Newsletter – Intentions – Choices – Response-ability
In the first month of a new year, you may still be full of resolve – or wish to be – about new directions, new choices you want to commit to in the coming year.
I’ll try to provide some useful practical tips here for sustaining the motivation to sustain that resolve, so that heartfelt intentions truly lead to wise choices and a strengthened response-ability to manifest those choices in an ever-changing and ever-challenging world.
[Note: After ten years and 120 consecutive monthly e-newsletters (all archived and freely downloadable), I’m choosing to present these monthly newsletters in a new format.
Fully one third of these newsletters have been reviews of cutting-edge books on resources for recovering resilience, from Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman to The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, to Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You From Your Inner Critic by Mark Coleman. A good way for me to keep up with evolving research, concepts, and tools in the field. All presented in the format of Reflections, Poetry and Quotes to Inspire, Stories to Learn From, Exercises to Practice, and Resources to help you develop skills, and trust in your skills, too.
My own second book, Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, will be published by New World Library in September 2018. And so I’m choosing to preview many of the concepts and tools of that toolkit in this year’s newsletters, all meant to help you perceive and respond wisely to the challenges and AFGO’s (another frickin’ growth opportunity) of your life in the coming months.]
A Wee Bit of Brain Science
Every decision your brain makes takes metabolic energy. Conscious reflection, weighing options, takes energy. Being indecisive, ping-ponging among pro’s and con’s without coming to resolution, takes energy. We save energy by following our habits, the behavior patterns already encoded in our neural circuitry, minimal energy needed to set a choice of action in motion.
The brain starts out with a good amount of energy in the morning, if it has rested well overnight. A good night’s sleep allows the brain to consolidate learning from the day before into long-term memory, and allows the brain to re-absorb the stress hormone cortisol from the activities of the day before, re-setting the nervous system to start a new day re-balanced and refreshed.
We prioritize the use of the brain’s energy by making important decisions early in the day – this is a well-documented skillful practice – saving less demanding tasks for later in the day and “mindless” tasks for the “rest and restore” evening portion of the day. We harness the brain’s energy most efficiently when we are in a “flow” state – the sweet spot between stress and boredom. We waste the brain’s energy when we spend too much time in multi-tasking. The pace of decision making when multi-tasking, no matter how much we enjoy the satisfaction of believing we are efficient, actually sends the brain into “brain fog” after 60-90 minutes. It’s essential to reset the brain every 60-90 minutes anyway. If we are focused on tasks for long periods of time, whether in flow – one sustained focus – or in the rapid shifting of multi-tasking – a more shifting, fragmented focus – we need to take a break, get up, walk around, drink some tea or pet the dog, and let the brain re-calibrate itself before it gets back to work again.
Exercise: Change Every Should to a Could
This exercise comes at freeing up the brain’s energy to make wise choices and wise decisions from a somewhat sideways angle, and yet it’s one of the single most powerful choices you could make to free up energy in your brain to make – and implement – wise choices.
When we couch an intention or a choice for a new behavior in terms of “should” – I “should” do my taxes this weekend, I “should” check to see how Harry’s doing after his knee surgery – the “should” creates an unconscious expectation or command for performance and sets us up for criticism if we “fail” to perform. “Should” implies obligation, duty, even right or wrong, and the mind contracts. “Could” creates an unconscious perception of possibility and sets us up for pride in our learning and our growth. I “could” do the taxes this weekend. I “could” check in on Harry. It’s up to me – my choice and my response-ability.
You can react to these unconscious messages of “should” and “could” quite automatically, creating a mindset of obligation and constriction or a mindset of possibilities and choice.
I “have to” is another phrase that filters our perceptions of a task as a burden. Whereas I “get to” shifts our perception and thus our responses to one of privilege. From “Darn, I “have to” pick up the kids at school every day this week to Wow, I “get to” pick up the kids at school every day this week.
1. Without making “change every should to a could” another “should,” remind yourself fairly regularly that “could” is a possibility. Whenever you hear yourself “shoulding” on yourself, repeat the phrase “change every should to a could” and notice any shifts in your own thinking.
2. Likewise, whenever you hear yourself say “I have to” (which could be a lot!) practice saying “I get to” instead. Gratitude for the privilege of being alive and having the opportunity. Notice any shifts in your reactions to what’s happening and your responses to that shift.
Noticing how you talk to yourself as you go through your day, and choosing to change how you talk to yourself shifts how you relate to yourself and can create wise shifts in your behavior. You will more easily take responsibility for the choices you make when you feel more response-able and flexible in making them. This one practice of changing every should to a could can have some of the most powerful effects on your motivation and follow-through in making your intentions and choices for the new year a reality.
Try it, and see for yourself.