Wouldn’t it be great if we could neatly close out chapters in our lives before moving onto the next one? You know, resolve all relationship issues and put lingering conflicts with family to rest and take a nice predictable staircase up to enlightenment?
Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that especially because our ideas about closure usually involve a very specific response from someone else. We want answers. We want to make amends or apologies and be forgiven. Or we want someone to ask us for forgiveness. But hanging our personal growth on someone’s very specific response is never going to work and focusing on our need for that response can keep us stuck in one place focusing on one thing.
Really what we need is not closure but understanding. We need to make sense of the events in our lives, which doesn’t mean figuring out why this person or that person treated us badly. The truth is, understanding why someone treated us badly — hearing them explain it — will be an empty exercise if we haven’t worked towards our own resolution.
In theory, it sounds great. Someone comes to us and says, “I was a jerk and here is why. I’m sorry. I should have been kinder.” But very few people outside of 12-step programs are going to do that. Besides if we aren’t ready to forgive someone then his or her apology won’t mean anything to us.
We need to grieve our losses and process our pain. We need to make sense of what that bad treatment means to us regardless of what it means to the person who treated us badly. We need to learn how to live with hurts that can’t be undone.
We also need to understand that making sense of our lives is an ongoing exercise. You may have resolved childhood hurts in your twenties only to have them come back up when you have children in your thirties. You may resolve them when your children arrive only to have them come back up once again two decades later when your children move out. It’s like when you read The Great Gatsby in tenth grade and you don’t get it then you dust it off years later and it’s whole different book. That’s how life is.
Once you accept that there are rarely — if ever — tidy resolutions then you can quit banging your head against the wall demanding them and start making sense of the events of your life.
As we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.
There’s no such thing as failure
Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.
Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.
There is no one way to “eat right”
We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.
Going beyond dieting
If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.
You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.
Stay in it for the long-term
Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.
Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.