Every year since I left the comfort of my full-time job for the life of an entrepreneur, I have been in transition. And 2016 has been the most intense by far. Did you feel it too? As a part of a greater whole, it seems to me that our personal transitions are reflected in those of the collective, and vice versa: what the world goes through, we go through, to an extent. And so it is that looking back on this year of no-one-saw-that-coming political and societal upheaval, my own transitions seem to…I don’t know, make a bit more sense?
One thing’s for sure though, 2016 has been a ride, on every level.
This time last year, my brand had somehow slid out of sync with the work I was actually doing, and my precious routine with it, and I was tired from having to figure everything out myself. I made an epic New Year’s to-do list aimed squarely at getting my ship back into shape and didn’t do any of it. (The universe doesn’t give a crap about human to-do lists. Have you noticed that? ;)) Then January scooped me up and flung me headfirst into NEW. It was the month I told my business mentor that I wanted to focus on corporate wellness workshops, the month I did my first real speaking gig and, off the back of that, won a huge corporate client. Suddenly I was out the gates, barely pausing to absorb one change before leaping to another.
I rebranded entirely, creating Wellbeings out of the ashes of my old blog. Our rescue dog Bruce just…arrived, anchoring me instantly in a powerful morning routine. My husband and I put our London flat – our first home together – on the market and watched the first sale get crushed alongside the country’s hopes when Brexit happened. Then came the move itself – a seismic shift with aftershocks I felt for weeks (I can’t count how many apologies I made for lateness, let-downs, absence and flat out non-contact in that time). What’s more, those waves of transition were punctuated by events that pushed me way out of my comfort zone – running my first retreat, an advanced yoga teacher training, that TEDx talk…
And so here we are, on the cusp of another transition: the crossing from one year to the next. It seems fitting to apply what 2016 has taught me about the art of moving from one place, one way, to another. So here goes nothing:
1. Set your expectations LOW
One thing you gotta love about humans is our ability to dream BIG. If you’ve ever spent a happy hour imagining what you’d do with a lottery win, you know what I’m talking about. We have absolutely no problem setting lofty goals for ourselves, indulging in a bit of blue sky thinking, conjuring up our dream life, dream job, dream body, dream relationship.
Action, however, we’re not so hot at.
We live in a society of overnight success. If that video of your dog goes viral, you can be famous in seconds (you do remember Fenton right?). Tired of your frowny face? No problem babe, get botox at lunchtime! Want that package right away? Easy. A drone will plop it on your lawn in half an hour. We are generation NOW, and if we can’t generate what we want ASAP, we cut our losses and move onto the next thing.
And New Year? Oh baby, New Year is like catnip for us NOW-ers. Fuelled by a calorific Christmas and incessant talk of resolutions, we trick ourselves into thinking that, as the ball drops and we pass GO, we’ll be handed a ticket for a free transformation ride. Not so. Change doesn’t work that way.
Weight is shed cell by cell, skin is shed layer by layer. Old habits die hard, piece by piece by piece.
No matter how many lists you write, how much journaling you do and motivational books you read, you will not wake up in 2017 a new person. The thoughts in your head and the habits in your days are the same. You can make all the new-year-new-you resolutions you like. Fact is, you are not new, and nor do you need to be. You are still and simply, you.
I learned a hella lot this year about what it is and isn’t possible to accomplish in the limited window of time around a major transition, so bypass future ‘I-can’t-stick-to-anything’ shame by setting some realistic expectations. Turn, ‘Lose three stone’ into, ‘Lose three pounds’, then set the same goal the month after. Cross out ten resolutions and pick just one thing to stop doing and one thing to start. And here’s the revelation: When you stop setting yourself up for failure, you start setting yourself up for success, and then, really, anything is possible.
2. Declutter like a MOFO
As you make you way forward into the new year – into the new anything – we tend to think about what ‘new’ or ‘more’ we want. That’s great. It’s important to know what you want to have, do, create, usher in. But first, space must be cleared. Shit must be gotten rid of. When we moved house we goodbyed a tonne of possessions (honestly, I think I only own about eight pairs of shoes now). It was ironic really, given that our new house is about three times the size. But now there’s room for new stuff and we can make conscious decisions about what to bring into that precious space.
And I’m not just talking about physical stuff here. You can declutter anything. That secret belief you have about being hopeless and worthless? In the bin. That ‘friend’ who only calls you when they want something? Bye bye. Beliefs, thoughts, habits, actions, words, people, habitual freaking ANYTHING that doesn’t serve the person you want to be next year, let it GO! (And yes, I have watched Frozen twice this month).
I’ve decided to let go of telling people what to do AND…being told what to do.
I’ve watched again and again as my burning desire to be wise and useful results in ‘You should just…’ and ‘You need to…’ slipping off my tongue. And I’ve also witnessed myself lapping up others’ well-meaning instructions for me like they’re made of chocolate. Honestly, the only thing that pleases me more than giving myself a to-do list is someone else giving me one. Man I miss my project manager.
Thing is, who the hell am I to tell you what I think you should do? Who the hell are you to tell me? No one knows my life like me; no one knows your life like you. So how about instead of telling each other what’s good for us we take actual responsibility for us and us alone? How about instead of trying to control each other, we support instead? There’s a radical thought. So I’m letting go of ‘You should just…’ and ‘You need to…’ in favour of ‘What should I…?’ and ‘What will you…?’. And you know what that feels like? Sweet RELIEF.
So If you can only make one decision about how to show up in 2017, make it about what doesn’t come with you.
3. Take note of the good stuff
Wanna know something else us humans are hopeless at? Recognising what’s GOOD. What we accomplished, what we learned, how we grew. No no, we’re always racing onto the next thing. I remember years ago working half term in my dad’s office. I waded through mountains of filing. I separated pink papers from white papers in the accounts department. I even spent an afternoon feeding the paper shredder. Thanks Dad. But by the end of the week I’d earned enough to buy it – the big, gold, shiny watch I’d wanted FOREVER. I trotted off to Oxford Street at lunch on my last day and came back with it on my skinny little wrist (it weighed a tonne. I cared not.), and there it stayed. Until, only months later, I took it off during a rowing training camp in Belgium and never saw it again.
My point is this: We’ll work our asses off to achieve something, then completely fail to take care of it, or even acknowledge it.
I had some sessions with a wonderful coach called Gail at the beginning of 2016. I arrived at every one fretting about how little I was accomplishing and she promptly made me list out all my wins during the preceding month. Blushing, I would realised how much I had, in fact, achieved.
Listing our wins is a powerful and much neglected process, especially for those of us with crazy inside-out egos that tell us we’re lazy and stupid rather than high and mighty (my own hand is up here). So I’ve made my list of wins for 2016. Here are a few unexpected things from it:
- Started public speaking
- Quit the gym
- Fell in love with Rome
- Put my rates up
- Paid my big fat tax bill
- Moved out of London
I bet if you look back over 2016, you’ll see all the things you’ve achieved too – the expected and unexpected, planned and unplanned. And that’s a solid foundation to build 2017 on.
4. Breathe and be flexible
Let’s face it kiddos, transition is a fact of life. And rarely smooth.
As the saying goes, the only certainty in life is change. And you get to choose: flow like water or resist like rock.
When a caterpillar locks itself inside its chrysalis, do you think it struggles and screams as it melts into primordial soup? No way. Do you think it’s willing to use up its precious energy resisting the inevitable? Doubtful. This epic transition is written in its DNA. It knows what’s going down. And I can only imagine it closes its buggy little eyes, lays back and surrenders. And emerges as a beautiful butterfly all the quicker. Wouldn’t it be great if we did the same?
Yoga is a wonderful tool for teaching us how to be graceful through transitions. As a teacher, I observe all the time how students breathe through their poses but hold their breath between them, like the move from one pose to the next is somehow not part of the practice. Are you kidding me? Transitions are FUNDAMENTAL to the practice.
What you do on the mat you do in life, and what you learn on the mat you use in life.
So it goes that if you resist and deny transitions in your life, ‘holding your breath’ and waiting for them to be over so you can ‘start living’ again, you probably do that on the mat. And vice versa. And you’re missing such a beautiful opportunity to learn, grow, deepen your practice and expand your life. My teacher Ana Forrest puts this beautifully:
“It’s tempting to curl into a foetal ball when change knocks us down. But in fact, this is the time of life we most need to get our blood moving. Connecting each pose and transition by breath is a great physical metaphor for connecting to your life experiences. Whatever comes, know that you can just keep breathing through it.”
None of the transitions I’ve encountered this year have been easy. It’s simply not in their nature. My brand launch was delayed when my dear designer got knocked off her bike. Our first flat sale came to a screaming halt, the second almost did too, and our purchase hit pause when we couldn’t get insurance. And the path to becoming a dog owner was as rough as they come, resulting in me being housebound for a month with an enormous anxious animal who, sweet Jesus, contracted norovirus the second he arrived.
Nothing was easy. But here I am, writing this from the study in our new home, with Bruce snoring softly on the sofa next to me. I made it. You’ll make it. We’ll all make it, eventually. Ain’t no point strugglin’.
So lovelies, I am not, as you know, going to tell you what to do as you make your way across the border into 2017. I don’t do that anymore. But I will summarise the points I’ve made above into the following…thingy:
Taking an inventory what you’ve already achieved and underestimating what can yet achieve is a wonderful way to surpass and delight yourself later. Deciding what not to take on your journey is more important than what to take, for everything you bring, you carry. And when you find your way blocked, which you will, lay back and relish the pause, for there is more excitement just around the corner.
Happy New Year.