As we get further into adulthood, the markings of time become fewer and further between. We aren't in school any longer, and most years don't seem to bring a noteworthy event (new job, move to a new city, illness, end/beginning of a relationship). We often feel like years blur one into the next, without separation to mark change. This makes it important to utilize the markers of time we DO have, one being the end of a current and beginning of a new calendar year.
I like to utilize this time to recognize and honor the events and experiences of last year, and consider what changes float up as of utmost priority. My clients and I do this work together at the end of December and beginning of January, to really set the tone and theme for their change narrative. One of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Plato, who said “The beginning is the most important part of the work”. This is when we set the tone for what we pay attention to, and what we pay attention to grows. Setting healthy narratives and habits early on can help them become lasting throughout the year, and lasting positive change that is aligned with our values and needs is what makes a fulfilling life. So let’s consider the four steps you can do to help move further towards fulfillment in 2018:
1) VALIDATE FIRST: Recognize What Has Worked well
All my clients hear this from me ad nauseam. The FIRST step to getting to any new truth is to validate what you've been through. This means, we need to reflect on 2017. The highs, the lows (and we know there have been some lows). And the gratitude for what went well and what we accomplished, even if it's just "Surviving" with some semblance of sanity. Validate FIRST before anything can happen next. It was a hard year, and you got through it.
2) REFLECT on What You Didn't Accomplish
What do you wish you had more of last year, and what could you stand to have less of? When a year ends, the weight and gravity of the negatives can often outweigh the triumphs. Instead of ruminating and sitting in the distress, feel it to learn from it. This is our body’s way of providing data to us. If it felt bad, this is something you would like to change (be it your weight, your lack of progress at work, not speaking up enough, your toxic relationship, or just dressing better).
3) SET ATTAINABLE GOALS for 2018
Divvy up your goals into smaller steps that you can write in a planner. Instead of “Lose 30 lbs”, consider “Work out 3 times per week (with a focus on losing 1 lb per month).” Instead of “Stop Fighting with my Partner”, consider “Attend weekly couple’s therapy and go on one date night per month”. Research shows that smaller goal-setting and goal-achieving creates small surges of dopamine in our brain that excites us and makes us eager for more. Those attainable goals give us the energy and confidence to achieve another small, attainable goal. Remember, “attainable goal” means a goal you can realistically achieve within a single number of days or weeks.
4) ENACT CHANGE via small Steps:
Plan what you will do by writing it down. I highly encourage getting a planner to create a plan of action and set yourself up for success. The weekly portion helps with the small steps, and the monthly view allow us to see trends and themes. Get creative with it – use colored highlighters and stickers to organize tasks, anything that gets you more hyped to use it! You can be accountable to yourself when you have a place and space to write, reflect, and plan. Electronic apps and calendars help you sync those goals and plans with a friend or partner, and allow you to set reminders, which are KEY to any system of planning for change (Loop Habit Tracker and Productive are apps that allow you to keep track of your goals, and even offer statistics on how you’re doing, if you’re into data to help create real lasting change). If it’s not something that’s currently part of your life, you will likely need a multitude of reminders to keep from neglecting your new goal.
And once it is written down, start DOING. This is obviously the most important part of the process. Most of us wait for the perfect time, when we are finally “ready”, but the sooner you start, the sooner new routines will become integrated into your life. Start meditating 5 minutes every morning. Sign up for and attend a fitness class you've been meaning to take. Apply for that job that will take you to the next step in your career, even if you feel you "aren't ready yet". Call that friend you’ve been wanting to reconnect with for years. Make an appointment with a Therapist to help sort out your difficulties with forgiveness. Do the things you planned to make this year more in line with your needs and desires. Your future self will thank you.