Reading about the International Space Station got me thinking about perspective. The astronauts aboard the ISS get to see our world from a completely different viewpoint. Upside down, speeded up, sideways, zoomed out.
From way up high, our world appears as an ever-transitioning, blue-hued pearl in the galaxy. So each time around, the view the astronauts see is also slightly different.
Back down on earth, we’re at a special point of transition in our life cycles too. It’s typically called the annual review. Where we get to look both backwards and forwards, to gain perspective on where we are now.
We consider how we’ve toiled and travailed, rebelled, revelled and rejoiced. We question whether we’re still on track to that bigger, blue-sky picture. And if we’ve lost our way, we contemplate how best to find it again.
This usually results in resolving to start (or stop) anew. To do better, to make amends, to change.
Unfortunately, the statistics for sticking with New Year’s resolutions are not encouraging. The tangible resolutions we typically set require self-control and willpower. We attempt to impose deliberate restraint in a world filled with variability, stress, temptation and constraints beyond our control. A world where our energy and focus is usually needed for other important things too.
So, I resolved a while back to stop making fixed or rigid physical resolutions. Such as losing 5kg in a month, or going to the gym 3x per week for a whole year, or not eating chocolate.
You see, when the pressure rises or the moon is high, chocolate can either be my kryptonite or my elixir of life. It has its place. And when the work I’m doing requires an extra sprint, making a 6pm spinning class typically falls off my radar.
It can become stressful just thinking about trying to “enforce” extra change in my life. It means I’m spending energy fighting motivational battles I’m less likely to win.
Now, I’m not advocating that we should skip exercise. Or that we all need to eat lots of chocolate daily. (*I would if it was good for me, but from experience I know it’s sadly not). *Nutrition and fitness have an important place in our lives, supporting our health and wellbeing. They enable and empower us to do the work and deal with the stress, excitement, and unexpected curve balls we’ll likely encounter in any given year.
Rather, I’m all for creating a more objective perspective around what we wish to achieve in our year, based on our identity. We’re better off focusing our precious energy on efforts and challenges that will help us attain realistic and relevant goals. Doing empowering activities which help move us forward with the least amount of resistance.
Essentially, we simplify change by changing our perspective.
I’ve chosen health and fitness as specific examples, because they often serve as keystone behaviours which impact on the rest of our lives. But you can apply this way of thinking to anything you want to do and be. At work and play, in your personal and professional life.
Imagine… what would you be like, if it was “like you” to be a healthy person?
Are you more likely to focus on healthy eating, or being a slave to sugar? And what else could or would you do?
For example, you could shift your focus to “eating more healthy meals every week” instead of “not eating chocolate”. Flip it to the positive outcome. Start with one healthy meal today. And build that up to one healthy meal every day. Then maybe two? And you get to choose every day whether it is like you to eat sugar, today or any day.
This way your focus isn’t on identifying primarily as a chocolate eater (who may have a slight chocolate addiction). Instead it’s on being someone who eats healthily most of the time, (and who may enjoy treats on the side). Try it, you’ll be amazed at how your eating habits change, because of how you view yourself.
Or, you could change your focus from “going to the gym every day” to “it is like me to do exercise every day”. That way, if you have a deadline looming and little time, you can still make room for a brisk walk (or run) around the neighbourhood. Or yoga stretches in your lounge. It brings variety to your fitness regime, and you won’t spend unnecessary energy “feeling bad” about not cracking all the steps needed to go the gym (e.g. change, commute, locker room, class, treadmill, rowing machine, locker room, commute, home). Again.
Alternatively, if it is “like you” to be fit and active, then you’re more likely to do many, varied active things that help keep you fit over time, irrespective of what the exercise is. In other words, find exercise styles that fit with the variability of your day-to-day pressures, and the person you are and want to be. Make it an “easy” habit or routine, which it is like you to do.
Making change in this way puts less pressure on our choice-making capabilities. Especially when our energy, attention and focus is already being demanded by other events, opportunities and challenges.
Like that big, new project we want to find the time and drive to dive into. Or those much-needed, grounding moments with loved ones after a long, tiring, meeting-filled day. Or the desire to teach your new dog that old trick of not chewing another of your shoes.
Doing things that are “like me” daily, means we’re investing in making better use of each day. To live and work in a way that helps us become a better version of ourselves. Being present in each day, instead of only thinking and dreaming about the future outcome of our actions. This makes it less likely for us to “fall off the wagon” with our resolutions.
And if we didn’t quite crack it today, we can take what we’ve learnt and make a better attempt tomorrow. So, each day, we’re focusing on “today”. But the outcome of each day contributes to our larger, longer-term goals.
See how a change in perspective improves our chances of making change? See how the likelihood of making a resolution stick improves, when we’re already acting as if we’re the person we want to become?
The astronauts on the International Space Station see earth from a fresh perspective every day. Circling the world at about 5 miles (7km) per second, they get to watch many sunrises in a day. That’s several fresh starts every day, compared to our single daily opportunity.
So, those 365 chances that we have for a fresh start this year, are actually pretty rare and special.
Once you’ve got some images in your mind of what’s like you, then go, do and be.
After all, the world is turning…