It’s that time of year again. Time for a New Year and a New You! We can now take advantage of that glorious reset button, join a gym, resolve to be better and make our problems go away.
If you detect a touch of sarcasm in there, you would be correct. New Year’s resolutions might be the most notorious for NOT creating change. We all know that Januarys’ overcrowded gyms will be empty again in February.
The timing is not the problem.
What if how we talk and think is the reason we don’t really change?
Change is hard – or is it?
When I reflect on my own life, I have made monumental changes that had nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions. I left a well-paying job to take a chance on the startup firm Results Based Leadership. (Steve Snyder and I talk about this in my podcast Episode 2 coming out January 21) We moved from the big city to the tiny town of Lake Lure in Western North Carolina. Soon thereafter, I became an entrepreneur, a painter, and a potter. I navigated the drug addiction of my daughter Jen, largely by changing my responses to my own guilt and fears. (She survived and now helps other parents help themselves heal so they can help their children heal.) None of these happened in January.
In fact, none of these happened in a moment in time. Every big change I made started with a string of words– followed by tiny steps that can only be described as the equivalent of drips into a bucket of water that will eventually overflow.
My biggest changes have not come from setting a goal, but in creating an intention. Goals feel like they need a plan. Intention sets up a different expectation around how you get there.
In my case, many of these changes can be traced back to a simple statement I made (almost without thinking) over ten years ago: “I would really like to see where this water skiing thing can take me.” Never underestimate the power of your words.
Seriously…did I just say that?
Standing at a reception with a Wall Street firm after a great day of teaching, one of the members of the client team asked me “where do you want to go next?”. What came out of my mouth shocked me as much as it did her: “I would really like to see where this water skiing thing can take me.” Since I was in my mid-forties, not an athlete and certainly not aspiring to be a professional in a sport where professionals make little money, this was a pretty absurd thing to say. Today I am so grateful that she asked that question, because it sparked the words that have ignited so much more than water skiing.
Reflecting on that exchange all these years later, I’m reminded of the power of declarations. I said it out loud, and skiing suddenly became an intention. Had I looked at it from a logical standpoint that evening, I might have censored such a crazy statement. After all, skiing would take me away from work, making a living, family and all of those other “higher priorities.” However, saying it out loud began a positive chain reaction.
The following year, after being on the road almost constantly, I took a 3-month sabbatical in the summer mainly to – you guessed it – ski! At the end of that sabbatical I started a tradition of writing about skiing and what I was learning about myself on the water. My annual card was also an opportunity to share my growth as a watercolor artist and for several years, I mailed out an annual reflection on water skiing with my latest paintings. It seemed like a great way to stay in contact with the people who had meaningfully touched my life, plus it created a sort of accountability to paint, to ski and to write. Ok, I didn’t need any accountability on skiing – I was going to do that no matter what!
That skiing declaration led to good things…
What did all that skiing get me looking back on the last decade? Oh, let me count the ways! My physical fitness has never been better. Slalom skiing is a demanding sport and at 61, I’m in significantly better shape than I was at 35, or even 25. Internally, I’ve made several internal shifts, going from someone who really wanted to get it right the first time, saw no need to improve what I already “knew”, and hated repetition to someone who loves to practice, revels in repetition and can let go of my mistakes in an instant (the ski course has a way of eliciting that last trait). Instead of needing to know, learning is now the norm. None of that happened instantly. In fact, in many cases, it happened with me kicking and screaming!
I’ve discovered that how you do anything is how you do everything, and that sometimes it is easier to make a difficult internal shift in a different domain.
Getting comfortable with “not knowing” opened the door for me to try pottery, something I would never have had the patience for before. Intention also led to my husband and I to purchase a 162-acre camp with a lake on it…to ski! (The story of how that all came to be will be written someday -and if you pick up the phone or send me an email, I will happily tell it.)
Eventually, my newfound openness to learning whatIthoughtIalreadyknew led me to delivering a TEDx talk in 2015, something I practiced hundreds of times before going on the stage – only after getting really, really clear on what I was trying to say about the power of assuming positive intent.
My ending line in that talk was “…the positive intent that you are assuming will actually become positive intent, and you might just become the co-writer of an entirely new story for your life.”
Write your story without fear
What surprised me about my story of blurting out the thing about water skiing is this: I hadn’t set a big goal. After that night, I didn’t really think about what I had said. There was never a plan. What I said was definitely not to impress anyone. Without a goal, plan or anyone to check me out, I was less likely to fall prey to my need to be perfect. I had to get over a lot of fear to learn to run the ski course. My journey was anything but a straight line. I just made a declaration and kept skiing. Words and actions.
Words and actions weave our life stories. When our words and actions match, we feel whole and complete. When they don’t, we know something is off, even if we can’t put our finger on why it’s off.
Here’s the thing about great stories. They never happen in a straight line. Great stories have twists and turns and conflict and choices and moments of truth. Great stories happen all year long.
What story are you writing for your life right now? What are the twists and turns you have already experienced? Where do you desire something more than you fear it? (That question comes from David Benzel, who will be on my Creative Spirits Unleashed podcast in March.) What must you do to bring your actions into alignment with your words? What is the next sentence in your story?
Be on the lookout for Episode 1 of the Creative Spirits Unleashed Podcast, debuting on January 7th. In my inaugural episode called “Passion, Pets, People and Photography”, Julie Gould and I explore her encore careers (yes, that’s plural), how to find the catch lights, the challenges of saying no and so much more. I hope you will tune in and tell your friends about it too!