Once upon a time in a world before memes and gifs expressed our emotions and social media was used to share them, we sent email chains. You may still know some people who use this valuable ancient practice. One such email included a Native American proverb “A Tale of Two Wolves” where a Cherokee elder tells his grandson of two wolves that battle within each of us. One wolf, he explains is envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, ego, anger, and fear. The other wolf is joy, faith, hope, kindness, truth, generosity, and love. When asked which will win, the elder tells his grandson “The one that you feed.”
In the Wonderland-like swirl of thoughts in my mind, this story has been sharing featured space with an old joke about a poor man who prays to win the lottery. You’ve likely heard one version or another of it. Day after day the man falls to his knees, weeping and praying to God for the blessing of winning the lottery. The lament continues for months until one day the sky opens to reveal the bright light of an angel too beautiful to behold. The messenger of God speaks in a booming and compassionate voice “My dear child, please… please just buy a ticket.”
As 2020 ends there are two themes that I hear equally and more than any others. There is a lot of resentment and distain for the year that is passing. On the other hand, there is also a lot of hope and anticipated improvement in the year ahead. As a society we have placed an exorbitantly high expectation on the transition of a single second in time. Ancient Greeks had two words for time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is quantitative and chronological. It is the actual passing of measured time. It is structured, unforgiving, and unwavering. Kairos is more spiritual in nature. It is qualitative and timeless, the moment of opportunity, the opening for something greater. By focusing on 2020 ending and 2021 beginning we are putting all of our eggs in Chronos’s basket when it is Kairos who likely has our winning ticket. We may be feeding the wrong wolf.
Now I assure you, I am not throwing stones from my house of glass. From killer bees to COVID and everything in between this year has been a doozy! I have personally spent far more of my time yelling than doing yoga over the past 12 months. My fear wolf is stuffed and my faith wolf is surviving on scraps, but that is not going to change with the turning of a calendar year. The date is not to blame for my own personal failures this year; I am. Which means that I am also the only one who can change my circumstances.
While I am not a big resolution maker (they sadly don’t have the greatest statistical success rate) there are some strategies that you can implement if resolutions are your thing. However, studies show that the greatest tools to use to evoke change are within ourselves. Our readiness to change, self-efficacy, and willingness to implement behavioral change are our best devices for attaining our goals. We also experience greater long-term success when intrinsically motivated than we do when extrinsically rewarded. Knowing all of this, maybe we can view this passage of time not as the entry into a new year that will provide us with better conditions, but instead seize the opportunity to alter our own perspectives, our own thoughts, patterns, and behaviors and give ourselves a better life.
This kind of change is hard work though! So, let’s use the experts advice and take small steps. Don’t decide today to be a better parent. Decide during one conversation to be present with your child and listen to him/her or take 10 minutes to just play. Don’t set your goal to become a more compassionate person. Choose to take a single breath before responding during a difficult conversation and decide to stay silent or simply agree to disagree. Instead of sitting at your desk scrolling through the angry and arrogant comments beneath a post, step outside and breathe in the air, feel the sun on your face or the rain on your palm. As an energy addict I know that we receive what we give. If we are collectively putting out anger and fear, blaming a year or group of people for our own suffering, we’re going to get killer bees. In that same regard if we let go of our resentment or need for argument and blame, if we make small changes to take charge of our own thoughts and behaviors, and choose to feed the right wolf inside of us we can make immeasurable positive change. We’re going to fail sometimes, and that’s okay. Failure is only an opportunity to learn and do better. If we keep trying though, little by little, as Gandhi advised, we can eventually “Be the change (we) wish to see in the world.”
Norcross, J., Ratzin, A., Payne, D. (1989) Ringing in the new year: The change process and reporting outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.
Roland Bénabou, Jean Tirole, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, The Review of Economic Studies, Volume 70, Issue 3, July 2003, Pages 489–520, https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-937X.00253 Smith, J. (1969). Time, times, and the ‘right time’, “Chronos” and “Kairos”. The Monist,53(1), 1-13.