The end-of-year holidays form a kind of time tunnel linking the present with the past and the future. When they roll around, we take stock. What do they mean this year? How are things different from last year?
We may nostalgically remember times past, before Mom died or Jerry enlisted or the baby was born. The holidays become vantage points from which we scrutinize our history.
How did 2015 stack up, anyway? What will linger in memory? What would we happily have done without? What did we mean to accomplish that eluded us? What achievements are we proud of?
Any inventory will of course inspire intentions for the future, but New Year’s resolutions have pitfalls.
First, most people resolve to do too much too fast. The effort to do better begins to feel like major overhaul—exhausting, stressful, and unpleasant. Then we discover all of the dark reasons why we didn’t do this stuff earlier.
Equally important, we forget to provide for moments of rest, reflection on progress made, and rewards. The rewards, believe it or not, are key. Though we may be quick to congratulate our children and our subordinates for their accomplishments, when it comes to our own feats, we are often harsh taskmasters.
We minimize the achievement and the effort involved. We criticize the results. We chide ourselves for not having done more. We flog ourselves into action once again: whew! That’s done. Now it’s time to start this. Ever onward!
But these responses are poor self-management. It’s important for us to pat ourselves on the back when the job is finished even if we have misgivings about how it went. We need to appreciate ourselves and our hard work. Extra rewards are always in order when the going was extra tough.
If these recommendations seem trivial or beside the point, bear in mind that we can be only as good to others as we are to ourselves. Assuming that being a positive force in the world is important to us all, being good to ourselves is a prerequisite. And it entails a willingness to forgive.
Do you want to make next year truly meaningful and memorable? You might start by asking yourself how you could be really good to yourself in the year ahead. Consider your values and priorities and your preferred way of living. In terms of your goals and your life’s work, what is most important to you?
As you construct your agenda for 2016, a few simple steps can help you prepare for lasting results.
- Ask yourself what you liked about the past year. What do you want to change? Think about the nine domains of well-being: sleep, diet, exercise, work in the world, volunteer activity, spirituality, rest and recreation, social life, and your personal challenge. These are the components of a balanced, healthful lifestyle. How satisfied are you with your profile?
- Step back and look at your life as if you were the CEO of You, Inc. What would the good life look like if no obstacles, financial or otherwise, stood in your way? Visualize it. Where would you be? With whom? Doing what? Living how? What would you do on weekends and for vacation? How would you spend your time from month to month? From day to day? Break your vision down into departments: your health, your finances, your family, your friends, your home, your leisure time.
- Given where you are now, what would you need to do to make your dream a reality? As the responsible executive officer, what would you recommend as a first step to the desired change? A new hobby? A new friendship? An extra day at the gym? If you start with your vision—the end result—you can work your way backward to the present moment. Create a rough timeline. Don’t look for dramatic change overnight. Instead, break each target change into small parts, and tackle one at a time. Whenever you reach a target, celebrate. Reward yourself. The overarching plan will add to your sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
- Recognize mistakes as an essential part of the learning process. The things you’re not proud of helped get you where you are today. Even if you don’t like your present situation, you can give yourself credit for your current state of awareness and your informed perspective. At the end of the day, release any bad feelings when you lay your head on the pillow. Resolve to start fresh in the morning.
- We all lean toward the Excelsior Principle: we need or want more than we’ve got. Fight this tendency with mindfulness. Enjoy the present. Admire the sky. Savor the breeze. Be grateful for food and shelter. Let this moment be enough.
- If you feel frustrated and disappointed with the direction your life has taken, reviewing the past may bring to light lifetime achievements that you have overlooked or undervalued. A journal can help you track the passage of days and appreciate yourself.
- Do something kind for someone daily. Remind the people you care about that you love them.
The holidays are often challenging. They send us some annoying people. They threaten to overwhelm us with not always welcome tasks. They may also prompt anger and worries and sadness and exhaustion, all negative.
You can protect yourself from these demons by focusing on what you are doing right now. Studies have shown that we are happiest when we focus on the present. Slow yourself down. Before you worry about getting something just right, ask yourself who will know the difference in twenty years.
Whenever you can, take pleasure in being alive. Steer clear of other people’s craziness. When someone else is sour and irritable, you don’t have to follow suit. Others can control your peace of mind only if you let them.
Whatever you do, focus on good things and festive activities. Defer potentially negative interactions until the new year. In so doing you ensure that this December’s holidays will glow when you recall them in years to come.