“He who moves not forward goes backward.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, think small and work to remain consistent. Someone told me a long time ago that if you can change any area of your life by a consistent five percent the effects will be remarkable. The truth of this is mirrored in the reality of global warming. Even changes of a single degree can change everything. Just a few years ago what was imperceptible even to scientists was altering the landscape of our collective future. This 5% rule applies to our personal ecosystems as well. The smallest of changes in how we communicate in, show up for, and think about our selves and our relationship can and does alter its course.
Bad things happen fast, good things take time. This is the caveat about how the five percent rule works. Accidents, illnesses, forces of nature like hurricanes or tornados arrive in a moment, often with no warning. Personal catastrophes like divorces can fall into the middle of your world like a tidal wave. How is it possible that we could not see these things coming? Relationships are fragile eco-systems, and just as in the aftermath of a storm rebuilding and recuperation is a process that takes time and patience.
It is easy to get burnt out in this daily work of relating; it is the hardest work that we are asked to do. People are annoying, even the very best of them, and especially when you live with them and are charged with their care. This fact can apply to growing families or aging parents as easily as it does to our primary partner. Keeping relationships healthy and being willing to heal the ones that are ailing is not a quick-fix; rather it is a resolution to keep the five percent rule in action. It is being willing to perform one extra act of kindness each day, it is taking the time to listen even when you have heard enough and it is finding the energy to be intimate even when you don’t feel connected. It lives in the laundry and the dishes and one more trip to the grocery store.
The five percent rule is a good resolution to take on no matter what your life situation. Another way of thinking about it is as a continuous improvement plan, where we agree to remain vigilant to our own attitude and willingness to participate. It acknowledges that we aren’t going to be perfect or expect perfection, but rather with realistic intentions, we strive to be just a bit better than yesterday. It respects the time that it takes for small, seemingly imperceptible changes to be felt and experienced.
Making a resolution to live with a five percent improvement plan is a heroic act. Not only do you courageously embrace the unpredictable and certain falling apart that happens in every life, but you simultaneously hold your heart open to trying to make the small acts of living softer and more bearable for the people you love. It is a resolution that you can keep because it commits you to a process rather than an outcome and gives you the freedom to miss the mark some days.
So go ahead, resolve to get better at whatever you choose- or what the heck, just resolve to get better in your whole life, but just go for five percent. It’s plenty.