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To resolve or not to resolve


I’ve heard many arguments both for and against creating New Year’s Resolutions. There’s a bit of a stigma attached, almost an attitude of, “well, if I don’t succeed, that’s fine because most resolutions fail anyway.”

Why would you create a resolution while accepting that you might not succeed at it? Resolutions can be powerful if you approach them correctly. Do I know a secret formula to creating lasting resolutions? Absolutely not. I only know what works for me.

I’ve never been one for creating resolutions solely because we’re heading into January from December. New Year’s is just like any other month, moving from an ending to a beginning. And I do make resolutions (or “goals” or “active decisions to make a change in my life”) throughout the year as I face new challenges. I also don’t let the fact that it’s the start of the New Year hold me back from making a resolution.

I think there’s a certain amount of pressure to set lofty goals that are likely unsustainable, whether it’s adding something to your life, removing something from your life, or changing a habit. While it is possible to set and achieve lofty goals (good for you if this is you--I certainly don’t fall into this category), if you don’t have the proper tools, you won’t succeed.

This is one reason why I choose a single thing to focus on for the year. Other resolutions pop-up as the weeks go by, but there is one underlying resolution that affects all of the others.

On December 31, 2015, I was in Reykjavik, Iceland experiencing the most magical New Year’s I’ve experienced so far. I was feeling a lot of feelings while simultaneously dodging mis-fired fireworks. The next morning, I attended a free New Year’s Day intention-setting Kundalini Yoga session at my cousin’s friend’s studio. Talk about feeling--I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I felt everything. I saw the dark cloud of pain from a 7-year-old break-up be released from my soul (no, I didn’t know that I was still holding onto it).

That’s when it hit me: In 2016, I will allow myself to feel.

Not only did I allow myself to feel, I forced myself to acknowledge my feelings, express them, and not be ashamed by them.

Holy sh*t, my friend. I FELT A LOT. I felt deeply. I could feel tension leaving my body. I was able to think more clearly. I was able to see my empathy and started to discern which feelings belonged to me and which feelings I was taking on from others. This resolution changed--and continues to change--my life in many ways.

The most noticeable change was that I became less and less angry/prone to rage.

Back when I swallowed up my feelings and refused to let myself feel, I was an average person. Correction: I was an exceptional person wearing the mask of an average person. I morphed into that average person and was coasting through life, contributing little, and staying afraid and unmotivated.

Another attribute of Average Karlin was (incredibly embarrassing) episodes of rage. My emotional reserve would continue to fill until something triggered me. Then the rage-monster emerged.

Generally, the rage would be focused at someone over something that was NO BIG DEAL. Then I would stomp off. Then I would feel ashamed and embarrassed and would try to avoid that person like the freaking plague (until I could swallow my pride enough to apologize).

One of the most memorable instances was when I cussed out the Resident Counselor in my dorm. All she did was tell me to calm down while I was in the middle of freaking out at my roommates. They wanted to do their homework in the room with the lights on after 10pm; I wanted to sleep.

I was angrier than ever before. I was crying, shaking, yelling, pulling on my hair, cussing, probably waking up the whole campus. I finally stormed out of the room into the cold night air, still sobbing, still shaking, leaving any shred of dignity I might’ve had left with each pounding footstep.

I headed straight for the bluffs on campus that tower over the Mississippi River. I looked at the stars; I stared at the light across the river. I used the stars and that light as a way to talk to my friend Luke, telling him how much I wished he was still alive, asking him what he would do.

No more than 15 minutes after I’d left my room, I felt the familiar shame and embarrassment and was mortified. It was the worst tantrum I’d thrown for as long as I could remember.

I honestly don’t remember where I went or what I did after that or if I returned to my room at all that night. I hope that I apologized. What I do remember is that my life changed that night. I never wanted to be that angry again. I had to figure out what caused the rage-monster to be released. I was on a mission.

I got better at removing myself from situations that might trigger me and communicating with those around me if I felt the anger rising. It took 3 or 4 years for me to find the core of the issues (the feelings stuff).

In 2016, I started communicating my feelings and allowing myself to cry when I felt like crying. I felt fear, sadness, joy. I visualized positivity. And I tried to not berate myself or feel embarrassed if I cried around people.

I’ve only been close to rage a few times since I started allowing myself to feel. It seems to come to the surface when:

  1. I’m driving in Los Angeles and someone does something stupid (which is almost every time I drive)

  2. I haven’t properly communicated my needs to those around me, especially when I first start to notice that something is affecting me

  3. I’m really tired and cranky and/or hangry and need space but don’t have any.

I’ve come up with the following actionable steps for myself to help put that monster at bay and be happier and more at peace:

  1. While driving, instead of shouting, “DRIVE THE TRUCKING SPEED LIMIT” to the car going 50 in a 65, I remind myself that I have time--I am not in a rush and there is no reason to be anything but patient with the other drivers on the road. If someone is tailgating me, I let that be their problem and not mine.

  2. I try to be more emotionally intelligent and self-aware so that I can excuse myself or express my thoughts/opinions/reactions in a calm and reasonable manner instead of in an explosion of angry fireworks

  3. I let people know when I’m tired and that my fuse is shorter than normal. I also tell them that if the rage-monster pokes out her angry head, it’s 100% not personal. I try to follow #2 and excuse myself before it reaches that point, though

I continue to take steps to better understand the rage-monster, which are sometimes successful and sometimes not.

Guess what? Anger is also an emotion! So, if I need to feel angry, I allow myself to feel the anger. Or rage. But I try to focus it elsewhere, such as into exercising, or make sure I'm in a private place where I can rage alone.

I am learning and growing. I am finding my triggers, understanding them, trying to figure out why they are triggers. Even more importantly, I am allowing myself to feel.

I encourage you to make resolutions, no matter what time of year, especially when they’re coming from a place of inspiration and determination. Those are the resolutions that I’ve found sustainable and achievable. I truly wanted to grow out of my rage stage, so I started recognizing when I was choking down feelings instead of embracing them.

There is not one right way, no “one size fits all”. You gotta do what works for you (so long as it’s actually working). If making lofty resolutions because it's January 1st is your jam, do it!! I celebrate you and your success with that method!

With Love,

Karlin

What life-improvement are you inspired to focus on? What are your resolutions? When have you made resolutions that have lasted? What were those resolutions? Let me know! You’re invited to share your thoughts either publicly in the comments or privately in an email to me.

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©2020 by The Wandering Swami