The Art of Letting Go
Why you should rethink your New Year’s resolutions
“And now let us welcome the New Year
Full of things that have never been.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
’Tis the season of New Year’s Resolutions. People make them, and frequently they break them. Many resolutions center around the same general principles: working harder and accomplishing more. For perfectionists, New Year’s resolutions are about being more perfect. They are appealing and natural, especially to those of us whose self-esteem is intertwined with our sense of achievement.
Many people with ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and other chronic illnesses recognize themselves in this category: we often measure our worth in the currency of how much we do. Yet the typical goals declared on January 1st of each year may be more unrealistic than ever.
In his book, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, Richard Eyre explains how some of the traditional wisdom about self-improvement is outdated or inaccurate. He argues that we need new paradigms to “reflect our world as it really is, and our lifestyles as they really ought to be.” This is particularly true for people who are debilitated by chronic illness.
Perhaps we need to rethink our annual goals and look to the New Year with a spirit of “Anti-Resolutions” — that is, to release ourselves from the obligation of things we are not able to do and consider alternatives more supportive of healing and well-being.
Let’s look at some typical January 1st declarations and how they might be transformed to better fit the lives of people with debilitating chronic illnesses:
I will exercise for one hour every day, no matter how I feel.
→ I will listen to my body, avoiding exercise that results in a worsening of my symptoms.
I will wake up an hour earlier each morning.
→ I will try to rest an hour each day.
I will work harder to get that promotion this year.
→ I will acknowledge my health is more important than work.
I will manage my time so that I can do more.
→ I will pace myself to allow for rest and recovery.
I will be more generous to others with my time and energy.
→ I will be more protective of my time and energy in order to take better care of myself.
I will return phone calls promptly.
→ I will answer the phone less frequently.
I will accomplish all the items on my To-Do List.
→ I will eliminate some of the items on my To-Do List.
The “transformed” list of resolutions may look quite different from the traditional one. But is it any less important? And is it any less challenging? It’s funny how determination and will power can be so difficult to apply to the goal of doing less, instead of doing more. We may know how to commit ourselves to goals and work to achieve them, but can we have similar determination to rest and to heal? Can our will power be devoted to “letting go”? Perhaps the New Year is a time to re-focus ourselves less on doing, and more on being.
Consider making your own such list of “anti-resolutions” that focus not on getting things done, but on improving your health and quality of life. Or you may not want to make any resolutions at all. This year, the most empowering declaration for us might be that we will make no resolutions, set no quantified goals, and rely on no concrete measures of success. Instead, we can open our bodies and minds to be healed and open our hearts to contentment and peace.
Healing requires no resolutions — it requires only that we live each day the best way we know how, listening to our bodies, and nurturing our souls. Even if we abandon every resolution we’ve ever made, perhaps we will start to experience the healing value of letting go.
This article was originally published on About.com, where Lisa was the “Guide to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia” for 3 years.
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