December 30, 2018
I can feel myself being drawn in again to the New Year’s resolution hustle. Here’s how it goes down: A post-holiday mix of relief and fatigue settles in. Cold days with few routines fumblingly unfold. Seeking more structure, a sense of accomplishment, and coming off of a dopamine-rich December, I grasp outward-elsewhere-forward to the self-improvement hype.
Grabbing onto a new “I should” or two borrowed from friends’ habits, articles from my Facebook feed, or best-selling authors, I challenge myself to stick with my resolutions this time. Listless, I begin five projects while stepping over still-packed travel bags and over kids playing with toys. To be sure, these mid-winter days are not the stuff SMART goals or resolutions are made of.
This year, I am replacing resolutions with intentions. A resolution is “a firm decision, being determined or resolute, or solving a problem,” whereas an intention is “an aim or a plan, the healing process of a wound (in medicine), or conceptions formed by directing the mind toward an object” (paraphrased from the Oxford Living Dictionaries). Some may see intentions as noncommittal or weak compared to resolutions. I am beginning to see intentions as significant growth. Shifting my outward-elsewhere-forward striving toward grounded and hopeful intentions is a daily practice that has been transformative.
Learning and Then Learning the Hard Way
Releasing my grip on resolutions and gently holding intentions is a practice rooted in both mindfulness and burnout. A few years ago, I took CEA’s first mindfulness course offering. I learned a great deal. I found two favorite mindfulness practices. I embraced a fellow parent’s advice to shift my internal voice/critic and try speaking as I would to a good friend. I tried to embrace “attitudes” at the core of mindfulness-based stress reduction: Mindfulness, non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, lovingkindness, non-striving, acceptance of reality, and letting go.* They felt unfamiliar, wishy-washy, and apathetic compared to the “try harder, push through, figure it out” attitude that I had relied on for most of my life. So I took what I felt was useful from the course and kept on moving.
In the following years, it became clear that I had more to learn. I was utterly exhausted with chronic muscle pain, headaches, numbness, sleeplessness, and frequent illness. Stress-induced burnout forced me to let go of my push through attitude. My body gave me no choice but to listen. I’m glad I had those mindfulness resources as a foothold during what felt like a free-fall. I tried out the attitudes I had discarded earlier. Acceptance of reality meant accepting many stressors as part of my work, my relationships, and my special needs parent role. “If this is the way things are, how do I do this?” I wondered. I had to do things differently. I entertained thought experiments with other mindfulness attitudes. “I don’t need to tackle this issue right now/by myself. I’ll let it be for a day or ask for help” (attitudes of patience, non-striving, trust). “Of course this is hard, it’s new to me and emotionally charged. I need to give myself a lot of grace right now” (attitude of lovingkindness). Non-striving, non-judging, and letting go, in particular, are certainly not part of my brain wiring. Fortunately, my brain It doesn’t seem to know the difference between daily thought experiments and a complete overhaul. Thanks to small, intentional shifts, it spends a lot less time in fight-flight-freeze mode nowadays.
Intentions: Nudging through 2019
My main intention this year is to keep noticing my beliefs and attitudes and keep nudging them, little by little, with mindfulness attitudes. I also look forward to deepening the practices that rejuvenate me (hiking, Quijong, breathing breaks) and continuing to connect with friends and teachers whose examples deepen my commitment. I know being a part of CEA’s Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Parents course beginning January 29th will support my New Year’s intentions.
I encourage you to try replacing resolutions with intentions this year. Having a disability and/or parenting children with disabilities requires daily gumption. It’s natural that we have little or no resolve to heap on for a relatively arbitrary square on the calendar. Smaller, gentler intentions can be more sustainable, healing, and kinder to our souls. Even the smallest nudges create ripple effects.
*Various adaptations exist, but all are based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophy Living.” See video descriptions.