Posted by Kay.
Sitting on a sofa full of clutter and a belly a little rounder than it was before Christmas, I’m writing ‘The New Year Post’.
I’d planned on being all full of inspiration, having zestfully discussed with Thandie how great it would be to write a post that’s about celebrating who got you here, who you already are, rather than a mythical ‘new you’ that everyone else will find so much better than this you. You know-that one you actually are, right here, right now, yes- you.
Having stalled all day after getting up late, I went to the gym in search of endorphins and epiphanies but instead found a rather sweatless workout and a realisation of zero new year’s eve plans.
Truth be told, I’m not feeling at all qualified to be Miss Inspiration 2014 today but I’m also thinking that perhaps that’s just fine.
I’m someone who’s been buying into the belief of a ‘whole new you’ since my early teens but I’ve either let go of it or it’s let go of me, for as I type I’m actually sat on said cluttered sofa eating a big old hunk of Manchego (cheese), which is awfully high in fat apparently and although it’s hit my stomach like a thump, I don’t feel that bad about it and for me that’s progress.
You see back in the (low calorie) day, post-Christmas I’d be in full self-flagellation mode by now, sliding fast down slippery slope lane and heading first left onto lockdown at Casa Nil-By-Mouth.
Water-soluble , non-starch vegetables and the very odd treat of sliced apple aside, once the festive feaster’s Christmas window closed there followed the ‘sage-like forager to get me back on the right track’ diet and on the last day of yet another imperfect year, I could rely on women’s media to enable me all the way to the promised land of better-ness in the cruel days of lycra pre-spanx.
These promises of a ‘new you’ clearly assume there is something wrong with the ‘previous you’. Well regardless of who/whatever you really are and who/whatever you think ‘you’ should be, may I just be that little voice that says how about focusing on your achievements this year rather than how you could do ‘better’, and celebrating what has got you this far- because I’m telling myself the exact same thing right now, and every day too. It’s far easier to know what to discard what doesn’t work for you, attract opportunities and glide through challenges when you are kind to yourself. In my experience, setting overly high expectations and high physical goals, however attractive they may seem at the time, are more likely to create the environment for failure. Unless you are an unusually alpha person of course and in that case I’m just a bit jealous.
After all what is ‘improvement’ and what will happen to us-how will our lives be different when we become ‘improved’? Will we be more popular, more loved, be more creatively fulfilled?
Hold on you may say, isn’t it positive to have goals, hopes and dreams?
There’s always a place for these. It’s just that the fabric of expectation can be brittle and involves postponement of being in the moment and missing out on the present. I find it powerful to be aware that this is it: your life is right here and right now.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” TS Eliot. Four Quartets.
Traditionally for women, ‘being better’ usually begins by starting a new two syllable word beginning with a d. We so want to believe it will be the solution to our woes that there’s long been a dysfunctional marriage between us and the billion dollar dieting market, the underlying message being: control your appetite and be in control of your life.
Now as a grown up in my mid-forties, I find it anathema that women are in any way encouraged to reduce all of themselves-quite literally- to merely the physical.
Well in my twenties I was in control and it looked like this:
I proved that I have the discipline to diet-even starve. I proved that I can run an hour a day. I proved that I can cut all that is delicious and enjoyable out of my diet. I used to spend all of my energy on this instead of actually living, imperfectly.
Surprise surprise, I didn’t move forward in any area of my life, I was no bundle of laughs and was stuck, and who exactly was I doing this for-a pair of skinny or whatever jeans we were wearing then? I don’t quite recognise that girl now..
When I first heard the phrase ‘you can choose to be happy’ it really bugged me-in fact it pissed me right off. Some kind of switch you can click on at will? Wooly blanket umbrella cod psychology. Pah. But that’s the humility of age, things get greyer, there is more chaos, and there is more acceptance that this is the environment we must learn to navigate within rather than feel a failure by attempting to manifest the falsehoods of ‘perfection’ and being ‘in control’. One of my favourite British words- ‘Bollocks’ springs to mind whenever I think of ‘perfection’.
‘No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time” James Baldwin.
I’ve come to understand that there’s certainly some truth in this choosing to be happy business, as much research into the neural pathways reveal.
Phillipa Perry writes in her book ‘How To Stay Sane ‘The meanings you find, and the stories you hear, will have an impact on how optimistic you are: it’s how we evolved. If you do not know how to draw positive meaning from what happens in life, the neural pathways you need to appreciate good news will never fire up. The trouble is, if we do not have a mind that is used to hearing good news, we do not have the neural pathways to process such news.” Read about neural pathways, brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity or cortical remapping here
As years have gone by I’ve become more aware that the only compass you can rely on is the one that you develop yourself, and that our thoughts are simply a reactive interpretation, coloured by every experience we’ve ever had and ‘viewed’ via that lens. I’ve found this to be very helpful whenever I have a strong reaction towards anything or anyone.
Do you read the type of magazines that the 2 parodies (pictured) are based upon and do you feel better about yourself after reading them? Are there people around you who are echoing your strengths or are they being critical? As for the ever present television, five years ago I stopped watching terrestrial TV (I cherry pick & watch online now) because I found it had a negative impact on me as very little media mirrors my values or assumes I have much of a brain, therefore like people, we all have a choice to let it be a part of our lives or not, making more space for quality time with loved ones and being inspired by ideas that make our hearts and minds soar.
So I’ll get up off my sofa, perhaps even tidy it up, go to Pilates, make my green juice and drink it but not to be someone else’s idea of perfect, but because for the most part I now like who I am, non-thin thighs and all.
I simply cannot afford to waste this valuable life being a failed version of someone else. And hopefully in moderation I will continue to enjoy my goat’s cheese, Green & Black’s Almond chocolate and drink red wine. Sounds just perfect,
Cartoon from brainpickings.com
Thandie and Kay by Billie Scheepers