The holiday season can capture all our focus, attention, and time. Often, to the point where we can’t see past January 1st. However, time doesn’t stop. We can find ourselves on January 2nd, with the hustle and bustle of the season over, unsure what to do next. Or on the other end of the spectrum, with a long list of New Year's resolutions without realistic and tangible plans to support their fruition. As the New Year approaches, how can we proactively prepare and set ourselves up for success in the months to come?
First, it can be important to reflect on the past year, what you have experienced, the lessons you’ve learned, what you want to carry into your new year, and what you want to be different. Maybe the past year of life has held some of your biggest successes or your hardest losses. Maybe it’s been mediocre and seemingly uneventful. Whatever your year has held, it can be examined to benefit your future. Reflection can often lead to insight and meaning, to carry with you as you move forward.
What we discover through reflection can inform what we do next, specifically in prioritizing and preparing for our upcoming season. For many people, this materializes into hopes, goals, or for some, New Year’s resolutions. Whether reflecting, goal-setting, or resolution-forming, doing the following can help you navigate natural barriers in order to look and move forward.
Letting Go of What is Behind
Every year, as we enter the January month, people speak about fresh starts and new beginnings. Realistically nothing is fresh or new without active choice. The difficult things in our lives don’t magically disappear because our calendars start over. Instead, most of us continue in similar circumstances and routines. How can we begin to create change? Maybe we need to begin by letting go. It is common to hold onto the things that are holding us down. Why is this? Sometimes it can be because it is all we know, the natural patterns that have become habits in our life. Sometimes, it’s because even if we are unsatisfied in a certain area of our life, we are more comfortable with the status quo then with stepping in to the unknown. However, in order to move forward, we have to let go of what is holding us back. It is naive to say this is an easy process, but it is possible, and oh so freeing.
Pressing Towards What’s Ahead
Now what are you moving towards? It’s all about where you want to go. Maybe you don’t know yet or maybe you’ve known for a long time but feel like you aren’t making any progress. Our goals, and the things we prioritize and strive towards are defined by what we value. Once your values are clear, you can more confidently determine your priorities. Prioritizing is *difficult*. In the midst of a performance-based, often perfectionistic culture, it can be extremely challenging to pare down your list of “what could be better” in order to be effective in growth. However, having firm values and priorities in place allows you to focus in on what you are “pressing towards”, so that you can actually press forward.
We all have expectations, some which we are conscious of and others of which we are not yet aware. When our expectations are not met, we react in various ways, both emotionally and behaviorally. Often these reactions harm us, those around us, or work against what we actually want. Becoming more aware of our expectations in different areas of life and within our relationships can significantly help in managing these reactions. Specifically in relation to goals, unmanaged and unrealistic expectations of ourselves, other people, circumstances, or our progress can hinder our ability to meet these goals. Acknowledging realistic limitations, recognizing potential setbacks that can occur, and giving ourselves grace can go a long way in working towards the change we seek in a manageable way.
Recognizing Responsibility & Letting Go of Control
Part of the challenge in this process is first believing that these two practices: (1) recognizing responsibility and (2) letting go of control, can co-exist. I believe they do, and the balance of the two can significantly influence our satisfaction in life, specifically when trying to create change or meet goals. When feeling overwhelmed it can be paramount to stop, and determine if the thing you are worried or stressed about is within your control or not. If it is, how can you take responsibility in one practical way? One thing at a time. If the focus of your stress isn’t in your control, acknowledge that. If you cannot control the situation, then there’s no benefit to focusing on what you can do to try and control it. Instead, spend your energy on determining how can you cope with the stress and take care of yourself. That way, you can support yourself and your health, regardless of the outcome of those things you cannot control.
All things considered, these are not steps of a self-help process guaranteed to bring you change or “success” in a specified amount of time. They are however effective for many in creating space for change. They are a place to begin, to move towards renewal and hope.
Madison Meadows, M. Ed. Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern #77757 Supervised by Leah McDill, Ph.D. Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor: #13143
New Life Counseling Center: (512) 238-1700, ext. 316