By Alex Davis
I stopped making New Years resolutions years ago.
I got sick of the same charade– lots of time spent planning and “intending” and very little executing. Cue the shame spiral. The, well I didn’t get to the gym 7 times this week so I might as well eat four office doughnuts. And, well I forgot to journal yesterday like I said I would, so …I’ll just let it sit and collect dust. And well, I can’t go running today because I have a cold, so I guess I’ll just have to wait 8 months until I run again.
Every year, it is the same. We devise long and aspirational (read: unattainable) lists geared toward improvement in every facet of our lives. We resolve to whip our bodies into shape, be nicer, and complete more cute DIY projects. We vaguely promise to work “harder,” to pay more attention to the people we love, to volunteer more, and maybe even master an obscure hobby, all in one fell swoop. But all too often, reality sets in and these myriad good intentions fade along with the New Years Eve glitter.
In 2017, I learned something revolutionary from some very successful women: the prospect of a to-do list that involves things they were NOT going to do. I’ve heard some good ones, ranging from pulling weeds, to cooking meals from scratch every single night, to dusting. I tried adopting their approach, and found it was a great way to give myself permission to focus on what matters most in a given season – and to ditch the rest. This doesn’t mean we have carte blanche to let our homes and lives go to hell in a hand basket. But it does mean that we can freely choose to focus on what is most important at any given time. After all, we cannot focus on doing all of the things all of the time.
It eventually dawned on me that the list does not have to involve concrete tasks. It can include things that we do – consciously or subconsciously – that are harmful and damaging. That are holding us back from success. That are wearing us down. What better time to start reflecting on those things than the start of a new year?
I’ve spent some time thinking through what my list would look like, and let me be perfectly clear: it is long. Much, much longer than this short post would suggest. But based on conversations I’ve had with friends, I know that I am not alone in this. And by sharing my NOT-GOING-TO-DO-THAT list for 2018, I hope I can encourage you to also consider what you might leave behind this year.
1. Comparison. We’ve all heard that comparison is the thief of joy, but it is also a breeding ground for envy, resentment, negative self-image, and in some extreme cases, even depression and anxiety. I’ve wasted countless hours declaring myself unworthy after projecting my own made-up, impossible standards onto myself and weighing them against the relative foibles of others. This is pointless, not to mention damaging to relationships.
2. Mindless Social Media Scrolling. Social media is a useful tool and as a blogger, it is critical to success. However, it also presents endless possibilities for distraction and can insidiously steal hours of our lives. All it takes is a five-minute wait at the post office, a traffic jam, or an undesirable work project, and we end up immediately reaching for our phones to help pass the time. It is scary how often I find myself mindlessly perusing Instagram or Facebook. While I certainly do not want to be legalistic in restricting my social media use, I want to train myself to do something else when I am tempted to tap that Instagram icon – like grab a book (I am going to start carrying one with me!), text a friend, outline a blog post, or read an article on one of my favorite websites.
3. Using escapist methods to cope with stress. We’ve all done it: We find one hundred reasons to avoid doing what we know needs to be done. I am the queen of using escapism to avoid what I need to do. But in my heart of hearts, I know that project will still be there after I’ve stalked a random person’s wedding pictures on Facebook, sent a complaining text message to my mom, surfed Zillow, refreshed my email inbox, circled through the office break room to see who’s brought treats, or gotten my fifteenth cup of coffee. If I’ve learned anything in my 27 years, it is that stress increases exponentially the more I put things off. I was simply blown away when I realized how my stress evaporated when I simply started working and made strides toward accomplishing my daily goals.
4. Complaining. Yes, we can all use a good gripe session every now and then, but eventually, complaining will start to poison you. You will slowly become conditioned to only see the negative in situations. I’ve been this person just as many times as I’ve been a sounding board for others, and I hated how much time I wasted dwelling on the negative when I just as easily could have pulled some positives out of my experience.
5. Making excuses. I went through a whole season where I complained bitterly about how I did not have time to work out. The truth was, I did have time. I just chose to use it in other ways. I can’t even imagine how much I frustrated my husband by complaining about not having time to work out while sitting on my rear end on the couch. If it matters to you, you can – and must – make time for it.
6. Overcommitting. My mom shared a tip with me years ago, and it has been a lifesaver and burnout antidote for years: Before saying yes to anything (even if it is something you are certain you want to do), say, “that sounds great, but can I get back to you tomorrow?” Always, always, always take time to think about a commitment before diving in. This tactic will prevent you from having to back out after you’ve already committed, leaving others in a tough position.
7. Convincing myself I am not capable. In an episode of the still-popular Gilmore Girls, Edward Hermann’s character, referring to his granddaughter, Rory, proudly declares that “what she tackles, she conquers.” When you are feeling weak, picture the most important people in your life saying the very same thing about you. What you tackle, you conquer. Another tactic I use when I am struggling to overcome self-doubt is to imagine reading my Wikipedia page in 20 years. What will it say? What will have I accomplished? I’ve finally decided that no matter how my career and life progress, my own self-limiting thoughts will not be the only thing standing in the way of my own success.
8. Acting uncharitably toward other women. I started this blog because I truly believe there is no more powerful force in the world than when women lift each other up. But I also believe that few things are more destructive than women putting each other down, stabbing each other in the back, and judging each other’s choices. Sometimes when we feel stressed, tired, or worn out, we are quick to make snide comments. I have both received and dished out these mean and uncharitable remarks and learned the hard way that while we can heal from them, they can never be undone.
What’s on your list? Share in the comments!
Featured image by Ivorymix.