Emotional Health

This New Year’s Eve, Don’t Resolve—Reflect!

I’m a fan of New Year’s Eve—champagne and fireworks and kissing at midnight. And new beginnings. I like that part too. The idea that you can slough off whatever you didn’t love about the world or yourself during the 12 months prior and become a new person, one who looks a little more like the adult you imagined you’d be when you were a child.

The problem is, reinvention isn’t something that happens in a single instant—which is why at midnight on December 31, I won’t make a New Year’s resolution.

Instead, I’ll take a few minutes to reflect on who I am in that particular moment. What makes me feel confident? What do I fear? Who do I love, and why? What is my purpose in the world? I know I won’t have answers to all of these questions; I might not have answers to any of them. That’s okay. The act of self-reflection is powerful in its own right.

When January 2 rolls around, I’ll ask myself again. Who am I right now? Who do I want to be? I’ll ask those questions the next day, and the next. Not as an exercise in self-critique—although there’s an element of constructive self criticism to the process—but as a way of finding a measured path from where I am to where I want to be. A path that I can reevaluate and rebuild on a regular basis without unproductive self-recrimination.

Because I live abroad, I meet a lot of travelers. I can almost always tell which have spent the most time on the road when they talk about their plans. It’s usually those with the least experience who have every leg of their trip planned meticulously. All the moving parts are arranged efficiently. It seems admirable, and—as an organizational endeavor—it is. But travel isn’t organized; it’s messy. It involves people and weather and an occasional farm animal on a bus.

If you’ve only envisioned one method of getting from point A to point F, an insurmountable obstacle along that route can feel devastating, irrecoverable.

The most savvy travelers are the ones whose plans morph every day. My bus broke down yesterday, so I had to stay in an unexpected town. Now I’m at point B. How do I get from point B to Point F? My visa didn’t come through, so I’ll have to make a side trip to the consulate. Now I’m at point C. How do I get from point C to point F?

That flexibility is a boon in any exercise in forward motion, particularly those that involve emotional or mental changes to ourselves. If I resolve to “be positive” in 2017 and then find myself talking about only negative things at lunch with a friend one day, I’ve failed. I’ll feel like a failure. But really, my bus just broke down. I can decide my trip is ruined, or I can figure out how to get back on the road toward my destination. Reexamining where I am and where I’m headed each day allows me to learn from my continuing experience in a way that helps me move forward instead of giving up when life happens.

And, who says your destination can’t change as well? Inherent in the process of positive growth is discovery. More than once on a trip, I’ve abandoned my planned route altogether because I learned that richer experiences awaited elsewhere. If I allow myself that latitude on the road, why would I constrict my life to a narrower path—especially on New Year’s Eve?

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