My Hardest Lesson from 2016
and How to Evolve Your Habits
2017 has barely begun and if you’re like most people – an estimated 92% – your New Year’s resolution is dead and gone. That’s because we’re creatures of habit, not will power. Making a real change requires putting new habits on autopilot. If you’re on an evolutionary growth path, I produced this short podcast episode on Habit Change for you. It’s not too late!
Of course, we can’t change our habits without first becoming aware of what’s outdated. We have to reflect on who we want to become, which patterns and habits in our lives are helping us get there, and which ones need to evolve.
I learned a big, painful lesson in 2016. At the risk of being too revealing and opening myself up to judgment, here’s the story. Maybe you can relate.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the dark, cold days make me want to hole up. Last year at this time, I was all fired up to create a course that felt like it was uniquely mine to create: The Basics of Chinese Medicine.
There’s a ton of potentially life-changing wisdom in Chinese Medicine, but it’s hidden behind walls of jargon in books or $70,000 degree programs, or dumbed down to the point of useless. I figured that my deep expertise in the field, plus my love of teaching, plus my value of wanting to empower people to thrive meant that this was Mine to Do, in a big, dharmic way. I felt purposeful and excited.
So I dove in. I was up before dawn every day of the week, writing before a day of treating patients. Spending entire weekend days at the computer without a break. I was on fire. I was in Flow. I was also burning out.
In 2 months, I wrote the equivalent of a 120-page book, recorded its audio counterpart, created reflection questions and quizzes, shot short point location videos, created marketing materials, updated web pages — all while still treating patients in clinic.
I was an addict binging on my drug of choice: work. I cut my meditations short, and skipped workouts. I stopped reaching out to friends. My worldview started to warp: I started seeing everything that didn’t have to do with the project – including people I loved! — as an obstacle to writing.
You know the expression “work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends: pick three?” I was picking one and three quarters. And boy were there side-effects. I started to feel brittle and reactive. Little stressors seemed like way bigger deals. A wired-tired feeling kept me from falling asleep. I had lost touch with my natural rhythms. It felt like there was never enough time.
My wake-up call came when I realized that my husband was no longer asking me to help with small favors, like picking a kid up from school when he couldn’t, so as not to add to my stress level. We had a come-to-Jesus conversation, wherein he expressed his love and support for me doing this work that I felt so deeply called to do, but that he missed me.
I cried. As much as I valued my work, I never intended it to take precedence over being a supportive partner, parent, or friend.
So I made a vow. I committed to working no more than 45 hours per week. By capping my work-week, I had no choice but to tend to the rest of my life: my family, my friends, my body, my spiritual practice.
At first it felt like a struggle (what do you do on a rainy, cold, Oregon day if you’re not sitting at the computer for 12 hours?!). But eventually my nervous system remembered how truly wonderful it feels to relax. To experience a sense of ease. I tended to my fried endocrine system with Chinese herbs, gentle yoga, acupuncture, and self-massage, and (big surprise) the brittleness fell away. I remembered that the perception of not-enough-time is just that: one perspective. And we have the power to change our perspective at any moment.
Balance does not look like everything important getting an equal slice of the pie all the time. There’s nothing wrong with diving deeply into any one thing while giving less energy to other areas of life — just so long as the pendulum swings back the other way eventually. As the yin/ yang symbol reminds us, life isn’t static: it’s a dynamic pulsation between the extremes of activity and rest, outward and inward, hot and cold, full and empty.
Yes, I let my yang dominate my yin for a little too long, but I’m human, like everyone else, and I am still learning. I’m also grateful that Jeremy and I had that conversation when we did, and for my own willingness to change course. And I’m wicked proud of the finished product. I taught the course 3 times in 2016, to rave reviews.
How about you? What was your biggest lesson of 2016? Where are you in the pulsation between yin and yang? Is it time for your pendulum to swing in a different direction?
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