The date is February 17, 1982. Time? Who knows! In my family, everyone is born at 12pm and this was the response I would get when I asked my parents what time of day I was brought into this Earth. To many, this may seem strange - that a family can be so apathetic and nonchalant about what may seem relevant, especially to a child.
In the Chou family, however, we dismiss conversations that do not seem to foster and nurture a level of relevance relating to financial success. We forego conversations about spirituality and replace them with discourse about grade point averages, mathematical expressions, college applications and academic status.
So it should not come as any stupefaction that I am still unsure what time of day I was born. My tutelage never placed any leverage on this subject matter and even though I can easily obtain my birth certificate from my parents, or contact the hospital where I was born, I have no interest in doing so…
The great all American Icon, Popeye, once said,
I am what I am, and that's all that I am
and this has really got me comtemplating about my present moment in life and how the decisions I have made in this lifetime have led me to where I need to be. With that said, this quote also made me discern that the challenges I face are completely of my own making and this reigns particularly true the more and more I teach yoga and interact with my students and my peers.
For the first week after the New Year, a lot of my students have come up to me articulating their goals for 2014 and I loved hearing every single one of them because the goal setting process speaks wonders about the person, and without them realizing it, paints a portrayal about how they lead their quotidian lives. With that said, I started telling everyone, especially myself, that New Year's resolutions always end up failing. The ironic thing is, people are very much aware of this, yet they still continue to make New Years Resolutions! Why??? Personally, I find the "resolution setting" process has now become this grandiose task where you know you are bound to fail so you end up setting extreme GOALS so the journey towards "resolution" becomes stunted before ever ascertaining momentum towards change.
This does beg the question - can people change? Can I change? After all, I am what I am and that's all that I am., right?
Well, my story officially started on New Year's Eve. I woke up starving (no surprise there..I am always hungry) but because I had a long day ahead of me, I barely had time for breakfast so I made my protein shake and rushed out the door. 3 classes later, plus a meeting with some friends, I found myself barely having eaten anything. I arrived in my apartment, lurking like a tiger in the trees, scrounging for food so I can come back to that place of wonted. Barely seeing anything in my fridge, I called my favorite local Chinese restaurant to order food………it could have gone in one of two ways…...
If you have ever watched the movie "Slider Doors" starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which is a fabulous tale about a London woman's love life and career and how they both hinge, unknown to her, on whether or not she catches a train. We see it both ways, in parallel which makes the movie fascinating…ANYWAY….not to steer too far away from the point…
Every time I call up my favorite Chinese Restaurant, I HAVE my "Sliding Doors" moment. Do I order the steamed chinese broccoli with brown rice and braised tofu, or do I order fried vegetable dumplings, a side order of lomein and a diet coke? Clearly, one will leave me and my body feeling great. The other will leave me bloated, heavy, and errant that I exercised little restraint…I would stand there, in my apartment with no food, seeing my life as if it was Sliding Great Wall, the Chinese remake....
me: "Hi I would like to place an order for delivery"
Chinese restaurant: "what would you like to order?"
me: " I would like……………..ummmmmmmm…the fried vegetable dumplings, vegetable lomein, and 2 diet cokes…"
Ok, I seemed to have made the choice that would leave me feeling guilty, but as I am sure many of you can relate, while ventilating the plan that will lead me on a road of guilt and chagrin, I already made a proposal in my head that for 2014, I will no longer eat Fried Dumplings…so because I made this my intention setting for the new year, I falsely made myself feel good about ordering something that I know I would regret ordering later…
Here is the problem with goal setting, especially for New Years, and why it inevitably fails. I am a big believer that:
I am what I am, and that's all that I am
and to be honest, that quote defines and explains the TYPE OF GOALS WE MAKE. The reason we fail has nothing to do with WHO WE ARE…rather, we fail because it has everything to do with OUR HABITS, which we have nurtured as a result of our upbringing (i.e., I could care less what time of day I was born because it never mattered to me growing up).
I grew up eating fried dumplings and overeating in general. Growing up in the restaurant business in conjunction with the fact that I had two extremely hard working parents, it left little conversation and ACTION towards a diet and lifestyle that was healthful and sustaining. If a decadent diet absent of portion control and balance was what what I was constantly exposed to, then those foods, in my present life will always serve as my "comfort food". I will always gravitate towards it when my life gets a little out of balance.
So, what I have been telling all my students when I hear them express, through vehement excitement, their New Year's GOALS,, is to embrace the practice of resolution setting not through goals, but through the institutional framework of ACTION SETTING instead.
What I have realized, as a yoga teacher, and someone who my friends would describe as having an extremely healthy and active lifestyle is this:
Continuous repeated actions eventually form habits…nurturing those habits, over time will eventually manifest into a person's CORE VALUES.
It took me a really long time (about 10 years) to reshape my core values as it relates to healthy eating and a more balanced lifestyle. Honestly, it is still a work in progress! But my core values have changed and it did not evince by me stating it such alone. I needed to prove change through the actions and decisions I made. Eventually, those decisions become as fundamental and valued as everything else you deem important in your life.
Go ahead and make those New Year's resolutions. They can be powerful and life changing, but rather than articulate the end goal by itself, we are better suited if we hinged the actions that can lead us to the end goal instead. Actions, done repeatedly, will ultimately converge and sprout new behavioral patterns, making new years resolutions a thing of reform as opposed to a short lived reverie of little to no accountability.
Sooo sorry Popeye, but I am an even bigger believer that:
You are who you are, but that is always changing since it's about who you want to be.
Before I hung up the phone with the Chinese restaurant, I said:
me: "can I get half the dumplings fried and the other half steamed?"
Chinese restaurant: "NO!"
me: "ok, i'll do steam dumplings instead"
See, I am who I am, but that is always changing.
My order came…I put the 2 diet cokes away, looked at my 8 dumplings that were perfectly steamed….
While I ate my lomein, I may/may not have taken out my skillet and fried 4 of the dumplings myself……...