This will be the year — that you start getting up at 5 a.m. to go running, that you go on two dates a week, that you develop a system that keeps your closet clutter-free.
There’s a funny optimism that occurs at the beginning of a new year. Somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, many of us become convinced that we’ll be able to alter fundamental aspects of our personalities — or at least become upgraded versions of ourselves.
And every year, sometime around mid-March, we realize we’re still hitting the snooze button, still weeding through overstuffed closets, still spending way too much time with our Netflix queues. We didn’t become shinier, happier or more popular versions of ourselves. We’re still basically working with last year’s model, and we see that as a problem.
When he came to Oxford in the 1960s, Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was surprised by the way Westerners rejected themselves. The people he met, he writes in The Sanity We Are Born With, seemed to believe they had made some fundamental mistake, for which they were being punished.
By contrast, Buddhist philosophy holds that all beings are essentially good. We’re like diamonds in mud; our fundamental goodness might get clouded with the muck of societal confusion and aggression, but it never changes. To access our higher selves, we don’t need to eradicate some terrible flaw. We simply need to clear off the muck and grime of unhelpful beliefs and attitudes.
In that spirit, I’d like to suggest a few concepts to shed in 2016.
1. “I’m not FILL-IN-THE-BLANK enough.”
Thin. Successful. Funny. Attractive. Compassionate. Generous.
The rap on single people is that they’re entitled and narcissistic. But the singles I have met through my coaching practice and book events are nothing like that.
To the contrary, they’re kind and thoughtful — and incredibly hard on themselves.
Because they would like a partner and don’t yet have one, they come up with long lists of things that are “wrong” with them: they’re too aloof, too scatter-brained, too inexperienced, etc.
I understand this impulse; when I was single I used to treat myself like an ongoing self-improvement project. Then one day it hit me. I’m not perfect, but none of the happily coupled people I know are, either. As marriage researcher John Gottman has noted, you don’t need to get rid of all your quirks and neuroses to find a good relationship. “The key to a happy marriage isn’t having a ‘normal’ personality but finding someone with whom you mesh,” he writes in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.
2. “If I do X, then I will be more attractive.”
When I was writing my book, It’s Not You, I interviewed a woman who said that as she has gotten older she has taken a more lighthearted approach to dating. “I think that makes me more attractive,” she said.
I was glad she was enjoying dating more, but I was slightly disheartened by this. She still seemed to buy into the idea that pleasing others is the game; she was still giving others power to judge her.
Single people are often told to develop confidence so they will be more attractive to others. I say develop your confidence so you don’t have to worry about what others think.
3. “It’s not fair.”
The transition from self-doubt to self-acceptance can be rocky. Once you realize that you don’t have to improve to find love — that you’re just as worthy of it as anyone else — the first feeling is relief. The second feeling is frequently anger — at all the time you wasted questioning yourself, and at all the various societal forces that led you down that path.
Those forces aren’t going to disappear just because you had an epiphany. And in my experience, trying to argue your case to others is usually not an effective way to convince them that you don’t have issues. So don’t worry about whether your great-aunt or your long-married college friend gets it. You get it.
4. “Now I’ve shed these feelings forever.”
Bad news: You never get there. Married, single, whatever.
One day you’re feeling great, having shed all those damaging beliefs. A few days later, someone cute will neglect to text you and you’ll find yourself back in confusion and doubt. That’s fine. You’re living your life, and naturally dust and dirt will fall. Just remember it’s not you — it’s the mud. And you can always wash it off again.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.
Originally published on HuffPost Women.