A new year, a new you. We often hear or see this in self-improvement classes, magazines, blogs. Should the emphasis be on “new” or “renew”?
A New Years Resolution is very much a western idea, however the concept of “reflection” transcends many religious and spiritual traditions. What to reflect on for the last year? Here are some basic questions:
- Did I learn from my successes and mistakes?
- Have I changed at least one thing about my consumption habits that will lead to a better health outcome? (Diet, exercise, use of substances, financial spending)
- Did and do I ask for help when I need it? (Social support, counseling, etc.)
- Am I learning more about myself and others? Accepting those things I cannot change….
- Do I better understand love, friendship, family, and society?
- Do I and have I given thanks for what I have?
- Did I visualize at least one goal that I managed to succeed at?
The above help one gain “insight.” I make it a habit each year to reflect on my journal about what I accomplished in the previous year and what I hope to accomplish or strive for in the next. There are some goals like “exercise more” that can seem unattainable in the strict sense (e.g. join a gym, run a marathon) either for physical or monetary reasons or life circumstances. However, I focus on what I’ve done and congratulate myself for my persistence and alternative course of action. It is not about a “new” approach as working toward “renew” of your outlook. Even Forbes Magazine had a set of New Year’s Resolutions and they said focus more on the ‘we’ and less on the ‘me’… that is a first!
Examining patterns of behaviors will help you recognize them faster. We often think that we will remember everything but our memory deludes us as we know a lot about “false memories.” It is most useful to write things down as your pattern may be more obvious towards that “aha!” moment.
Financial health — do you continuously spend more than you earn? We’re not saying starve here, or not “treat” yourself to something nice like a good bottle of wine, a fancy dinner, a new shirt or dress. BUT, do you really need to buy caviar and champagne, or the most expensive shoes for that night out? The basic rules most financially responsible families pass on to their children are:
- track what you spend your money on
- pay for necessities (for your health, food, insurance)
- don’t rely on credit (pay off debts)
- invest (start with your time, create ideas, start small think bigger)
- teaching children at each stage (7 Smart ways parents teach kids about money; Parents.com even has a set of age-by-age list of money teaching recommendations).
Physical health – Can you modify some things? Taking the bus and walking longer distances some days it will help you get more in shape and notice things you would otherwise miss as a driver rushing to and from places. One night I walked 2 miles in the cold from the metro/subway to my house in the middle of the night….crisp January nights can offer one the most amazing ‘star’ features, you just need to be aware of your surroundings and any stray dogs.
Relationship health — Do your relationships fulfill most of your needs? This includes friendships as well as romantic relationships (are these ‘needs’ realistic…. not narcissistic?). The key here is, do these people enhance you overall? are these people well-intended or do they drain you? (if they are toxic to your health think about setting some limits) Are you able to forgive and put your ego aside and apologize when it is needed? People come into your life to offer something, teach you something, share something and the Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” says it best — some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused… keep your head up!
There are many articles about healthy relationships which includes supporting each other, open or improving communication, reducing our expectations (too many romance novels or unrealistic movie experiences of ‘romance’ or ‘love’ may add to unrealistic expectations — do you really think you will fall in love with someone you meet at a bar? rarely happens…), keeping our bodies safe (no abuse/violence – check out the Duluth Model “Power and Equality Wheels”, preventing STDs/STIs/HIV by using condoms every time you have sex, getting annual check-ups like pap smears). Long-term support and commitment may be better for our health — marriage may not be such a ‘bad’ thing! Are you a commitment phobic? seems to be a trend according to experts, reinforced by our fast-paced societies. Many people afraid to even take one basic step into the sea of a more fulfilling ‘relationship’ often let their lives pass them by… they are so afraid of being ‘hurt’ again, they simply shut down and close off any chances of love.
- A very useful book about this was written by a Rabbi, “Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program” to get you to think about your patterns — do you often pick the ‘wrong’ people, do you sabotage your relationships, do you think everyone is not perfect or you’re too picky? have you closed yourself off to love?
- A great movie (the book is better) on the reality of our self, potential limitations, and sometimes luck in finding love is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The emphasis for me on mindfulness, and especially allowing yourself indulgences like food without guilt, dressing for yourself and not others, are very important in a society obsessed with perfection… and no, you don’t need to travel to Indonesia, India, or hike the Himalayan mountains to find peace. Then again the experience of seeing truth ‘in front of us’ sounds a bit like Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist.
Spiritual health — Do you feel you have a place in the world? Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with God? (even agnostics or atheists in times of trouble may question if there is something ‘more’, and we know from research that those with a spiritual foundation fare better long-term in terms of their health outcomes). The turning point for me was when I met a whole bunch of cosmologists and physicists who despite the science they studied, they understand that there is something greater, that we are all interconnected, we simply need to ‘notice’ more and work together. For counselors and for self-improvement I recommend Scott Peck and Thomas Moore books. My favorites are: “The Road Less Traveled” by Psychiatrist Scott Peck, M.D. and “Care of the Soul” by a former monk turned psychologist, Thomas Moore.
“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life