When I think about the New Year and resolutions, I think about shame. I think about how every resolution I want to make is born from being mad at myself, for shaming myself into submission, for holding a measuring stick above my head and noting that I have not reached it yet. I focus my attention on what I haven’t done, what promises I made to myself which I promptly broke. Gym memberships discarded. Vegetables left rotting in refrigerators. Money spent recklessly. Routines and schedules scribbled in Moleskine’s. Writing schedules. Exercise schedules. Food plans. I am a work in progress whose progress is never recognized. And, it never ends. It spins and spins. Perfectionism isn’t a feverish need to be perfect, but is a paralyzing force that stops you from trying, because if it’s not going to be done perfectly, why do it at all?
I find that most of the grandeur in which I approach a life change is fueled by shame. The sequence of events is usually the same. Something will trigger a shameful feeling within me. I will get that sort of tightening in my chest which signifies I have completely gone into feeling ashamed of myself. I will quickly devise a plan which will start the following day and will exterminate this shameful feeling. The plan will be ostentatious, something I am certain I will fail at, but I will craft it without even thinking rationally about this sort of thing. (Shame is not rational, but I will completely forget that.) Shame will be soothed momentarily as I fantasize about myself carrying out this plan. The next day, I might follow my plan. Maybe I’ll stick to it for a week or two, but there will be a constant simmering of panic that will dictate my every move. And, soon enough, I will eschew my plan, convince myself I am rightful in my shame, and fall into a dip of depressive tendencies. Hopelessness. Frustration. That voice which tells me all my pain and suffering lies on the other side of my ability to follow through! Stick it out! Never give up!
The alleviation of shame is not a motivating factor. That’s the thing. That’s the only thing. I keep thinking it is and that’s my issue here. I make these grand plans only to find that I am not particularly motivated by getting rid of an emotion I no longer want to feel. It is not energizing at all. And, it puts me in a position where I am behind on myself already, trying to catch up. When I am fueled by shame, I am trying to outrun it. On the other hand, when I am fueled by love, I am empowered by it.
There is nothing particularly joyous about trying to outrun or escape a feeling. It’s like trying to not be in last place as the only goal. There is nothing triumphant about knocking yourself down long enough that it propels you to change just enough to get you back to normal. I find that shame keeps me down enough to pull me back to where I started in the first place. There is no growth. There is no forward movement. There is just getting back to where I once was before I assumed shame into my identity.
What I’ve started to do when that cheek-burning shame comes creeping back into my mind is I stop it directly in its tracks. I question it, rather than take it as fact. I look deeply into it, rather than take it as this surface-level admonition of my failings. I reveal it, rather than keep it hidden and thus lessening its power over me. And, then I say to myself, “How would I see this differently if I radically loved and accepted myself?” And truly, that changes my entire view of whatever triggered the shame. It’s like being afraid of the dark because you keep assuming there’s something lurking. You are too afraid to see what is creeping about. Then, you shine the light, you look around, and see there was nothing to fear at all. Just an assumption of fear. Just the fear that there is something to fear.
Shame will do that. It will take all manner of reason and rationalization away from you and let you fumble around in the darkness of your fear. It will tell you that you must be good enough. Not great. Not brilliant. Just good enough. Just acceptable enough.
So, as you go into 2015 and you resolve yourself to grand plans, remember to ask yourself whether your resolutions are being dictated by shame in yourself or by love for yourself. Because, you will never be brilliant if you’re too busy trying to extinguish shameful feelings. You can never truly step into the light if you’re too busy avoiding the dark. And, whatever you resolve to bring into 2015 better be that which is fueled by love for yourself. I know that’s what I will do. And, when we can resolve to start our new years with love, we are already beyond what we know we’re capable of. We are stepping into an unknown, a growth, a new frame of mind. Cheers to big things. Cheers to a life fueled by love.