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  • Writer's pictureJesse Mahan

How I fail every New Year

A month into the new year and who’s already using white out on the ole New Year’s resolution list? No worries, I’m raising my hand here too. Whether I bit off more than I could chew or I mismanaged my time, it never fails that by February I've already missed the mark. The early months of the new year are always particularly tough. Closing out the year prior and goal setting for the year to come, balancing out my professional and personal life, its both amazing and terrifying to see what was and wasn’t accomplished with my last 8,760 hours.

From an outsider’s perspective, its easy to guess that I’ve managed to systematically eliminate stress from most areas of my life. Social media can sure make it seem that way. I’m blessed to work with talented and motivated people at my store, I have a supportive partner who fills the gaps where I fall short at home, and I’d knock on wood to say that things haven’t been too difficult lately.

And yet, I find myself falling back into the same anxious thoughts of whether I gave enough effort last year, if I managed my time right, if my goals are too big this year, and how I’ll find enough time between what I want and need to get done.

It becomes a tug-of-war between the past and the future, causing a sort of action paralysis in the present.

Cue the “motivational” mantras from all of the Positive-Polly’s in my life:

“Celebrate your wins!”

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!”

“The best is yet to come!”

I get it, I love the energy…but it lacks sustainability.

This action paralysis often creates an enemy of myself. I know that I ought to shake it off and put my nose to the grindstone, remembering that “progression is better than perfection”, but that’s easier said than done..and besides, if my mind worked like that all the time I’d be writing motivational self-help books by the dozen like John Maxwell. Instead, here I am letting it out on a couple pages online for twenty of my nosiest peers to read.

Recently in a Tim Ferriss podcast I heard a quote from Alan Watts that posed an answer to my problem here,

“I have realized that the past and future are really illusions…that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

This inspired a blissful moment of imagination, enjoying the present and waving off the future and past as one might shoo a distracting little gnat on a summer’s eve.

Certainly I could benefit from whatever Mr. Watts was dishing out right about now. With the fiscal end to our year of business looming, report after report of results are flying off the printer and as my whole team awaits “the plan”. Even at home we’re looking over the previous semester and course-correcting to finish out the spring strong with our boys. Again I’m left wondering how I can deliver on such lofty goals as both an employer and a father, having missed several goals the prior year? I find it hard to ignore the illusions that Watts describes.

Then the following day, as life loves to throw you a bone in case you missed the first, I heard another quote from The Daily Stoic podcast famously delivered by Seneca,

“We suffer more in imagination than reality.”

I like my quotes like I like my life, simple. Driving the nail that Alan Watts had already started in my head the day prior, I realized that my obstacle was my own mind. Sure, I may not have checked off every goal last year, but that has no effect on my ability to do so this year. And again, why create the narrative for that which hasn’t yet happened when I am writing that story with the actions of today? If I am to knock out this new year’s resolution list, or any of my goals for that matter, the most important asset at my disposal is time, and that cannot be wasted caught up in the wrong tense.

So, what does this leave me with, other than a few trivia-night quotes from Watts and Seneca? A poor excuse to put off meditation for another year. Being February, it obviously wont make my resolution list, but given the clear benefits of this mindfulness practice towards building awareness and attention in the moment, there’s a very clear case for making meditation more than just a goal on another list and giving the practice priority in my daily schedule. Besides, in Buddhism, meditation is considered to be the only path to the cessation of suffering—and why suffer through the new year with such a simple commitment as meditation.

Going forward, I intend to commit twenty minutes a day to the practice. In the morning I will set my focus and intention, sacrificing only the meaningless scrolling that currently serves as the distraction from my tendency to fortune tell the future each day. In the evening, I will briefly review the day and reflect before flipping the switch on the past in my mind so I can enjoy the final restful moments before sleep. New to the practice, I still find guided meditations helpful. Insight timer, Calm, and many other apps make this process seamless and accessible to newcomers like myself. For more advanced research into the art and practice of meditation, Sam Smith has put out impressive amounts of quality content on the subject.

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