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Lifestyle & Travel

Try This: Swap Resolutions with Your Best Friend

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A few years ago I started a new tradition with a best friend: making New Year's resolutions for each other.

I could see how some of her attitudes and actions were getting in her way, and I was certain she had a clearer view of some of my own blind spots than I did.

It's been a helpful, illuminating process. Over the years, for example, I’ve often thought about her suggestion that I might want to assume a more welcoming expression in social situations. I didn’t know that my resting face was a scowl.

For 2019, I decided to try the resolution swap with another close pal. Brian and I have had too many conversations to count about the ways (both large and small), we’d like our lives to change. When Brian would describe what he hoped to achieve during some of these chats, the voice in my head said, ‘yes, but that won’t happen if you keep doing X or Y.’ I had no doubt a similar narrative was playing in his own head when he listened to me. I could almost hear it in the silence that followed my laments.

So, face-to-face, over a couple of cups of tea (for me), coffee (for him) and shortbread biscuits, we did our resolution swap. I suggested to Brian that he find time to meditate daily. It might help him, I said, learn to sit still with uncomfortable feelings. Too often, I’d observed, he made hasty decisions that he later regretted, because he found the anxiety of dealing with uncertainty or ambiguity intolerable.

I pointed him to a story that ran in the Harvard Business Review that said spending just ten minutes a day in a mindfulness practice allowed business leaders to make better decisions because it decreased activity in the part of the brain that was responsible for fight-or-flight and knee-jerk reactions.

That led Brian to bring up one of the resolutions he had for me: Stop overthinking decisions. He was right to point out that I could become paralyzed tallying up the plusses and minuses of decisions. I agreed that this led to not only a huge amount of wasted time, but also to missed opportunities. Life can be more interesting when you allow yourself to make less-than-perfect decisions.

Brian also wanted me to resolve in 2019 to step outside my comfort zone. He knew I missed friends who had moved away and family that lived on the other side of the country. While I’d taken classes in brewing kombucha, making sourdough bread and pickling vegetables this past year, he suggested I try something entirely different to widen my social circles. How about a workshop, he said, in woodworking or metal welding? I’m not sure about those specific suggestions, but I’m investigating other comfort-zone busting activities.

If you think you’d like to try swapping resolutions with a friend, I’d suggest a few ground rules.

Approach the experience with respect, love and good will. This isn’t about settling scores or rehashing grudges. If you’re seething with anger or resentment toward a friend, that’s likely to come through and destroy the spirit of generosity this exercise requires. Choose someone else with whom to swap resolutions.

* Remember, you’re not your friend’s psychotherapist. Share observations about how you’ve seen your friend act, or fail to act, in ways that undermine happiness and health. Don’t, however, attempt to psychoanalyze your friend’s behavior, offering theories on motivation or how some struggles go back to childhood. Ask yourself: will you welcome that punditry from your friend when you’re on the receiving end?

* Be specific. From your own experience you know that vague resolutions like, lose weight or eat healthier, are pretty useless and likely to be abandoned by the end of January. What’s more effective is creating specific achievable resolutions. Instead of suggesting to your friend that he or she resolve to start exercising in 2019, share news about a neighborhood walking club that meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, or a gentle yoga class that’s offered nearby.

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