Saturday, January 10, 2004

Monkey Business

Happy New Year! One of my missions is to help you all drop your New Year's Resolutions. So this month I'm revising and repeating my New Year's Theme article. It's the Chinese Year of the Monkey, after all. The year of Cleverness, Deception, Travel, Risk and Novelty! Nothing to "resolve" this year, my friends. Time for a little Monkey Business!

It's easy to make resolutions in the excitement of the New Year and the guilty awareness that you ate your way through the holidays. Sure, last year's resolution didn't make it past the middle of January, but hey, this year's going to be different, right?

So what is your New Year's resolution? Lose weight? Make more money? Spend less? More time with your family? Relax more? These are old favorites. “Old,” because they reoccur every year. We pull them down off the shelf we stuck them on last February, dust them off, and vow commitment this year. Ugh!

Here's the problem with resolutions. They don't make us FEEL good! We struggle because the resolution isn't right for us in the first place. It is full of inner conflicts that we don't see. Most New Year's resolutions try to “fix” something. We focus on what is missing or wrong, making the resolution a weak commitment.

But what if you approached your resolution playfully? It's the Year of the Monkey after all. Ask yourself, “What do I REALLY want?” There's a theme there. If you have resolved to lose weight, perhaps your theme is “Let's Give Them Something to Talk About.” It's not all about weight, is it? If your resolution is to make more money, maybe your theme is “What a Wonderful World” so you can feel abundance through gratitude first and then get creative about making money. And what about more time with your family? Perhaps a theme of “Getting to Know You” is more to the point. By the way, song titles are great themes. When you need a boost, just plug in the CD and dance!

A theme is meant to honor something. It focuses not on the completion but the doing. It's adventurous.

Maria turned 50 in November, 2002. In December she wanted to talk about reviving her old “resolution” to relax more. Maria has high standards at work and puts in 110% daily. But she knew something was missing when her friends stopped calling. “We just knew you'd be too busy” was the feedback. Maria had created a “busy-woman” reputation.

The only evidence Maria could give me that her old resolution, relax more, might work this year was that she had turned 50. “Not enough!” I said. I pointed out that resolving to relax more would just induce stress. We started playing with a theme.

A week later Maria called excited. Her theme was “Farming for Fun at Fifty.” Farming because she wanted to get to the root of things once and for all. Fun because she realized the old resolution of “relaxing” was merely a medication for a symptom. Fun was the cure. And, well, Fifty to honor the one thing Maria felt would make the difference in 2003.

Maria spent most of 2003 creatively immersed in her theme. She took a three-day weekend and hiked fifty miles. Another weekend produced a fifty-mile bike ride. She bought a box of crayons and created, framed and hung a picture of every fun thing she did. She read 50 novels by the end of the year. Maria has racked up one lunch a week away from work. “Getting to the root of things” also meant that Maria wanted to take a look at what was important to her. At the beginning of the year she donated 50 hours of her time, in one-hour increments, to her local Humane Society.

And here's the unexpected reward. Maria is due for a hefty bonus this year. When I asked about this, Maria said she was not so harried and more approachable at work. That made a huge difference in the way she was perceived. Coworkers are collaborating with her. And, Maria's doctor just informed her she has lost 21 ½ pounds. She's no longer using food for relaxation. Losing weight and the bonus were not her goals. They're just the little surprises that come from honoring her theme.

Maria and I are starting to talk about her 2004 theme. One of the interesting outcomes of this year's theme is that she's recognizing how creative she can be and wants to explore that more. Perfect for the Monkey year, don't you think?

Your Turn:
A Theme is Big. But don't lump a bunch of resolutions together, listing everything you've ever wanted to change. Just take one old resolution and keep asking yourself, “What do I REALLY want?” until you have something that expands you rather than making you a monitor of your behavior.

Word it Carefully. Resolutions are about willpower and tend to be expressed in bland terms. Themes are about experimenting and creativity and are expressed in a way that gets to the heart of what energizes you.

Embrace the Unknown. Trust that your theme will inspire. You don't have to create a list of everything you want to do on January 1. Just play with your theme and watch what happens as 2004 unfolds.

“I'm working all day and
I'm working all night
To be good-looking,
healthy, and wise.
And adored, contented, brave and well-read.
And a marvelous hostess,
fantastic in bed.
And bilingual, athletic,
Won't someone please stop me?” ~Judith Viorst

“May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year's resolutions.” ~Anonymous

“’Discipline.’ What a thankless word that is—and how beside the point.” ~Julia Cameron