In praise of reverse resolutions: Tracking back, not squinting forward
I’m just SO not a fan of the New Year’s resolution thing, and I know I’m not alone. Most of the people in my circle seem to be reinventing themselves in some way every month, even every week, and so it’s laughable when the rest of the world seizes on January 1 as THE day to change something up and try to stick with it for the rest of the year.
It’s a time of year when I don’t look ahead as much as I look back. I think of it as a “reverse resolution”—looking backward, not peering forward. And it’s not the oft-recommended lists of “all the things I accomplished and am proud of” I’m referring to (though that’s a great list to make). Instead, I’m interested in this scenario:
Thing 1: What parts of life and business are going exactly right at the moment? What are the parts that are successful, helping me connect with good people, improving the health of my business, and making me feel alive? What’s going well? First, I list those. Now, the fun part:
Thing 2: For every good thing, there was a time when this was not the case. For each thing on my list, I track back and follow the breadcrumb trail back to its origins: What small thing happened in the past—either with great intent or just out of the blue—that started me in the direction of this thing I’m now so proud of? It could be an event that only lasted a single second, or an hour, or a day. It could’ve been something ridiculous, or a complete accident! But whatever it was, somewhere there was a spark that led to another, to another, to another, and created this new happy outcome. I find it really helpful to catalog what those sparks were.
Why? If I know what they look like, I can optimize my chances of recognizing similar happy happenstances when I stumble across them in the future. So my “resolution” isn’t to promise myself something new that might be had; it’s to pay attention to each present moment for the spark it might already carry.
Here’s just a random example, one that doesn’t happen to be about business:
Spark: I was standing at our local library’s “What’s New” shelf and chose to pick up a book called The DNA Restart. It’s about the relationship between our own personal genome and the paths we all take to try to stay healthy. In particular, it talks about how all the food advice we get might be utterly useless because our individual genetic markers are all different. It’s not one-size-fits-all: Our bodies are individual, and actually need individualized strategies.
Time: 2 minutes to peruse, 1 minute to check the book out
Chain reaction: I ended up reading the book over coffee each morning for a week. (It’s super-interesting.) It led to me dig up more about genetics and food.
…Which gave me a huge amount of self-knowledge about my own body’s possible genetic makeup and how it reacts to different things I put into it
…Which changed my diet
…Which finally gave me a clue about the connection between What/How I ate yesterday and Why I feel like a failure or can’t seem to get focused today, so I could do the right things instead
…Which made me so energized I started getting up earlier to write and daydream about good things to do
…Which turned me into a juggernaut of positivity, creative experimentation, and connection (which has been either beautiful or annoying to everyone in my tribe…)
…Which is good. And so it is.
Some other sparks I tracked back to, and the chain reactions they created:
After the presidential election, I had an overwhelming, almost insane desire to write. I started a private blog with no readers and no fanfare on January 1, with the idea of writing every day (1 hour to set up). I put down all my fears and stressors and then could let it go for the day. I made the choice to stop that particular blog after a few months, but it morphed seamlessly into daily writing on topics that made my heart feel bigger. That is still my habit.
I dropped a shampoo bottle on my foot and suddenly, unreasonably, decided I hated plastic bottles. A lot. I went online and ordered a bar of shampoo instead (3 minutes). No waste, compostable paper wrapper and shipping box, nontoxic ingredients, and lasts as long as a bottle of hair washing chemicals. So there were (are) no more bottles in my shower. Which made me want to have fewer plastic containers everywhere else in my life. Which has — I would guess — saved me from exposure to a ton of carcinogens, in addition to feeling better about the waste stream from our household.
I had a migraine that lasted two days. In a moment of irritation, I decided to stop doing techie, left-brain work in the mornings (a split second to decide, then 10 minutes to re-shape my Google Calendar). Morning is the time when my right (intuitive/creative) brain is strongest. So I do creative work in the morning. Which made my migraine go away. Which means I’m able to more fluidly write and create nice new ideas for my circle of clients. Which has helped me magically attract more of the perfect clients. Which makes me extremely happy every day of my life.
I joined an online mastermind group for the first time in my life (1 hour to study and decide). Even as an introvert, it has provided me with a small, supportive community of super-smart, super-compassionate businesspeople to talk to. Which shows me it’s possible to bring your heart into your business and still be successful. Which gives me a lot of audacious hope that business will continue to shift that way, away from the impersonal and the deceptive.
And so forth.
It’s hard to trace things back to their original spark (if you’ve ever seen James Burke’s BBC series Connections you may find it easier to visualize). The easiest way for me to do this was to take a moment, breathe, and try to bring to mind one thing that’s a reality right now in my life that makes me happy, and that didn’t exist a year ago. And then start tracking backward, breadcrumb by breadcrumb. How did I end up with this good thing in my life…if I follow the thread back, where is the start of it? And is that something I can do again?
Anyway, it’s a lot more fulfilling than calculating how many calories I need to burn between now and December 31, 2018.
Happy new year,