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New Year, Old You?

posted Jan 5, 2017, 9:15 AM by Fidelma Farley   [ updated Jan 5, 2017, 9:15 AM ]

This is the time of year we see the ‘New Year, New You!’ posters, exhorting us to take steps to become better, healthier, fitter, happier. It’s so seductive to picture that transformed version of ourselves, but I suspect I’m not the only one that didn’t really believe that I could do it, so it seemed like an unattainable fantasy that there was no point in trying to achieve.  Having said that, I often started to work on one of my resolutions with great zeal and enthusiasm, only to fall by the wayside within weeks. That’s when it felt like the ‘old’ me was back, back into bad habits that I didn’t like but had a certain reassuring familiarity – ahh, now this is really me! I saw every glitch or falling away as a ‘failure’, which reinforced the idea that I wasn’t succeeding. Anyone recognise the voice of perfectionism?! If I can’t do this perfectly, why bother doing it at all? Much safer to stay as I am, rather than risk the pain of failure. 

So when I came across this well-known quote from Samuel Beckett, it struck a deep chord:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Worstword Ho, 1983)
(See Maggi Dawn’s blog post for a great reflection on the meaning of this quote).

I realised that it isn’t about ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’, it’s about keeping going. The New Year brings lots of talk about new beginnings, but actually we keep on beginning, over and over again. Begin again, fail again, begin again. Rather than aiming to ‘succeed’, what if we aim to find what we love, what we find meaningful, and to keep beginning with that, over and over again? That we measure ‘success’ by our ability to discover and nurture what feeds our spirit, and by our ability to keep re-discovering and re-connecting with it. 

No finishing line
About a year after my son was born, I took up running, mainly to try to get fit and lose weight. I set myself the goal of running the Women’s Mini-Marathon, but three weeks before the race, I got a sinus infection that lasted two weeks. I managed, just about, to run the whole 10k, but was disappointed. I entered another 10k a few months after, but the same thing happened, and kept happening over two years. It was very frustrating, as I felt as if I wasn’t progressing at all. I was on the verge of giving up altogether, when I re-assessed why I run. I run because I love being outdoors in nature; because I love the time by myself; I love the renewed energy I feel when I’m running regularly. That’s my motivation to starting again, not a goal that marks my success or failure. Don’t get me wrong – having goals to aim for can be hugely helpful and motivating. But for the perfectionists among us, setting goals can sometimes be counter-productive. 

Steering your course
When you steer a boat you are constantly correcting, constantly going off course and bringing the boat back om course. Each time you go off course with your intentions, don’t beat yourself up, re-adjust the boat and get back on course, knowing that you’ll veer off course again, but also knowing that you can get yourself back each time too. For anyone that meditates, you’ll know that this is what we do in each and every meditation. We focus on the breath, we wander off, we come back to the breath, we wander off – repeat ad infinitum. Meditators learn that the more you interpret the wandering mind as a ‘failure’, with all the self-criticism and frustration that comes with that, the less your meditation flows, and the less inclined you are to keep at it. Accept that your mind will wander and trust that you will notice and bring it back to the present moment.

What works in meditation is what works in the rest of your life. Set your intention, accept that there will be times you will not follow it, and trust that when that happens, you can and will, in time, re-connect with it.

I’ll leave the last words to Brendan Kennelly, from his poem, ‘Begin’:
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.