Are you someone for whom New Year’s Resolutions work? Or are you someone who starts out gung ho, with the best of intentions, rising early to exercise and meditate, to write; do you give up bread and sugar and pasta and drink more water, eat more salads; do you update your resume and start looking for that new job assiduously… for about a week… or maybe a month… and then fall back into your old ways?
This time of year, there are a lot of articles about setting goals for the new year. For figuring out what you are going to do and just do it!
I have to say that I have never found these articles particularly helpful. And, in fact, I believe them to be harmful, setting you up to disappoint yourself. In all my life, I have really only ever known one person with a 5-year plan — who actually stuck to it — and I’m not even sure he still does that.
A few years ago, I started using New Year’s to stop looking forward, and to start looking backward. And I feel much happier with this approach. I find that it releases me to enter the New Year with an open mind and an open heart and to be more accepting of who I am and where I am going.
Here are the questions I ask myself – and this year’s answers – that help with this approach:
- What did you achieve this year that surprised you? How did that come about and why did it surprise you?
For me, 2020 was about achieving release. In January, I had a lot of plans for the year, a lot of things that I wanted to achieve. I was going to take control of my life, be the captain of my ship, take charge. When Covid hit, my initial thought was – as I suspect many people’s was, and some people’s still are – this won’t rule my life! I have places to go, people to see! I quickly ended up learning that this was not going to be something that I could take charge of, other than to take charge of my reaction to it, and even that wasn’t completely within my control. I needed to learn to release, release my need for control, release my need to make things happen, release my expectations for the year. And just let go. Once I started to practice that, I started to feel better.
- Who did you meet or reconnect with this year that made a difference in your life? How did you meet or reconnect with them and how did they make a difference?
One day this fall, out of the blue, a friend from more than 30 years ago reached out to me. He was recruiting for a job that would have sounded really attractive last summer, I would have snapped it up. He spent a long time on the phone with me, trying to persuade me to leave the job I have and take this job. It offered some really enticing challenges and travel, travel that would enable me to spend more time with my family, and an opportunity to do good in the world. I decided not to take it – I am on a path somewhere else right now – but the reasons that he gave for wanting me to take this job made me feel great! It was a lift when I needed one.
- Where did you go this year that you hadn’t been before (or what did you discover this year some place that you’ve been a million times, that you hadn’t noticed before)? What led you to this discovery?
For me, this year, it was about rediscovering a place that I had been before with new eyes. Once I started walking again, I was drawn to the river, to the open sky there. I found that, while I had been busy with other things, the city had reopened a stretch of the river that had been closed for so long I had forgotten about it. Now it’s reopened and I find it helpful to walk there and take in the sky, the smell of the water. To watch the ferries like waterbugs skitter along the river. It’s not a long stretch of the river – or a particularly natural setting – but I have come to enjoy it.
- What did you try that was new this year? How did that go – would you do it again? If so, why? If not, what new thing would you try next time instead?
Late last year, I took up Tai Chi and the studio offered a Chinese New Year’s celebration at a restaurant in Chinatown and I made a point of going. There were parts of it that I loved – the dragon dance was exciting and made me wish that I was strong enough to participate in being a dragon. And I enjoyed speaking with some of my fellow students outside of class. And I won some money in a drawing – something that has never happened to me before. I’m not planning to do it again but I was glad that I did it once. Maybe, this year, I will take a cooking class…
- When you found yourself, this year, facing something that seemed impossible at the time (although it may not now), what was it and how did you get through it?
Wow, this was certainly a year for impossibilities. The amount of change that I faced – that we all have faced and still face — has been tremendous. For me, the idea of staying home all the time has been the biggest challenge. I have gotten through it by meditating, being patient with myself and with my husband, finding new ways to connect with my friends and family so that I am not lonely (Zoom jigsaw-puzzling, for example), and finding little excuses to get outside and go for walks.
- When did you use one of your “weaknesses” as a strength this year? What did you learn from that?
One of my “weaknesses” is that I watch waaaaaaaay to much TV. This year, I used that as a strength – I found new shows, many movies, to watch with my husband and used that as a way to keep from going stir-crazy. It would have been easy to beat myself up for that, to tell myself that I must be doing improving things that made myself a better person, but sometimes all you can do is the little things, and that’s enough. Learning to be patient with yourself is an important lesson to learn.
- Who did you look at with different eyes this year? What did they do that changed your perception?
At the start of the year, I was very judgmental about a colleague who seemed to be all over the place. As the year progressed, I saw her leadership skills emerge in a different way, and I began to see her also as person, and to understand that sometimes it wasn’t about what she was trying to do, or that she had some agenda for me, but that she was just groping her way through this situation the same way that the rest of us were. That helped me build a different kind of relationship with her, a more productive relationship.
- How are you a different person now than you were last year at this time?
I am more patient with myself. I have released a lot of the guilt that I used to feel about constantly making progress, about how I spend my time.
- What three things did you do this year for others, without any extrinsic reward?
This is a hard one. I made a point of reaching out to my sister more often, when she needed support, without feeling that I needed to change her, just to be there with her. When my mom went on hospice, I started working out with her three times a week, just because she needed the companionship, the dopamine hit from using her body. And I spent a lot of time listening as people needed to talk, to share out what they are feeling in all this; listening without feeling that I needed to do something other than listen to help them.
- Name one thing about yourself that you feel really good about. One thing that you wouldn’t be you without and that will always be part of who you are.
I think this will be my ability to create a calm, safe space for people to think aloud about what they are worrying about and feeling and wondering about. It’s a physical place but also a mental space. Over Christmas, someone who I hadn’t guessed was struggling called me, in tears, about a situation outside their control. They kept saying that they weren’t looking for me to do anything about it; they just needed a safe space to release what they were feeling about the situation and how it was making them feel, and their worries associated with it. I felt honored that they had entrusted me with their vulnerability. I treasure that.
Those are my questions and my answers for the year.
How about you? What New Year’s rituals do you have? Did you find any of these questions inspiring?