The Clean Slate Myth: How to Make Your Intentions Stick

I’m already terribly behind on all my good intentions and it’s only January 4th. Anyone else not ready for the new year? One of my friends is handling this dilemma by moving her new year’s date to February 1st. I considered doing this too and as I let myself off the proverbial hook that certain things have to be happening on a specific date, I immediately felt my shoulders and jaw relax. I wonder: is there ever the perfect first day? Where did the idea form that a fresh start is a completely new, untouched, white canvas? What happens when we can’t erase what we already have and instead find a way to work with what we’ve got?

The “Clean Slate” concept is deceiving. This idea, that we’re going to wake up tomorrow and be fundamentally different than we are today, is one of the main reasons we can’t see our intentions through. We set ourselves up to fail when we approach change from outside of ourselves rather than from within. It’s simply not possible to flip a switch and reverse all of our experiences and long held beliefs. They’re part of us, right down to the cellular level.

Our perception of how long change should take, what’s required, and the obstacles and complications along the way, is jaded. Your life isn’t a carefully montaged HGTV show where we see the “before and after” in a neat sequence of short clips.  

I’m a huge fan of HGTV and can hardly wait to see how the Brothers or Chip and Joanna reveal the transformation of their latest “Fixer Upper”. Binge-watching home improvement shows had me actually believing I was a designer, and then I was quickly acquainted with the “reality” part of TV when our major condo renovation didn’t transform smoothly in 60 minutes.

I’ve always believed that the way I spend January 1st sets the tone for the year. I mindfully select where I wake up and how I spent the day. This year, despite my intentions, it was chaotic, unprepared, and flat out stressful. I haven’t finished my annual roadmap, I haven’t done my desire mapping, I’ve skipped my meditation and workouts four days in a row and my shoulders burn with ache. Then, my editor reminds me that she’ll need my blog copy for review and my coach firmly urges me to take a break, sleep, and relax. It’s only January 4th! Where did December go? Where did the quiet, reflective time go? Oh, I know… into the renovation that was only supposed to take a couple of days tops.

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into holidays with five books in tow and all the intentions of “catching up” on rest, reading, and planning... only to find myself falling into bed each night completely exhausted from all things except resting, reading, and planning. The truth is, if I don’t do it now, I’m not going to do it on vacation.

It’s not that I can’t be a designer, speed reader, and power napper– it’s the process of change itself that I needed to tenderize and reformulate. Or in my case, bring into consideration. It’s a process that requires commitment, consistency, and compassion.

When I was a child, I loved the beginning of a new school year. We would buy crisp clean notebooks, new pencils and ink, sometimes a new satchel. I wanted to hold onto the “purity” of the new for as long as I could. My own desire for perfection was cheered on by my East German teachers, who didn’t just want us to scratch a line through a misspelled word, but use a ruler to make it razor-straight. I couldn’t do that! I begged my mom to buy me a new notebook and then, I would neatly rewrite everything from the beginning.

I would spend so much time focused on the perfect result, I lost sense of the process! I was stuck writing out the first paragraph over and over. Today, I believe we do this with other goals we make as well. Our perfection not only prevents us from seeing through our vision, it pushes against it and can make us regress… gain weight instead of lose it, throw out more art than we make, give up on our business instead of moving forward. We end up waiting for perfect days to align that we can “start over on a clean slate”.

I would still much rather wipe the slate clean and start fresh instead of working with what I’ve got, but now I understand that we’re not clean slates; we are humans with complex experiences and intricate histories that impact and colour our reality. We can’t go to the store and buy a crisp, clean new body or mind. We have to accept what we have and find ways to work with that.

Some of us may choose to move the “start” date this year, while others may not set a date at all. We each have to find our own set of tools, unique designs and renovation solutions that fit our space. What we all share is that we can’t take ourselves out of the process of change. Whatever your new year's resolutions are, make sure they are true to you! Spend a little extra time on how you want to feel rather than what you want to be. Write a letter to yourself as you would to your best friend and include how and why you will be there for all parts of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Identify obstacles that may get in the way and consider creative, heart-centred ways to face them. Honour the process and make room for perhaps a different, better result you hadn't considered before.

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself because the clean slate is a myth and the beginning of a new year doesn’t have to be the start of a race! Take your time, use this month to really feel into your heart space and what you want this year to be about.

If your 2019 blank slate is already covered in smudges and you want a new way to plan your year, I'm hosting a great workshop called Goals with Soul on January 26th. Toss away your blank slate, reconnect with the core of what YOU want to see more of in your life, and take steps to make it reality.