I sat down at my kitchen table one recent afternoon and wrote a list in my journal of all the new lifestyle habits I’m trying to build, or have recently built. I came up with over 100 things. Some features were:
- Cook most of my meals, eat out less
- Meditate every day
- Make a green smoothie every day
- Find a better day job
- Always be early for appointments and deadlines
- Plan my day the night before
- Don’t compare myself to others
It took me a couple days to finish making the list—during a meal or shower, I would randomly remember another few things I’d been trying to tweak about myself. “No wonder I feel like I’m walking around in a fog of distraction,” I thought. Every little thing I would do during the day, I would second-guess and try to do differently—healthier—more mindfully.
My twelve-page list showed me how absurd I was being with all these self-improvement efforts. I eased off for the next week or so, only doing the bare minimum of tasks each day and not making as many lists. I tried to just live my life and be nice to myself. As I relaxed, I noticed that many list items I’d been struggling with for days or weeks would get effortlessly checked off. I was more productive when I was trying to do far less. After about a week passed, I made a new list with only ten things I would focus on doing every day—like writing, meditating, going to bed early, etc. But within two days, I felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall again.
In the background of this process, I read the book Yoga for Emotional Balance by psychologist and yoga therapist Bo Forbes. The book is for a 6-week “Yoga for Depression” workshop I will teach soon. When I started reading, I felt very inspired—making lots of new goals for how I would connect my mind and body to achieve a maximum sense of peace in a minimum amount of time. But as I read further, I saw how many of Forbes’ clients strong-armed themselves into making immediate positive change and then burned out a couple months later, losing their progress and feeling disillusioned. “I’m not like them,” I thought—until I made my list.
Bo Forbes says sudden change is inherently traumatic and largely unsustainable for the body and mind, even if it’s positive change. Working hard to create personal change by doing all the ‘right’ things can actually be counter-productive because it creates internal pressure that fuels negative patterns like anxiety or depression. A major takeaway point is: if it took years to ingrain negative patterns, it’s probably going to take years to replace them with positive patterns.
During the time I read the book, I also heard the song “In My Mind” by singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer on an episode of the advice podcast Dear Sugar Radio. For the episode, co-hosts Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond recorded a live session in front of an audience in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At one point, Amanda Palmer, a featured guest, breastfed her newborn baby on stage and sang “In My Mind” (her most listened-to song on Spotify). It begins with this chorus:
In my mind
In a future five years from now
I’m one hundred and twenty pounds
And I never get hung over
Because I will be the picture of discipline
Never minding what state I’m in
And I will be someone I admire
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened
Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to see
That I am not exactly the person that I thought I’d be
The song goes on to catalogue all the ways Amanda Palmer wishes she were different than she is, and then ends on a self-aware and existential note:
And in my mind
I imagine so many things
Things that aren’t really happening
And when they put me in the ground
I’ll start pounding the lid
Saying I haven’t finished yet
I still have a tattoo to get
That says I’m living in the moment
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this, win this fight
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be
After making my insanely long list, reading Bo Forbes book, and listening to Amanda Palmer’s song, I had a realization: there are no silver bullets to health and happiness, and constantly chasing them will only ruin my life. That truth is sort of depressing, but also enormously freeing. So now I have only one New Year’s resolution: to be nice to myself and enjoy my life exactly the way it is.
Kelsey Crow is a writer and yoga teacher living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with a B.A. in English from Boise State University, and during those four years of college, she practiced academic tourism — studying English literature at University of St Andrews in Scotland and creative writing at University of Washington in Seattle. She loves traveling, cooking, having deep conversations, and Pinterest-ing.