Let’s Each Pick a Theme!

A much more attainable self-improvement plan!

One of my favorite bloggers, Anju, who writes This Labyrinth I Roam, was reading my blog recently, and noted my general disdain for New Years Resolutions. I haven’t done them in years, because I hate starting off the year by setting myself up for failure.

According to this article, based on a survey, the success rate for resolutions is 35 percent. I’m guessing it’s even less than that. Would you really answer honestly to some random surveyor when you know you’ve been eating snickers bars instead of salads as resolved?

In response to my resolution aversion, Anju sent me a link to this wonderful 6-minute YouTube video that actually gives me hope for a more attainable self-improvement plan.

I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch it yourself, but in a nutshell, the concept of themes was presented, and here’s how it works.

If you want to make some positive life changes, rather than make a resolution, set yourself a theme. Instead of an inflexible goal with hard data points, such as losing x number of inches around your waist by the end of this calendar year, make it a broad theme such as “Health”. Who cares about hard data? Self-improvement is the ultimate goal, and there are a variety of ways to reach that goal. Some of them may not even have occurred to you yet. Allow room for you to trend upward in a whole host of ways.

At various times throughout the day, month, or year, you will find yourself at a crossroads that will require you to make a decision. If you have a theme such as Health, and one branch of that path is healthier than the other, you will be more apt to take that healthier path if you have that overarching theme in mind. You might do several different types of healthy things in the course of that journey, setting yourself up for an upward trend of success without undue pressure, rather than feeling like a failure if you don’t meet a specific target.

So pick a nice broad theme, such as “Adventure” or “Gratitude” or “Family” or “Learning” or “Transition”. Choose something that resonates with you; something that you want more or less of. That theme will then adapt with you, based on circumstances, and no guilt will be involved. You’ll start noticing more opportunities that relate to your theme, and hopefully you’ll take advantage of them.

Isn’t that a nifty idea? And the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to last a year like a resolution. You can have a theme that lasts a season, such as “The Winter of Compassion”.

After giving this concept much thought, I have decided that my themes for the foreseeable future will be Health and Boundaries. I have been pursuing better health ever since I got married and realized that I have a lot to live for. I’m really proud of my progress so far, and would like to continue that progress. So I suspect that theme will be with me for quite some time.

The other theme, Boundaries, is something I’ve been working on sporadically for a lifetime, but I’ve noticed since moving to the Pacific Northwest that my desire for boundaries is often challenged. These challenges cause me a great deal of confusion and self-doubt, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it.

It’s healthy to set boundaries. In the long run, the people around you will appreciate them. It’s nice to have a clear map of what is acceptable in someone’s life and what is not. For example, please don’t smoke in my house. That’s a simple one. Another one is please don’t spontaneously call me after 9 pm unless someone is dying. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But here in the passive aggressive Pacific Northwest, people would much rather die than be perceived as being pushy or hurting someone’s feelings. Heaven forfend you actually speak up and assert yourself. Most folks out here are hardwired to bite their tongue, bottle things up, and not make waves. So when you violate someone’s boundaries here, rather than making those boundaries clear so that you can have better encounters moving forward, they’ll tolerate the intrusion, resent you for it, and then most likely distance themselves from you, and you’ll never understand why.

Here’s a prime example: Since I’ve been pursuing health, I’ve been trying to avoid eating sugar. Culturally, especially on holidays, people love to make cookies and cakes and the like, and it’s assumed that you are then obligated to eat these things, even if you don’t want them.

But I truly don’t want them. I do not resist these temptations easily. Overall, I think it’s much kinder to thank someone in advance and set the boundary rather than have them waste their time and money every year making me a fruitcake that I’m only going to either throw away or re-gift. That way everyone is on the same page, I’m not forced to keep track of my lies, and we can all focus on spending time with one another instead.

Also, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the re-gift concept under these circumstances, because wouldn’t I just be passing the involuntary weight gain on to someone else? What right do I have to do that? And I hate wasting food, so throwing these things out pains me.

And yet a Pacific Northwest friend of mine is convinced that this kind of open communication is rude. He’d rather take in all the chocolate and cheesecake and smile gratefully, in order to let someone maintain a tradition that they may actually find to be a hassle in the first place. You’ll never know if you don’t communicate. They might even delight in helping you achieve your goal, because that’s how true friends are.

My friend, by smiling and remaining silent, then has to resist the temptation of eating the stuff and take the time to dispose of it one way or another, all so he won’t insult someone who probably wouldn’t be insulted in the first place if open, honest, polite conversations had taken place. Personally, I’d be annoyed if I spent all that time and effort to bring you joy, and then discovered I could have much more easily done so, year after year, by bringing you some fresh asparagus from my garden. Trust me when I say that my outspoken self is rarely hit with the sentence, “Why didn’t you say so?”

Isn’t open communication better for all concerned? You don’t have to be rude or pushy about it. My friend claims that by setting boundaries, I’m trying to dictate the behavior of other people. Poppycock and codswallop, I say. I’m not telling people they can’t bake cookies for themselves or anyone else. Knock yourself out. I’m just saying that while I appreciate the thought, please don’t make any for me.

Because I know me. I’ll eat them, feel sick afterward because I’m no longer used to sugar, and beat myself up for the rest of the day. So, yeah, this is a boundary for me, and I don’t think that those who truly love me will be offended if politely asked to respect it. Feel free to party with the Cookie Monster as much as you like. No judgment here. I’ll still love you. But in the mean time, let’s both treat each other with consideration.

If you think you have to be walked over in order maintain a friendship, then deep down you already know that you’re not being loved.

True story. I know a couple who ate cranberry sauce every thanksgiving for decades. They both hated it. They were only choking the stuff down because they each assumed that the other one liked it, and they were trying to be polite. What a weight was lifted off them both when they finally actually spoke up!

I am sick and tired of this vague, passive-aggressive fog that floats over this part of the country and makes it harder to form solid friendships. I’m tired of being confused to the point of feeling like the East Coast turd in the West Coast punchbowl.

I plan on embracing ways to define my boundaries. I will do so in a courteous and loving manner whenever possible, of course, and I will acknowledge the kind sentiments and cherish the people behind them. I will do this because I believe that in the end, healthy, sincere communication saves everyone a lot of time, energy and drama, and that is a gift to all those concerned. (And if my friend doesn’t like my new theme, then he better buckle up, because this is going to be a bumpy ride for him.)

I also want to stop struggling with saying no to things and with putting my foot down rather than being taken advantage of. I hate confrontation, but if an anti-vaxxer tries to insist that he should be able to come into my house without a mask, I am perfectly within my rights to draw a line in the sand, and if, as a last resort, I have to get hostile to do so, I should not feel the least bit guilty about it. That bit of self-improvement is out of my comfort zone, and might require more effort on my part. Pardon my dust. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

So now I have themes. I feel better already. It’s nice, in this unpredictable world, to have some boundaries that you can count on. And if I construct those redoubts myself, then one day I’ll look up and realize I’ve created a comforting sanctuary, indeed, and one where all loved ones are quite welcome.

So, wish me luck! And I’d love to hear about your unique theme in the comments below. As my dear and inspiring friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”

If your current theme is gratitude, then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Each Pick a Theme!”

  1. My theme is to take it one day at a time and be grateful to survive with my dignity in tact.
    Solution to unwanted sugary gifts… tell everyone you’re prediabetic. Technically it isn’t a lie.
    I have three types of masks available for guests and if they refuse them I tell them I wouldn’t want them to suffer the guilt of infecting me and causing my death. I just couldn’t do that to them. At this point they’re usually happy to wear the masks. 🙂
    Having had my vegetarian boundaries crossed and ridiculed, for 50 years, regardless of my respecting others carnivorous choices, I became adept at asserting myself politely while being grilled relentlessly about my choices. I even bought and prepared animal products for those who berated me rather than expect them to partake in my meatless tradition. None of them ever tried to cook vegan for me though. If only we asked what others preferences are and then accepted them without bias we’d be giving gifts from the heart. I promise I won’t be sending you a chocolate cheesecake. Not even a non dairy, monkfruit sweetened, gluten free one.

    1. Excellent suggestions, and thank you for modeling what consideration should look like.
      I had a friend who was raising her child vegetarian, and eventually discovered that whenever she left him to visit with grandma, that rude woman was making a point of feeding the kid bacon and hamburgers and hotdogs, in direct conflict with the mother’s wishes. People can be horrible.

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