, I'm going to repeat some of what I wrote at "Resolving Resolutions" (Sensational Living® January 2004), but that's OK, because everyone has heard the "all or nothing" message WAY too many times, so a little positive reinforcement of "gradual" is needed.

Remember, this isn't about meeting some generic rule imposed by society-at-large to start a change on the first of the year. It's about living your best possible life. It's about making changes in your life because YOU want to, not because others tell you to. For instance, friends and acquaintances thought for years that I should buy a car. In 1988, my car died, and I saw no need to replace it since I had access to excellent (well, adequate) public transportation in Chicago. For 14 years, I lived without a car, happily (well, usually happily) taking the bus and/or El wherever I needed to go, without the headache of monthly payments, gas payments, insurance, repairs, parking, cleaning, etc.; I rented cars for vacations and for greater local treks. Then, in 2002, a client family asked if they could trade one of their cars for my services. They needed my help more than I needed their car, so I agreed. I love the new Bretmobile, but it is a headache at times, actually a Catch-22. I'm not about to get rid of it, but I am SO grateful I didn't have this headache for 14 years, and even more grateful I listened to myself and NOT to what others expected of me in order to "conform."

Let me illustrate my various points regarding gradual/partial/incomplete change with one popular resolution: "Get Healthy." WRONG! You are immediately setting yourself up for failure by adopting such an absolute approach. I say "absolute," because this resolution presumes to have some absolute conclusion; chances are, it doesn't. What is truly important is to "Get HealthiER." Today, resolve to be healthier than you were yesterday. Tomorrow, resolve to be healthier than you were today.

Even using a comparative approach is problematic when you have so many choices. "Get Healthier" could mean so many things: lose weight, quit smoking, reduce drinking, give up drugs, start running/exercising, lower cholesterol, develop muscles, all of the above, none of the above, etc. It's mind-numbing and overwhelming. They are all worthy (though some may be irrelevant to your particular life). Pick one, pick two, maybe even pick three, and see if you can make SOME improvement. Stay "comparative." Don't fall into the "absolute" trap.

Take baby steps. Test the water. Determine the level of difficulty for making the change. Avoid the "all or nothing" mentality. In most cases, taking the "all" approach will set you up for disappointment. It's about improvement, not perfection.

Let me share a rather childish personal anecdote regarding taking the "all" approach when making a life change. Well, it SHOULD be childish because I was 13 at the time. One of the activities that originally brought my parents together was their mutual enjoyment of fishing. They took many fishing trips together, and when I was born, I accompanied them. For whatever reason, I never took a liking to fishing, much preferring wandering the banks of ponds, lake, creeks, rivers, bays, harbors and oceans while the 'rents were tossing monofilament tipped with a worm-wrapped hook into the water (this early conditioning partially explains why I ended up studying evolutionary paleoecology). Anyway, when I was 13 (in fact, I was just turning 13), we took a trip to western Tennessee to see some distant relatives and (yes, you guessed it) to fish (remember, this was MY birthday … never mind.). Well, by some fluke, I once again tried fishing, and this time I enjoyed fishing, and decided on the spot that this was going to be my new hobby, one with which I could bond with my parents! So, I went out and bought a tackle box, and lures, and a scaling knife, and all kinds of fishing accoutrements! I think this interest lasted for six months max, and then it became clear (VERY clear) that I needed to "do my own thing" rather than imitate my parents' "thing." That has been my MO most of my life.

The point was, instead of being cautious and carefully sampling the various possibilities of fishing, thus easing myself into a hobby, I instead jumped in with uncharacteristic abandon. For a variety of reasons, the hobby quickly lost its luster, and I was left with less money (and as a 13 year old, I had very little money) and fishing "stuff" that needed to be distributed. In the grand scheme of things, though, I spent relatively little money, and the fishing materials were relatively easy to distribute. However, I had gained a LOT of wisdom from that little adventure, and I never again acquired impulsively (retailers hate me for my refusal to impulse shop!). I do still acquire, but I do it slowly, gradually, intentionally, mindfully!

In fact, that's how I make all changes in my life, whether it is décor and design (see my two stories in which I describe redecorating and refurnishing my solarium), enhancing health (I continue trying to drink more water every day), or just having more fun (for example, all of this being slow and cautious should be tempered with a bit of spontaneity!). If I make progress, I celebrate. If I find I have not made progress, I increase my efforts to do so. To quote Richard Carlson, I "don't sweat the small stuff." Well, usually I don't!

Remember, every single day is actually the beginning of a new year (a 365 day cycle), so every day consider making a new resolution, making a new change, starting again. This is the same advice I gave when I was encouraging you to "Try New Things" (Sensational Living® August 2004); I mention this so that you can see that consistency is important for living one's life well. By making ongoing small, gradual changes, you have nothing to lose (unless you WANT to lose something, like those love handles?). If something didn't work out today, see what you can do with it tomorrow! Let me hear about your goals and your progress toward achieving them at 773.508.9208 or email me.