This is the time of year when we hear a lot about New Year's Resolutions, goals we're supposed to achieve over the next twelve months, diets we can be on, and places we can go to improve our lives and to bring us the ever-elusive happiness we seek. Now I'm not here to bash Resolution-making as a practice; in fact, I applaud goal-setting and planning. I'm all for living intentionally and on purpose. Roadmaps are vital for any journey from Point A to PointBe.
Still, while all of those external sources attempt to tell me where I can focus, what equipment to buy, and how much weight I can lose in an amazing short period of time, it's easy to feel a sense of Lack. To feel a sense of falling short somehow. The dreaded "less than" feeling. Under this barrage, I can fall prey to thinking I'm too much of one thing, but not enough of another; to think that if I only had a widget or subscribed to a new program or downloaded a specific app, everything would fall into place. So if I come up with the right list of Resolutions, then next year will be different.
But before I charge headlong into everything I'm lacking, or even to develop and list of ways I want to improve, I use this time of year for something else. I pause. I reflect. I give myself some grace for this year.
How? By asking myself one key question -- in fact, it's such a key question that I try to remember to ask myself this question in a variety of situations (we'll talk more about that in a second).
The question: "How am I different now than I was then?"
And I want to answer this question as specifically and deeply as I can. Not just acknowledging that I'm different now, but in what ways am I different now? How have I changed? How have I grown? How have I been impacted by the curve balls and crappiness that occurs during any given year? What victories and accomplishments can I make sure I celebrate?
The benefits of this key question are multifold:
Simple Awareness: It's easy for me to forget all of the things that happen in the course of a year. By going back through my journal entries, photos, social media posts, and good ol' memory bank, I shine a light on these things. Awareness leads to Appreciation.
Gratitude: I'm not exactly breaking new ground here by pointing out that a consistent Gratitude Practice can have numerous positive effects on our psyche. Study after study makes this abundantly clear. But something amazing happens at this time of year, even in the years of Shittiness -- my hand can't keep up with my mind once I start listing all of the things to be grateful for. It's quite humbling, actually. And it's in this humility that Gratitude offers Grace.
Grace to be gentle with myself: I've had difficult years before, and I'll have difficult years again. This year has been a particularly rough one. And it's important for me to acknowledge that some life events over the last couple of years have a taken a toll. Pain has changed me. But that's okay, it's supposed to. If I was left completely unchanged by pain, it would go against our genetic mapping; I'd be a robot. It's imperative for me touch this scar tissue, but that doesn't mean scratch it. But to embrace it. Because it is this pain that has helped me to grow, to learn, to improve, to be more compassionate and empathetic. So by this Grace, I can remind myself to celebrate .victories.
Celebrating Successes: An essential element of Positivity is allowing ourselves to celebrate our accomplishments and achievements. To embrace the joyful and to claim the victories. We need to get beyond feeling guilty for acknowledging to ourselves, "You know what? That was badass! That was awesome." When you go back through the past year, that list of successes grows quickly.
Perspective: I lost my father this year. I miss a lot of things about him, but some of what I miss the most is his Blue Collar Zen wisdom. One of my favorites of his Earl-the-Pearl-isms was, "If you think you got it bad just take a good look around and it won't take you long to change your mind." Add all of this up, and I see that Brutal and the Beautiful routinely occupy the same space at the same time. That is the heart of Unintended Positives thinking.
Unintended Positives: I slipped in a word on you earlier. Maybe you caught it: Abundantly. Yep, one major benefit of not starting from a place of Lack is that I get to experience Abundance. The lessons learned and the opportunities for growth, the perspective, the unintended positive byproducts of shitty circumstances -- not in spite of, but because of these rough times. By using Unintended Positives thinking, and using Unintended Positives as a practice, we see the Pandemic as brutal, yes, but also as Shitstorm Training.
So I'm very different now than I was at the beginning of 2022. How? And in what ways? That's my job to figure out.
But the truth is that I am different now in this moment after writing this piece than before I started it. How? In what ways?
I'm different now than I was when my last relationship ended. How? In what ways?
I'm different at the end of a workout, or a yoga class, or a long walk than before I started. I'm different at the end of a vacation, a trip to the museum, a dinner out with friends, a conversation over coffee.
How? And in what specific ways? And what can I do with these answers moving forward? If you have a journaling practice, then write out your answers; if you meditate, then put these questions out there and allow the clarity to come back to you; if you utilize talk therapy, share these questions with a professional; if you have close friends you can share deep, meaningful discussions with, share these questions over coffee.
The more meaningful answers I have to these questions, then the more meaningful my goal-setting, my planning, and my resolutions will be. And when I turn these goals into action steps, I'll move forward intentionally, and with grace and perspective.