The list is still up on my white board. What did I think, that it would just disappear as the ball dropped over Times Square, wiping away the to-do’s of 2017? It didn’t happen. And so the list of things I must not forget is still written in blue marker, waiting for me to tackle those things I least wanted to tackle as the year came to an end.
I must have indulged in some magical thinking in late December, maybe fueled by the cookies and the eggnog and the heady prospect of ten days without work. But here we are in the new year, and the slate has not been wiped clean, the page is not blank, and the work is right where I dropped it in my rush out the door.
Looking at my list makes me feel defeated. I left those items there because they were hard, or unpleasant, or because I didn’t know how to go about getting them done. But I don’t want to feel defeated – I want to feel jazzed and energized and can-do. (Though just writing those perky words makes me want to roll my eyes.) But how can I pick up the same work that annoyed me, troubled me, befuddled me, without also picking up the pre-holiday defeatism? I won’t get the work done by rolling my eyes at it.
New Years resolutions have always hit me as silly things, given that we know on September 8th just as well as on January 1st those things we need to change. We make difficult changes when we are ready to make them, and the calendar rolling over onto a new year is no magical motivator. But it is clear to me, as I notice my eyes slide away from my to-do list, that some change is indeed in order.
But what should I change? The problem really isn’t the list, but my feelings about certain items on it. Conveniently, I did a whole bunch of reading this year about the brain and mental health, and in the process I learned something I should have learned long ago: people can chose their thoughts, and thoughts control feelings. Radical, huh? I do wish someone had enlightened me as a teenager. But better late than never.
So what do I resolve for my non-New Years resolution? I resolve to catch myself thinking things like these:
- “Do I really have to do that now? I just can’t.”
- “That will never get done. It’s just a big mess.”
- “Starting that is too much work today.”
And to reject them, and replace them with thoughts like these:
- “I really will feel better about life if I do that now rather than later.”
- “That big mess is a bunch of small messes. I’ll just fix one bit of it today.”
- “I have an hour to work on that $%#&%@& thing. I can start and make a dent in it.”
Is this all eye-roll inducing? Yes, yes it is. But no matter. I am going to do it anyway. I am going to think my way into feeling better about doing what I haven’t wanted to do. And because it isn’t actually a New Years resolution, maybe I’ll actually stick with it.