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Some Lofty Goals

These are the dreamiest days—the ones in which I am thinking about how amazing my New Years’ Resolutions are going to be. I’m still in that unreal state, where I know that this year is going to be different and that everything I hope for will be easy to accomplish, and simple to maintain. I’m also old enough to know that this is a lofty pipedream, but I don’t care. I’m letting myself be fanciful anyway.

I’m giving myself permission to imagine six-pack abs and ripped quadriceps, even while dipping into Christmas caramel corn. “That will all be gone by January,” I think to myself. My life will be nearly monk-like—run, work, gym, eat sparsely. And of course I will also magically have time for a full and rich writing life—going deeper into my work than I have in years. In this fantasy world that begins in just a few days, I will muster a kind of writing resolution I’ve rarely seen in myself. I will be able to sit with my insecurities and find the true, detailed stories in myself. They will pour from me with ease and confidence. And it doesn’t matter that these are essentially the same resolutions I make every year. At this moment, I believe this year will be different.

Instead of being in the moment ... my brain regularly engages in a side trip to the land of "All the Bad Things That Can Happen."

Short of that view of my perfect life, if I had to name the thing I most want to change in my life in 2020, it’s much trickier than any of these. In fact, it has nothing to do with body weight or amazing writing, and everything to do with what goes on in my own head. Throughout the course of my life, I have developed and fine-tuned a very bad habit. Instead of being in the moment, enjoying (or even noticing) what’s happening right in front of me, my brain regularly engages in a side trip to the land of "All the Bad Things That Can Happen."

I might be looking out my window in the morning, marveling at the red sky line and the stark winter trees above it and then, out of the blue, I find myself worrying about what will happen if the plan I’ve made for later in the day doesn’t work out. In just a second, I’ve completely forgotten nature’s show in front of me and I’m mulling and tormenting about something grim I’ve conjured up in my brain. Bliss to misery in seconds—all courtesy of my own imagination.

In truth, my real resolution for 2020 will be to learn to keep that journey to the bad land from ever starting. I don’t imagine it will be easy, even in the slightest, but I do think it will be possible. I also think it will take practice. More than 40 years ago, when I quit smoking after an 8-year adventure into that bad habit, someone gave me some good advice. “When you feel like smoking,” they said, “just wait one minute. If you still feel like smoking, wait another minute.” Turns out she was completely right. After a couple of minutes of just sitting with my discomfort, I was fine. I figure if I can do that with something that was designed to be addictive, I ought to be able to keep myself from taking those frequent, many-times-a-day trips to the land of self-torture.

I don’t think it will be easy, though. It’s become such a habit for me that I barely realize I’m doing it. I can be playing with the puppy, having a great conversation with Jodi, or watching a compelling movie and, all of a sudden, I’m thinking of some less-than-positive situation in my life and imagining the worst. My brain is almost fully engaged in some old version of my life story and I’m barely aware that I’m doing it. So changing this habit could turn out to be easier than giving up those Marlboros when I was 23. But right now, in this soft lull before Christmas, I’m thinking I can do it. I’m going to start practicing, maybe try some simple meditations or affirmations. I know one of the keys to success will be realizing that I’m sure to blow it and to not give up when I do.

We are funny creatures, we humans. We are equipped with masterful brains, huge hearts, and lots of emotions. Finding balance, staying on good terms with ourselves and others, and remembering to notice and appreciate as much as we can in every day is a huge task, with a potentially awesome outcome. I’m resolving on this day to bring myself back to that task as often as I can, and to be ever so grateful for the feeling of just being in my life as it is at this moment.

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