Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Resolution(s)

This is the week I throw out my old spices. I'm not a good enough cook to use anything but the freshest ingredients; I need all the help I can get. This is also the week that I move the "wear me or toss me in here" bag into my closet. White shirts with ring-around-the-collar are always the first inhabitants. As soon as I put away the last of the holiday decorations I'll give the potting shed its annual cleansing. January may be long and dark and c-c-c-cold in the mornings but it's time for my Boris Badenov imitation -- out with the bad..... in with the good.

I made my first serious New Year's Resolution in graduate school in 1974. In truth, it was more of an assignment that I transformed into a resolution. Behaviorism - think B. F. Skinner rewarding pigeons for appropriate pecking - was all the rage and we were a class of skeptics until the professor had us create a personal program to change one of our own unwanted behaviors. I will not bite my nails became my credo, cans of Coca-Cola became my small rewards, and a manicure was awaiting me as I met my interim goal. Though the teacher's involvement in my personal renaissance sometimes felt creepy, the fact that I had the course requirement hanging there helped, I'm sure, to keep me focused.

I don't bite my nails anymore. I also make resolutions. Lately, I've also been keeping them.

My most successful resolution was also the most modest. Standing in the check out line at the best grocery store in Marin, shuffling my feet and wondering what could be taking so long, I felt the unpleasant aura of building rage. And I had to laugh. It was the middle of the week. I had no appointments, no errands, no family members depending on my speedy arrival, not even a book to read (the library was to be my next stop). Why did I care if I stood in a pleasing space for an extra 5 minutes or so? And yet I did care, deeply and profoundly and seriously and annoyingly. What would I do with the time I saved? Did my impatience create a speedier check-out experience? Probably not, since my glowering mood could be felt, no doubt, by all around me. Was I improving the world around me? Was I happier being antsy? All these no's and I don't know's and the anxious bubbling in the middle of my thorax (somewhere between my heart and my gut) created an epiphany. I was making myself and everyone around me crazy. I would stop. I would make it my First Official New Year's Resolution.

Two deep breaths and a car full of groceries later, it came to me that, perhaps, I was over-reaching just a touch. I'd always laughed and said "You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take New York out of the girl" whenever a Californian would wonder at my promptness or my quickness or my impatience. I lived with the New York minute as my standard, and I was making myself and everyone me crazy. Since that was the second time in 15 minutes that I'd had the same thought, I began to pay attention to the intention behind it.

I had no idea what it felt like to be patient. The notion of standing calmly in the presence of incompetence was foreign to my nature. I was unable to picture what it looked like to wait without writhing. Therefore, rather than trying to become patient, it seemed prudent to take a smaller first step. My First Official New Year's Resolution became: Examine the concept of patience.

Forced to consider the idea, I didn't allow myself to dismiss the behavior out of hand. I watched those who were patient, I took deep yoga breaths and plastered a smile on my face, I practiced saying "No, that's fine.... take your time" under my breath and even managed it aloud once or twice. And I meant it each time I said it.

Sure, I was always in a self-congratulatory mode after I'd restrained myself in a stupid situation, but what's wrong with a little self-praise every now and then. It's not like I was always successful and my arm was permanently bent from patting myself on the back. But this was a major change in the way I perceived the world, and I was proud of myself.

I'm still working on it; there are always people who don't do what I want them to do exactly when I want them to do it, after all. But I'm marginally better since I took the pledge to consider patience as a virtue, and the world is a better place because of it. (Believe me, it's true.... I am not a subtle person..... as the Cuters beg me to calm down, Mom I remember patience and try to smile.)

And that brings me to this year. TBG is turning 60 on Saturday. We are in a new decade. It's time to resolve.

I've written before about my admiration for Coach John Wooden. He's a wise man with almost 11 decades of experience to rely upon. There is no one who says a bad word about him. I was wrapping presents and missing my friends and my children and worrying about the future and feeling sad about the past when Coach Wooden quoted his favorite person:

"Mr. Lincoln said that people are generally as happy as they allow themselves to be."

That struck a chord in my heart. A man I respected was giving me advice. I was privileged to be in his presence (albeit on the television) and I ought to pay attention. He was saying that it was in my power to put a smile on my face.

The idea that I could be responsible for my own happiness is not a new one for me. It's deciding to make it so that's the basis of the resolution. I'm going to forcefully, intentionally, thoughtfully and regularly stop myself from looking at the dark side. I'm going to work on worrying less and enjoying the here and now more. I'm going to use some Rational Emotive Therapy and say - out loud, if necessary - "Stop it now!" when I sense myself wallowing.

I've taken the plan out for a trial run over the last few days, and I think there's a chance this one's a keeper. Of course, telling you all about it is bound to help too.

I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm, What a great resolution, "examining the conscience of Patience". It is so true, to be in a check-out line and in a hurry to go nowhere. Here's another version, "Have Patience with yourself"; my mother has said this to me many a time, usually during the winter when I've come down with a cold that turns into asthmatic Bronchitis. Now, by no means is this any husband has the patience of a saint, Always the cheery one, just showing his smile, focus on the positive, relax, let nature take it's course.
    Over the year's I've always asked everyone what their New Year's resolution is, yours are great.

    Enjoy the here and now, even if it's in small steps. Over the past year, I've been using my new digital camera to record the everyday events; things that make me smile.


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