Beating those January Blues
Apparently the most depressing day of the year is January 20th. To be honest I find all of January challenging and it seems to be contagious.
Getting back into the swing of work after time off can feel like a chore, especially if we’ve got used to afternoon movies and buckets of Quality Street. Our collective melancholy is compounded by the weather – certainly in the UK. It’s cold, wet and although we’ve passed the shortest day, it’s still getting dark by about 3pm. Little wonder that so many people book their summer holiday at the start of January.
In addition, by the third week of the year two things have also probably happened. First, the credit card bill has arrived which, if we have overspent in December can be painful. And second, The New Year’s Resolutions that promised a new start, a better you and a more exciting 2020 are long gone.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the failure rate for New Year's Resolutions is about 80 percent, and most of the especially determined 20 percent lose their resolve by mid-February.
We may not be able to do much about the weather, but we can certainly do something about our New Year’s Resolutions. And to do so we need to appreciate the nature of change. When we try to change too much too quickly it’s likely to fail.
In Washington DC, during the 1970s a white tiger called Mohini lived in the National Zoo. After years living in a small cage Mohini was transferred to a new enclosure with open space, trees and a pond. Her keepers were excited for her and believed Mohini would thrive in her new home. But she didn’t. She didn’t explore, she didn’t visit the pond or run in the open space, instead Mohini confined herself to a space roughly the size of her old cage and continued to paced back and forth.
Most of us will read that story and feel sad for Mohini, completely oblivious that we may be surprisingly similar - trapped in a small cage of our own behavior patterns and ingrained habits. Occasionally, if we are lucky, we get a glimpse of these patterns and resolve to change them but when we seek to change too many of them or we seek to make really big changes too quickly we may be setting ourselves up to fail.
New Year’s Resolutions are a terrible idea. They don’t work. All they do is create the conditions where we get to feel even worse about ourselves in January! Will power is no match for entrenched behavior patterns and ingrained habits.
We might imagine ourselves in a completely different life – the equivalent of Mohini’s lush, expansive new enclosure but if we really want to reach that new reality, we need to forget about the big sexy resolutions and instead focus on making small, daily incremental shifts that expand our possibilities over time.
If Mohini’s keepers had increased the space she had access to gradually, perhaps with the help of rewards she would probably have flourished. And the same is true for us.
Sure, change can happen in an instant but it tends to be stickier when it’s incremental. Change happens minute by minute through what we do and also what we chose not to do. It can come via a timely reminder to consider an alternative perspective, a tiny nudge toward gratitude or offering up kindness instead of judgement.
This recognition was the reason I wrote the ‘Meee in a Minute’ books.
Too often we are focused on the myth that change must be big and showy, flashing neon resolutions that we can post on Facebook or share on LinkedIn or Instagram. The opposite is almost always more productive and long lasting. As a result, each book contains a collection of life hacks, advice, insights, science, stories, short exercises or thought experiments and quotes that can help improve your life, work and family in a minute. Bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that are easy to read and accessible without having to wade through dense chapters.
Sometimes when we are feeling blue, whether we are suffering from the January blues or any other type, all we really need is something to break the circuit, disrupt the negativity just long enough to allow some light to flood in. It’s almost always a slight shift in thinking that in turn allows us to access our best self again. Little nudges that, over time can make the change we want a reality in our life, work or family.
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