Who needs New Years? A month after is as good a time as any to make positive changes in your life. The first day of the new year doesn’t need to be the only time when you can start changing your routines for the better. A fresh start can happen at any time. But what does a fresh start really mean? How can I get one? Where do I even start? It was these exact questions that I found myself asking when I opened up my Podcast app and tuned into an episode of SuperSoul Conversations. Because Oprah’s just as good a place to start as any, right? Right or wrong, it led me to Geneen Roth.
Being fierce about noticing and acknowledging what is good right now
In addition to being a successful author and a beloved pioneer in the field of emotional eating, Geneen Roth and her husband were among the 4,800 people who lost their life savings to one of the largest fraud cases in U.S. history, perpetrated by former financier Bernie Madoff. For Geneen and her husband, that meant thirty (!) years of life savings, their home, everything. At the time, she tells us, she had felt simply doomed. Now, Geneen says it was one of the best things to have ever happened to her.
How? Partly, her newfound perspective is due to advice from a good friend, who told her to focus on what she had enough of, not just what she’d lost. It is worth noting that in the immediate aftermath, Geneen stated to her friend “This is not the time to be spiritual.” This is to illustrate the fact that initially, Geneen had a normative human reaction of devastation to this painful loss. Eventually, however, Geneen explains “I realized if I was going to live, if I was going to sleep, if I was going to exist, I had to bring my mind back from the terror and start focusing on what was good. And I had to be fierce about it.” For Geneen, that meant focusing on every small thing she did have. As she describes, “I pick up a cup. I have a cup. I have water. I have arms. I have legs. I have breath. And you know what? The most amazing thing happened… within three to four days… I was happier than I had ever been.”
That is to say, forcing herself to focus on what was good, not what was wrong, not only helped Geneen cope with a devastating blow, but made her life even more meaningful and joyful than she had experienced before.
How do we go about keeping what is good?
So what does Geneen’s story have to do with our fresh start? Her journey demonstrates what becomes possible when—instead of focusing on what we haven’t been doing right and all of the new changes we need to make—we start focusing on what we do have and what we are doing right.
So how could we do what she did?
In other words, how do we even go about figuring out what’s worth keeping?
Another successful author and organizing consultant, Mary Kondo , offers a helpful strategy. She instructs her readers to go around their home and to simply hold in their hands every item they own and to ask, “Does this bring me joy?” If not, she recommends, toss it. Easy, right? Let me clarify. I’m not telling you to actually run around your house and ask yourself if each t-shirt you own gives you joy. What I am suggesting is to apply her strategy to your life, instead of your closet (or hey, in addition, if you feel inspired!). This involves taking time to take an account of your life and everything in it, and ask yourself the same question: “Does this bring me joy?”
For example, if you find yourself dreading attending a dinner party, or complaining about going to the new event you forcibly promised yourself you’d go to, ask yourself—“Does it bring me joy?” If the answer is a quick and simple “no,” then why are you making yourself show up at these things?
It goes without saying that some things need to be done, whether they bring us joy or not in that moment, such as keeping our dentist appointments, maintaining our livelihood even if our alarm makes us want to miss work, and attending to other essential responsibilities.
Regarding the things we can choose, however, this question may help us understand or challenge our resolutions or habits by elaborating on the original question and asking, “If it doesn’t bring us joy, why are we doing it?” For example, why did I think a great resolution was to become vegan and to start running three days a week when I love cheese and hate running? Because I thought that a fresh start had to involve something new that I wasn’t doing. This brings us to a potential realization that the joy question may bring about. The realization that we think we are not enough as we are, and therefore adding something new or taking something away in order to put something new in its place is often our go-to resolution tactic.
When New Year’s resolutions do not come from a place of “I’m not enough.”
Why do we think that a fresh start has to involve something new that we were not doing? It very likely comes from a belief long-held by many of us that we are not enough as we are.
This belief is powerful and can have painful consequences, such as consistent experiences of self-judgment, shame, and even worse—a conviction that we cannot positively influence our own lives. In other words, we may wind up feeling ineffective, which in turn, creates an experience of helplessness or continued self-judgement in a vicious cycle.
This belief is not easy to turn around. It likely has strong roots anchored deep in our past, so we cannot just rip it out of our minds like we would weeds from a garden. However, if we could start by quietly observing what we are doing right, we allow our minds to see the evidence that we have the capacity to “do right” and “be enough,” and thereby, to start sneak–attacking that negative belief with positive thoughts and empowering statements to our hearts and minds.
The point is that a fresh start can involve actually letting go of the “should’s” and “supposed to’s” that often accompany New Year’s resolutions, and instead, keep those things that we do do that bring us joy. For example, you may find that after you get off the phone with a certain friend, you feel a little lighter or calmer. Let’s keep that friendship going! Or, if you realize when you spend a night in, you then wake up revitalized—let’s make that night in a part of your regularly scheduled programming! Or, if you feel fully satisfied after eating a cheeseburger with bacon and extra crispy fries (anyone? no? just me?) then DO IT. And ENJOY IT.
Bottom line, when you’re feeling good, stop and ask yourself: What am I doing that is contributing to this? And when you go to bed at night and feel like you had a good day, ask yourself: What made it a good day? What have I done today to create this joy and fulfillment that I am feeling? Then, commit to continue doing those things, notice those feelings, and interact with those people, and then perhaps 2018 can be the year where you self-judge less and self-thank more, experience less shame and allow more joy. Happy New Start!
1 Geneen Roth: Conscious Eating” Audio blog post. Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Harpo Productions Inc., January 31, 2017
2 The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese art of Decluttering and Organizing/ Mary Kondo. Publisher: Ten Speed Press, 2014.