Jason and I often tell people that more than anything else, we are in the business of change, and there is no time of year when change is more in the forefront than the new year. This past week, I keep hearing the sentiment, “I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. They never stick.” There’s nothing wrong with that thought, but as it seems to become common wisdom, I thought it might be time to offer a different perspective.
Every year in our house we make some kind of impactful major change, intentionally. It’s a part of our New Year tradition. Every year, especially now that the our kids are teenagers, we spend much of holiday break deciding, together, what that change will look like.
In my early twenties, when I started this, it was with all the misguided hopes and confused motivations that we tend to associate with the dreaded ‘New Year Resolution.’ “This year, I am going to change all the things I want to change. I’ll become the things I want to be, and maybe, if I’m good enough and smart enough and strong enough, I’ll keep all the changes I made forever.” And of course, every year, I made some change I believed in, stayed the course for a while, then started to drift back toward whatever I was like on December 31.
It’s true that change doesn’t happen all at once, in a sudden fit of determination, just like wounds don’t heal overnight and plants don’t grow in a day. Change is growth, and growth happens over time.
However, as I moved on from my college-aged mindset and into someone with a little more distance from those ‘failures’ I began to realize a few things.
1. Changing your life, intentionally, drastically, all at once feels good.
It’s like spring cleaning. Nothing helps you get your head around the fact that you can start all over again whenever you want like just scrapping a thing that isn’t working, or throwing yourself headlong into something you’ve always wanted to do.
One year, I decided I was going to try a new workout. I loved the arcade, and I loved the game Dance Dance Revolution. I’d get off the machine, many quarters lighter, flushed and sweating and we would always remark that it was too bad I couldn’t use DDR for a regular workout – think how far I’d be able to run with that kind of cardio! When stores started to sell ‘Dance Mats’ for home use, soft vinyl pads that you would jump on to control the game, we bought one immediately and discovered that while they were fun for Friday night with friends, they would not stand up to the wear and tear of daily workout. Ours burned out in a week, and I was back where I started.
So, we took on a major project. We found plans online, and out of scraps of pegboard, sheet metal, plexiglass, and 2x4s, we built a giant, heavy, beautiful permanent dance mat. I did that workout for eight months, and loved every minute, before the impact caused me to injure my back in a way that meant my days of everyday DDR were over, probably for good.
Did we waste our time? It cost more money than our college budget could comfortably spare to build that thing, even with all the scrap material in it. Eight months, though, that’s a pretty good run. Let’s imagine I worked out on the thing for a month or two, then threw in the towel. Was that a waste?
I’ll never forget the weeks we spent together, figuring out how to build that monstrosity, and making expensive mistakes until we got it right. That project, and all the other projects like it, were how we cemented the marriage that has carried us to the major project that became Arcade. Not only that, in the past, when I decided to undergo some exciting new workout (I’m reminded of the time I impulse-bought a set of Tae Bo VHS tapes from an infomercial, much to Jason’s grumbling disapproval) it was on my own. But after all the work that went into that dance pad, Jason was there dancing beside me, or coming in the door from class and cheering me on. That’s, I’m sure, part of what contributed to that eight month success. Because…
2. Change connects us to the people we change with.
That’s part of why now, I bring the kids in on the game. When we work together, it gives us common ground, something to talk about that is relevant to us all, and helps us understand one another better, regardless of whether the change sticks or works out the way we thought it would.
If we turn our attention, one more time, to the dance pad project, there’s another element of that project that was worthwhile, all on its own. It was our first time playing with electronics. We had to pull a playstation controller apart and solder leads to pads on the circuit board inside it. We learned so much building that project, and then continued to learn, both about better ways we could have constructed the dance pad, about the way the DDR software worked, about how to better play the game, and about how to go about getting better at playing the game without pulling muscles or getting hurt.
3. We learn a lot from change.
One of our annual changes was to try out a vegan lifestyle for 3 months. When we did it, we knew at the outset that we weren’t planning to live vegan long term. I was dealing with some medical concerns, and wanted to find out, elimination style, which foods were and weren’t contributing to my situation. So, in January, we got rid of all the animal products in the house, and for three months, we ate no animal products.
Every step of the way, we talked through it with the kids – discussing the difficulties of changing the way you eat, watching documentaries about food and our bodies, we learned so much about how our bodies process different foods, and about nutrition in general.
We also learned a lot of practical things. I still have vegan recipes that I make, because I prefer them that way. My non-vegan kids will still pass on mayonnaise every time in favor of the not-really-objectively-healthier Vegannaise. To this day, if I am baking and find I’m out of eggs, I know how and when to substitute flax or apple. That’s not a skill I had before our vegan adventure.
We also learned about things we didn’t like. I think there’s some sort of magic in store-bought Vegan marshmallows, because despite several terribly failed attempts, I have found that I am quite incapable of making a passable Vegan marshmallow!
We had a year that we cut all the processed food out of our diet, just for a little while. The goal wasn’t to stop eating any and all processed foods forever, it was to hit the reset button and learn a thing or two that we’d bring forward with us. If the goal had been to irrevocably change our habits, forever, then we’d consider that New Year’s Resolution to have been a failure. That would discount the things we learned (different things from the vegan year) about our bodies and nutrition, the long conversations we had with our kids about the world we live in and the choices we make, the foods that both our kids discovered that were better than what they’d have chosen before. We didn’t stop eating processed foods forever, but we learned things, we connected with each other, and we had something interesting to occupy us through the long, dark months of the winter.
This year, with our daughter in her first year of high school and coming up against all kinds of realizations about her society and the world, we are undertaking an exercise in mindfulness. We’re reading bits and pieces of several books that we’re sharing with one another, passing around the wisdom we find and talking about why it speaks to us. The kids are learning about meditation, and the value, in this noisy, device-cluttered world, of learning to just quiet their minds for a few minutes in the morning and evening. Our daughter turns fifteen next month, and I am so keenly aware of the value of the conversations we are having.
We started Sunday morning off reading a chapter of a book about women’s wellbeing. She is not so different from your average teenager in the sense that if I sat her down and said, “Talk to me about your feelings on being a woman in society.” She’d just shrug and say, “I don’t know.” But after two pages of the book, she was jumping into the conversation with both feet. “That’s just like this time at school when…” We sat at the kitchen table for an entire day, Jason getting up at intervals to make another batch of fresh coffee (oh yes, he was entirely engaged in the women’s wellbeing discussion!) until it got dark.
Will we continue reading all these mindfulness books, or meditating regularly all year long? Probably not. Does that mean that this change was a failure? What do you think?
We spend the vast majority of our working hours helping businesses (and the people who work there) to find their way through change, and it’s easy to feel like if we can’t immediately and irrevocably make the changes we think we want to make, there’s no point in venturing forth. But when we think that way, we’re discounting the things we learn, the things we realize about what we do and don’t think and want, and the way new ideas can come, even out of a shake up that didn’t work out remotely the way we planned.
I read an article recently about the ineffectiveness of exercise on losing weight. The basic idea was that if we can’t hope to lose more than 5 pounds a month through exercise, what’s the point? The point is the journey, the point is that doing something to make a change is always better than doing nothing about a situation that isn’t working, the point is that 5 pounds a month for a year is a non-trivial 60 pounds, and the point is that life is about a series of explorations.
Ready to go exploring? We’d love to help you find a Way!