The end of one year and the start of another is often a time for reflection and a belief that we can, at least symbolically, have a fresh start. When we choose what we want to do in the future, often we don’t spend enough time reflecting on our present situation. Is the life we’re living satisfying? Do we need to change ourselves or our goals to make it more satisfying? Is our current life synced with our values? Without assessing our situation fully, we might point our future plans in the wrong direction. We might decide to make sacrifices to achieve goals that in the end won’t make enough of a difference to justify the sacrifice. For example, is looking better in a swim suit enough of a carrot to diet and change one’s eating habits permanently?
It could be time to approach our planning for the new year from a new angle. Recently, I heard a minister describe a modern tradition in Japan in which people are encouraged to vote for a word chosen from a list of words that would best embody the new year. Once votes are tallied, the winner becomes the national word for the year. In a similar vein, a writers’ blog asked the question, “What word will guide your writing for 2017?” Different contributors came up with “enjoy” the process, “trust” my judgment and experience, “focus,” to stay on schedule, and “becoming” less hung up on worries about getting or not getting published.
If you were describing a life you aspire to in 2017, what words would you put on your list? Mine would include “give up,” the foolish idea that I can control everything; “create” art, music, and words; and “stop” imagining the worst is yet to come. Just saying the words won’t mean anything, unless I also reflect on what I would have to do to make sure they direct my actions.
Another approach to reflection comes from the website dailygood.org, which asks the question, “What Will The Theme Of Your Life Be in 2017?” by Kira M. Newman. The entire piece is worth reading, but for now, here’s the CliffsNotes version. Newman says that from childhood forward, we create stories about who we are and the past experiences that shaped us. “Stories are the way we make sense of the world, and we’re constantly narrating and revising in our heads, sometimes without even realizing it..Although our life story is based on real events, it is also highly personal and subjective.” For example, two people might have lost a parent at an early age, but describe the impact of that experience on their own growth and development differently.
Newman goes into detail about three life themes “linked to well-being”: 1) those that revolve around social relations and community, 2) ones that emphasize personal achievement and status, and 3) those that focus on redemption. We don’t have to limit ourselves to one, because they can change over time.
And she talks about the need to weave together our goals and life themes. “Goals and New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be isolated aspirations, failed and forgotten. Instead, they can contribute to crafting a life theme and an identity that endure.”