If January is the month of optimism and hope expressed in New Year's resolutions, February is the month of commitment (and not just because of Valentine's Day). It is the month when we have to dig deeper. The demands of life are encroaching. Our old patterns of behavior are reasserting themselves, looking for a foothold. Our results may be shaky or slowing, diminishing the fuel of instant gratification. Whatever the goals and resolutions riding on the tides of a new year and a clean slate, the real tests of your dedication and tenacity are on their way if they are not already here.
What is lovely about this moment is that it is a microcosm of our experience anytime we set out on a journey to create something new in our lives. Our thoughts can trap us in familiar loops where we feel in control - we know how to be angry, struggling, content, mediocre, getting by. Stepping out of those loops requires trust in ourselves and the belief that we can create the future we want.
Progress also requires us to forgive ourselves for being imperfect. It requires us to recognize and address the self-imposed limitations that are shaping our thinking and actions. Oprah Winfrey dedicates several chapters in The Path Made Clear (2019) to developing courage and persistence. Here are a few of my favorite passages and ideas on how to reframe your thinking, dig deeper, and overcome the pull to throw in the towel and settle for the ways things are.
"There will always be setbacks. What you are experiencing is a detour. It's not the end of the road. You've got to be prepared to fail up."
I am obsessed with this language - failing up. How freeing and motivating it is to know that even when we fall, we are learning something new that becomes the building block for our next success. Reframing our setbacks as detours, not terminal events in our journey, makes space for a completely different conversation and choice set.
"Well, look what came down the road today. I wonder what this will produce. I wonder what we'll learn from this."
Life is full of imperfections. For many of us, our automatic response is the "Oh Crap" conversation. Life is in constant flow, and we get to control very little of it. That is why this shift from our danger, fear, disaster response to a thoughtful and openness response is extraordinary for our mental well being. When life unfolds differently than we expected or we slip up, seizing that moment with the grace of wonder and learning can be transformative.
"How am I making things more difficult than they need to be?"
Everyone overcomplicates. Many years ago, fluid on my Dad's heart and lungs landed him in the hospital. We live in different states, requiring me to suspend everything in my life in Louisville to be at his side. I was away for a week or more without a thought to my business life. All the busyness and demands of work became silent. When I returned home, I started anew, as picking up where I'd left off was impossible. Realizing the unnecessary importance I'd given to things at work was palpable at that moment. I wanted to hold onto that clarity, and yet I was soon back in the rhythm of the life I knew, where minor things carried the power and weight of the essential.
Simplicity is a practice honed through reflective questions such as this one. When we struggle or lose momentum, it is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves this question and shift our focus to a simpler path forward.
"The more important the activity you are pursuing is to your evolution as a person, the more resistance you will feel to it."
I close with this reminder that change requires effort. Take heart when struggles emerge and know that they portend meaningful change.