The beginning of the calendar year—ahhh! . . . Resolutions. Big plans. Massive change!
And how long do those resolutions last?
We know the statistics, that resolutions set on January 1st are often abandoned within the first month, depending on whose reporting you read. There are countless guides for determining and keeping resolutions to create a better personal and professional life. But even with the wisest advice, I think there is something overlooked when we contemplate change and later, wonder why it never happened.
We do better when we Do One Thing.
This is a hard sell in a modern world, where we pride ourselves on multi-tasking (not a real thing, it turns out) and on doing more in every aspect of our lives. One of the lessons we have learned in our pandemic era, however, is that we can let go of some of the activities and tasks that really were not benefitting us in the first place. We can get by with less, because we had to, particularly in that first year of lock-downs and working from home. Where “less” used to seem like a disadvantage, we may be discovering that it is a way of finding freedom, clarity, and energy to pursue our best life.
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”
Along with a handful of other quotes that inspire me, these words of Hindu philosopher and teacher Swami Vivekananda have been posted at my home writing desk for several years. It seems I don’t even notice them until that day when I am ping-ponging among all kinds of tasks and not doing anything well—and getting more and more frustrated. While on a larger level, the wisdom of “taking up one idea” is a call to discover one’s life purpose or Dharma, even in-the-moment awareness of trying to do too much at once can be insightful.
When we “take up one idea,” we do one thing. We channel our energy. We focus. We are able to think a thought through, to go deep and explore rather than repeatedly jumping in and out of the shallow end of the mental pool. We open ourselves to possibilities and solutions we otherwise would not have the free brain space to receive. We start to breathe better, which helps us regain composure and concentration. When we fix our gaze, our Drishti, on one thing in a yoga balance pose, we avoid all the stuff that can take us off center. Staying in Tree pose for several breaths is more than a physical accomplishment; it is the process of tuning out, zooming in, and just being in one place, literally and metaphorically.
Maybe it’s time to reframe our thinking around the practice of Doing One Thing. Yes, we have responsibilities and obligations to a lot of people; we can’t all quit our jobs and go sit on a mountaintop and meditate. But I do think we have ways to train ourselves to stop bouncing and move toward a One Thing practice:
Do One Thing at a time. What one thing, right now, deserves our attention? As I write this, I have to close my email and messages apps, or I will get distracted every few minutes. In a rehearsal, we can model One Thing by staying on one idea at a time—the more instructions we give singers in any one moment, the less they understand what to do now (if we don’t focus on one thing, how can they?). When we stay on one musical goal and go deep, the engagement, the educational and musical “imprint” (read recall or memory), and the felt experience of what it means to sing in a choir are enriched.
Do One Thing in each area of your life. We overwhelm ourselves with too many goals related to health or work or our house or our relationships. Rather than trying to eat more fruits and veggies and drink more water and exercise more and lose 10 pounds by date-to-be-determined and on and on, choose One Thing that you can give your attention to, and which can serve as a catalyst for all the others. We may find that Elliot Eisner had it right when he said, “small differences can have large effects.”
Do One Thing with your life. What is your mission, purpose, or dharma, the one thing upon which all else stands? Though I reword my mission regularly, the essence is the same: to realize and use my unique gifts to make a positive impact through teaching, encouraging, and loving. I have become particularly aware of how my mission has shaped my life in this era of change and challenge. There is no perfection but having a clear mission helps us know when we are “on” or “off, to know when we are doing the One Thing for which we are uniquely designed.
Doing One Thing increases the likelihood we will get more done and better, and that we will enjoy and learn from the process. Instead of being frustrated that we didn’t accomplish our list and getting stuck in the shame-and-blame loop, Doing One Thing means we are more likely to celebrate a sense of moving forward, even in a small way . . . and isn’t that what resolutions are all about?
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) and a certified Brain Longevity® Specialist, a research-based certification on yoga and integrative medicine for brain health and healthy aging. Reach her at: or ramonawis.com.