This article was originally published on www.thehappinessdoctor.com
We’re getting real about New Year’s Resolutions this year. Rather than guiding you through an exercise of setting goals and intentions, I welcome you to pick a general life category that is meaningful, maybe even vital, for you to make changes in this year. It’s so important to you that another year just can’t wait… Maybe it’s your communication patterns with the people you live or work with… Maybe it’s your romantic relationship… Your general day-to-day happiness… Maybe it’s your whole entire life.
Now take a moment, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that creating genuine, meaningful change in this area of life will be hard.
Yup, I said it. This will be hard.
Why? Because meaningful change requires that you step into who you are becoming by challenging the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of who you are today.
Whoever said living a life of purpose and potential was easy wasn’t really doing it. So instead of moseying into the new year with intentions that may or may not last long after a week or two, I invite you to select an area of life that you will focus on this year and to choose your hard.
Come with me as I take you on a journey of choosing your hard in four life areas that clients consistently come to me seeking help with: communication, relationships, happiness, and plain ‘ol how to live life! If your chosen life area isn’t one of these, don’t fret– simply read along and ask yourself what choosing your hard would look like in that life area for you.
Instead of moseying into the new year with intentions that may or may not last long after a week or two, I invite you to choose your hard.
WHEN IT COMES TO COMMUNICATING ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER
Communicating is hard
Saying “what’s up?” and “how are you?” in passing isn’t all that hard. But have you ever tried having a conversation about something meaningful, something important, and/or something that might be a subject of difference or disagreement without hearing the sound of your stomach gurgling, feeling your legs shaking, noticing a drop of sweat forming on your body, or hearing a bit of a s-s-s-stutter as you try to get the words out of your mouth? Yep, some people can be fooled into believing that you’re hunky dory and relaxed during the conversation, but your nervous system knows better.
Communication is certainly no walk in the park. We hope that it will:
- allow us to describe our thoughts and feelings in a way that the other person will understand and not misinterpret
- while taking into account differences in understanding that might happen considering differences in cultural background, temperament, gender, and the like
- while making the other person feel heard and understood
- and honoring and respecting them so that appreciation and trust can develop between you
What could be more difficult than that!?
Just think about the last time you chose to engage in a conversation of importance to you. Was your message delivered and received as you’d intended? Did you have to “rewind” and say things a few times in different ways in order to enhance understanding? And how sweaty or relieved were you when it was all over?
Not communicating is hard
Communicating can be hard and yet many (including myself) would argue that not communicating is even harder. Having something inside you that deeply wants to be expressed, whether a “Will you go out with me”?, an “I found that to be very disrespectful”, or an “I love you” and not expressing it can be an experience wrought with frustration… a night full of what ifs… and a life of lost possibility. The early part of my life taught me to avoid communication because, hey, I didn’t really know how to do it well and the people I spoke to most of the time didn’t know how to do it well either. It was too loud, too defensive, too one-sided. And I didn’t like how it made me feel so I avoided it. Soon enough, I realized that avoiding communication made me feel pretty shitty too.
Choose your hard
It certainly depends on the situation, but overall I prefer to speak my truth with a shaky voice, sweaty palms, and the potential of rejection than not say anything at all. What about you? Which hard do you choose?
BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH ANOTHER PERSON
Being in a relationship is hard
If communicating is hard, then being in a relationship (which includes communicating, joint decision-making and problem-solving, and often cohabitating) is definitely hard. You’ve probably often heard people mumble something along the lines of “relationships take work” or “it took us a lot of work to get to where we are today” and that’s not by accident. A healthy, successful relationship– in my mind– is one in which each partner can be accepted and understood for him or herself, and commit to the daily practice of honoring individual needs, respecting individual boundaries, and contributing to each person’s growth and well-being. It’s not all hard (if you choose well, there’s plenty of fun and pleasure to be shared too) but there are definitely going to be times when you feel dissatisfied, underappreciated, upset, or lonely and times when there is a need to accept that you may be insecure, wrong, or at least partly responsible.
Being single is hard
Sure, being single means you don’t need to put as much effort into navigating the growing pains of a close relationship but it also means you lose out on having someone to journey through this crazy life with. There is probably less disagreement and conflict in your life, but unless you happen to be very socially fulfilled otherwise, there is also probably less warmth, meaning, and connection. Between 2014 and 2018, I had the time of my life while traveling and working virtually, getting to know myself and the world as only road trips across the United States and hip hopping from one country to the next can get you. I didn’t need to compromise or negotiate with anybody except subtly with the person in the airplane seat next to me about who gets to put their arm on the armrest, I didn’t need to be mindful of anyone else’s soft spots or potential “triggers” due to upbringing and past experience, and I really didn’t have to consider anyone’s needs but my own.
At the same time, I didn’t have anyone to meaningfully and consistently share a meal or a view with except for the occasional colleague who joined me on a work trip or a new friend I made along the way. There was no one around to help do the things I disliked or wasn’t good at (like remembering how to get back to the starting location in the parking lot or bottom of the mountain) while I did the things they didn’t care for, and there was no benefit to be gained from living a life with someone who has empathy, life experience, and perspective to share.
Choose your hard
At this moment in time, I am choosing the relationship kind of hard because it’s the kind of growth I’m desiring and I’ve met someone who helps that hard feel a little less hard. What about you? Which hard are you choosing right now?
OWNING YOUR HAPPINESS
Taking responsibility for your own happiness is hard
“I didn’t get the toy I wanted for Christmas”… “my friend was mean to me”… “you stepped on my foot”… are some of the reasons we may offer for being upset as children. We didn’t get our way, someone was rude, or someone’s path crossed with ours in a way that we didn’t appreciate, and we expect our parent or other caregiver to do something about it, and change the situation so that it changes how we feel. As we enter adulthood, considered to be anywhere from 15 to 21 years of age depending on which country you reside in, something changes. It usually doesn’t happen without notice (this is what our teenage years are for), but a slow progression takes place until there is no longer someone to change things around you so that you feel happier. It is up to you, then, to take responsibility for your own happiness.
Taking responsibility for our own happiness means subscribing to the belief that “my choices impact my happiness” and “every day I can make choices that either contribute to or take away from that happiness”. You can see why this can be a tough one, right? It’s probably easier to blame the guy or girl who dumped you, the employer who fired or never hired you, or everyone driving on the freeway each morning for your happiness than it is to take responsibility for how you feel in each of those situations. Taking responsibility would mean accepting and acknowledging that “I can understand why he or she didn’t want to be with me anymore”, “I see why I may not be the best fit for that job”, and perhaps that “this route is one with traffic on weekday mornings, and I’ve chosen to take it despite knowing that”. Because you become part of the causal sequence– no matter if the end result is a good one or a bad one– it takes courage, self-awareness, and a good amount of self-respect to take responsibility for our own happiness.
Not taking responsibility for your own happiness is hard
Taking responsibility for your own happiness is fraught with all sorts of psychological challenges. Hey, after all there is no one else to take accountability if things don’t go quite as anticipated.
Not taking responsibility for your own happiness isn’t necessarily easier.
Okay, so you’ve gotten out of needing to take responsibility, but now what? All that’s left for you to do is to blame everybody else. Who’s it gonna be? Your mom? Your dad? Your husband? Your wife? Your partner? Your brother? Your sister? Your friend? Your cousin? Your colleague? Your boss? Donald Trump? Society? God?
As long as we keep pointing the finger out there, we have zero control over our own lives because as much as we would like to, we can’t possibly understand or predict the thoughts, actions, and reactions of our mother, father, wife, husband, cousin, colleague, etc. By not taking responsibility for our happiness, we give that responsibility over to somebody else, and that’s not any easier!
Choose your hard
I mostly stopped playing the blame game (i.e., citing others for my degree of happiness or unhappiness) a number of years ago when I realized it wasn’t helping me. Notice I say mostly because yes, the temptation does seep in every now and again when taking responsibility for my own happiness feels like too much of a duty to bear. But hey, I know myself better than anyone else knows me, and I certainly trust myself with my own happiness more than I trust anyone else with it. So every single day, I choose the difficult task of being in charge of knowing what will make me happy and of making that happen. It doesn’t mean letting others off the hook with how I feel– as the one in charge of my own happiness, it is now my responsibility to decide who gets to receive my love and attention and who doesn’t, what role they play or don’t play in my life, and whether they stay or go. It also doesn’t mean blaming myself when things don’t go as expected (more on that here) because nothing makes me as unhappy as subjecting myself to an inner voice of criticism. It often means trusting the waves of life, having my own back throughout the process, and letting go of the rest.
Every single day, I choose the difficult task of being in charge of knowing what will make me happy and of making that happen… It often means trusting the waves of life, having my own back throughout the process, and letting go of the rest.
HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE
Following the status quo is hard
Believing in and doing what everyone else is doing is frikin’ hard, especially if you’re a free thinker and spirit with ideas and goals of your own. You ask your parents for Vans because all the cool kids are wearing Vans, you dye your hair blonde because that’s what all the attractive women are doing these days, and you nod your head in that meeting because why not agree with everyone else? It’s easier that way.
The thing about agreeing with everyone else and following the status quo when a part of you doesn’t want to is that your free-thinking mind and value system are dying a little death inside, screaming “Don’t you hear us?” “We don’t agree”. “We don’t agreeeeee”. And it’s that internal battle that makes it hard. You’re nodding your head and yes’s keep exiting your mouth, yet your mind is spinning with all of the reasons why this isn’t a good idea and why it’s actually not taking many important things into consideration and how it can have consequences down the line. And because you’re keeping it all inside and not giving it its time in the proverbial spotlight, it becomes a very uncomfortable place to be.
Believing in and doing what everyone else is doing is frikin’ hard, especially if you’re a free thinker and spirit with ideas and goals of your own.
Thinking and acting for yourself is hard
Have you ever found yourself keeping quiet and going with the grain anyway– even though you knew that different was necessary and that better was possible? Everyone is walking in the same direction and even though your soul is screaming “no, go the other way”, your feet are moving you in that direction too. That’s because standing out and speaking up also ain’t easy.
Because we commonly find ourselves in a closed-minded world where “if you’re not like me, then you’re wrong” or “you’re bad”, speaking a different opinion and walking a different direction than most means risking your ability to belong. It means the possibility that like turns into dislike and that together becomes alone. It means that yesterday you were a part of a group and today you may very well be outcast. You know because the last time you spoke up at that meeting, it was clear– from people’s glances and body language– that you were being perceived as ‘that guy’ or ‘girl’ who’s different. And it’s clear that even though you respectfully disagreed, you still disagreed and you weren’t invited to the next get-together. You often wonder whether you should say what you really want to say, do what you want to do, or dress as you wish to dress. “Why stand out when it’s so much easier to fit in and not disrupt the status quo?” you may think to yourself. So, often you don’t say the words and you don’t do the thing that you want to say or do. They say pimpin’ aint’ easy, and sometimes, standing out aint’ easy too.
Speaking a different opinion and walking a different direction than most means risking your ability to belong. It means the possibility that like turns into dislike and that together becomes alone. It means that yesterday you were a part of a group and today you may very well be outcast.
Choose your hard
For me, making the choice between following along or speaking my mind and heart is a consistent journey and practice that challenges my courage and constantly tests my alignment with my own values and truth. Which hard do you choose?
All of the experiences worth having in life (whether genuine communication, love, happiness, fulfillment at work, or whatever area of life you’ve chosen to focus on this year) will require a different version of you than you may be used to, and this will require that you choose your hard.
With some good decision-making ability (my guide to that is here) and genuine support (e.g., in the form of friendship, community, and coaching), it will very likely not only be hard but also exciting, eye-opening, and full of opportunity too.
If you’re reading this, I know that staying the same isn’t an option for you. You’re ready for the next and best version of you– and guess what? The rest of the world is too. So when settling on your new year’s resolutions, simply choose your hard. The rest will follow and may even be easier than you thought.
So what’s it gonna be? What hard are you going to choose this year? Let us know in the comments below.