The beginning of the year always brings a flurry of self-improvement programs - lose 12 kilos by Easter, get fit once-and-for-all, de-clutter your life and so on, and another flurry of competing headlines - resolutions are rubbish, diets don't work (which is kinda true), you're ace as you are etc. But somewhere in there is a middle path.
This time of the year is unique in that there is often an absurd and artificially created frenetic chaos leading up to Christmas; the urgency of seeing people who you either a) don't normally see (often for a reason, but may just be life busyness), or b) you see every week so there is no urgency and nothing much to talk about other than who they are rushing to see, followed by Christmas Day itself where you attempt to eat your body weight in festive foods.
Once that has passed, you collapse in a heap, dream of holidays at the beach and someone doing your chores for you. It is in this state of shattered disorientation that it is so easy to make wildly unrealistic resolutions. Heck, you may even still be a tad boozy, making your reasoning skills and judgement all the more questionable.
The first couple of weeks after Christmas people collapse, reflect, hopefully rest (in between sales hysteria) and begin to contemplate the coming year. Thoughts of "nup, not again", "gunna be different this time" start popping up. I couldn't tell you how many people, myself included, said something to the effect of "2015 was a s*** year - bring on 2016". But what made it awful? What was our part in that? Was it genuinely awful or was it our feeling so overwhelmed and overloaded that it was more about our limited ability to respond in a way we were happy with? In any case, I don't think you can simply suggest completely ignoring the 'new year's thing' and the tradition of contemplating the future. Rather, I think we can tweak how we do that so that it is a little brutal, punishing, unrealistic and setting us up to fail and instead is a little more nurturing, positive and something that looks good, not scary (like committing to run a marathon). Here are some prompts to get us on our way.
- What worked well? It might be how you organised your work life, doing the laundry on Thursday not Saturday, going to yoga regularly, taking your lunch to work regularly, hanging out with your partner just relaxing.
- Why did it work? What was it that made you think that was good? Perhaps it reduced your stress, freed up time, saved money, connecting with loved ones?
- What felt really nurturing to you? This doesn't have to be some huge thing or some cosmic experience, it might be something as simple as really enjoying stepping away from everything and soaking in the bath for an hour, or it could be the counselling you had to help manage that hideous work conflict, or it could be eating well.
- When did you laugh most? Who, why, when, what? And then find ways to repeat this!
- What brought you joy? Was it something you did, like taking up art again, or was it time with someone special, or maybe being in nature.
There are no right or wrong answers. My joy is not more joyous than yours (you may not even be into tea - weird, but possible I guess). And should I ever reach it, I doubt my enlightenment would outshine anyone else's - it would kind of be a bit of a contradiction.
The answers above are the areas to build on, to just do more of, to enshrine into daily living. Focusing on these positive, nurturing areas may be enough or you may want to also do the reverse questions, that is:
- What didn't work well?
- Why not?
- What felt awful, made me feel shattered, deflated and p***ed off?
- When were laughs a mile away? When were tears or raging fury your companion?
- What brought you misery? Rained on your parade?
Sure, it might feel instinctive to swap some of the "whats" with "who", that is, "who made you laugh?", "who made you feel awful?" but if you are the master/mistress of your own emotions, you can't really hand-over all that power to someone else. And sure, some-one else's behaviour may have been appalling, abusive and unjust, but rather than simply writing their name, tease it out to "being treated poorly,abused, bullied etc" made me feel rotten. It is surprising how much space that simple action can provide, and that space enables you to be clear about what was happening, how it made you feel and why, and from there, you can make choices about change.
Here are some of my answers to these questions.
- What worked well? Tea, having long relaxing baths, writing, talking with family and friends about the big stuff (and some little stuff) - this one is a bit of a new thing for me, saying no - yep, I actually put my hand up and asked to be excused. Turns out the world did not stop spinning on account of my self-care. Go figure.
- Why did it work? I connected with people, got support, shared, laughed, loved, took time out, gave myself permission to stop.
- What felt really nurturing to you? The times when I did meditate, eat well and allowed love in. Taking time out is nurturing. And I began writing again - not work or study related writing, just me-writing and that feels so very good and so true.
- When did you laugh most? The quiet unsuspecting moments with loved ones and being able to be brutally honest about a couple of things with people who know where I am coming from and who didn't think me the she-devil for my thoughts!
- What brought you joy? My most joyous moment for the year was being brought an excellent cup of tea in bed by my partner on my birthday. Lots of reasons that was so perfect. The return of a wider range of birds to our yard now that the neighbours and their bird-eating cat have moved. Being in the bush and being with love.
And the not-so-pretty answers....
- What didn't work well? That would be the amount of ice-cream with milo and wine consumed this year (to be clear, the ice-cream and milo were together, the wine was separate). It did work well to a point when times were full of worry but ultimately, not a great strategy. Trying to do it all (what, me?). Trying to reason with the unreasonable - I gave up pretty soon so that was good.
- Why not? It was unhealthy physically, emotionally and mentally; these things depleted me when I really needed to bring my A-game to a really challenging year.
- What felt awful, made me feel shattered, deflated and p***ed off? This was how last year began - I felt undermined and misrepresented and that I was treated pretty shoddily by a couple of professional associates. The flip side of that is that I could recognise what was happening and so remove myself from the situation and that I had lovely support from other professional colleagues and associates. The rest of the year was more personal and it was concern for loved ones whose health was very poor.
- When were laughs a mile away? When were tears or raging fury your companion? When I was too busy ruminating, stewing, feeling hard done by and when I was too anxious and fearful.
- What brought you misery? Rained on your parade? For me there are a couple of things; I burnt myself out so then became disappointed in not being able to perform how I would like, I had great hopes for an ambitious plan (not in my clinical practice and indeed, not directly for me at all) which was a tad too ambitious it turned out and mostly that someone I love has been so ill.
And so to the new year. More tea, sleep, baths, yoga and meditation, exercise, laughing and loving. And space. And writing for myself. Less over-engineering my life, less juggling an impossible number of balls (I'm not even that co-ordinated), less wine and ice-cream with milo (it is pretty good though, trust me).
How about you?
Oh, and more doing what makes me happy!
(This post first appeared on Jane's blog www.lemongroveroad.com.au)