No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
Epictetus – Discourses Chap. xv.
Arbitrary though it is I send you all New Years greetings and a vision for a year rich with vibrancy and well being.
Well said wisdom from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. I imagine most of you have thoughts about the year ahead, be they definite resolutions with concrete goals and aspirations or simply a vague hope of doing better in what matters to you. I am not big on New Years resolutions and instead seek to cultivate a attitude of renewal on a more continual basis. At the same time I appreciate the markings of a year and seasons to take pause and recalibrate one’s compass. The winter solstice is one of the periods of reflection and recalibration in my life. Winter herself has always felt to me to be not a languid or lethargic time as it seems to be for so many, but rather a season of transformation, like the womb of a cocoon. It is a time in which one can come to live more in accord with nature and one’s values; seizing each day with determination, fortitude, and life giving joyful discipline.
A common mistake I see many make in their intentions, amplified this time every frigging year to the point of pathetic, is charging full on with exaggerated strides and a punitive flurry towards whatever aspirations they have, only to crash into burnout and frustration, followed by excuses and quitting. One should not feel too bad if this sounds familiar as our culture uses every trick it has to suggest to us that is the correct method for near instantaneous results.
That approach doesn’t work. It will never work. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for intensives and immersing oneself deeply into a practice be it getting in shape, learning a language, overcoming a vice but these are very periodic surges which can not be sustained. What counts, what works, is as Nietzsche said, ”…a long obedience in the same direction, there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” That is the essential thing.
So be it now at the start of this ‘new year’ or any time along your path, here is the best wisdom I can give you to take responsibility for yourself:
•Begin with creating a vision of what you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to do. Keep it in your mind, write it down in a journal, draw a picture, put up a poster, all the above, whatever works for you. It should reflect your “life philosophy’. This vision comes readily. What follows is the interval between this moment and that ‘arrival.’ The key is to Perceive, Behave, Become…as I’ve spoken of on this blog more than once.
•Secondly, consider, even write down what the core values and virtues are which will support your vision and what benefits they will bring.
•Next is putting it all to action. Frankly I’m not impressed with the idea that its all about ‘intention’. Intention is no more than a recipe setting on the counter. One has to start putting together the ingredients and cooking. This is where most people fail. They try to get in shape in a hour, learn spanish in a day, lose 40 pounds of fat in a week of deprivation, shift from the life of a sluggish sloth to a disciplined shaolin warrior overnight. This is not a life giving empowering discipline that will purify and build. This is punitive ignorance on a trajectory of failure. True discipline liberates. It will enable more joy, more accomplishment, more happiness. You should feel its energizing effect. If you are feeling defeated and dread you have likely pushed too hard too much too soon.
Incremental Progression/Kaizen: This is the means by which you get from here to there. Steps, usually very small steps are the means to the summit. Consistency, Fortitude, Continuity… the Long Obedience. Set this out and stay consistent, break down the steps. This is the sure fire way to move towards that summit and become the person you have envisioned. Know that it won’t be a straight line or always one pace. Keep facing that direction and keep moving no matter the experience of setbacks.
An exercise from the ancient Stoics you might find helpful:
Seize the Day
Morning ~ Begin each day as you arise out of bed with a Carpe diem attitude. Take the time early in your morning flow to set down and reflect upon a quote or reading to infuse your day. You might even consider some time in meditation to let it percolate into your consciousness. Next look ahead and think on what you want to accomplish that day and more importantly how you will be. How you will respond to the challenges, difficult people and situations, your own finitude, and any curves balls that might occur.
Evening ~ At the end of your day right before you retire to bed take a few minutes again and think upon or even write down how you did that day without loathing for any slips on the path. They are no more than fodder to produce improvement. Secondly, look ahead and resolve how you will practice and live out your vision the next day.
Here is to your excellence for every day in the year ahead. -Coach Sheader