By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
The New Year excites me. Everything is possible. There’s a fresh clean slate—and what you put on it is up to you!
If you read that with a frown, turn it upside down. Seriously. Studies show that just going through the motions of smiling makes you feel better. That’s because it causes a whole slurry of chemicals in the brain and body to fight stress and depression. Things really are brighter when you smile, so even if doesn’t feel right, or you think you have nothing to look forward to, will you give it a try? (1, 2)
The truth is, you can start over any time, and on the precipice of new calendar year, the time is particularly right. Everybody’s with you, too, so it’s like the whole world is united on a theme. This New Year is also the start of a new decade, so all the more reason to feel excited. Are you smiling yet?
Fresh. New. Start.
Say those words aloud. Two are descriptive of what a beginning is all about. The third one is a verb: Start. That means action.
It’s said that hindsight is 20-20, so start by reflecting on 2019. Then use what you see and feel to make changes to support yourself (emotionally, physically, within your family and community, your spiritual self, your relationships, your finances. . . .). No need to make a list right now. Just get out a piece of paper and answer a few questions. Ask yourself:
- If I had to choose a few words to describe 2019, what would those words be?
Write the words, and then jot down a few notes about the year. It’s best to use months or seasons as headings to jar your memory and organize your notes. For each time period, answer:
- What came out of nowhere, was hurtful, or shocking?
- Is there a particular person or situation that hurt or upset me?
- What were the results of those struggles?
- What made me happy?
- What did I complete, personally or professionally, that made a difference, made me feel proud or accomplished?
- How did those “wins” affect me and my life?
Reflect on the last year. Write down your thoughts. Focus on your feelings, too.
As you reflect, notice how the struggles make you feel now. Do your shoulders tense? Does your neck hurt? Do you feel your chest tightening? Good news! Those things happened last year, but they don’t have to repeat. Shake out your shoulders. Take a long, deep breath, and then blow it out forcefully so your lips vibrate. Make a noise as you do—it feels good!
Now move on to the good things. Really savor the joy you felt over things that made you happy. Relive the satisfaction and fulfillment of your accomplishments. Noticing these things and savoring them is beneficial (endnote).
Don’t compare your wins to someone else’s or minimize your successes. Depending on the challenges you face, even proper dental hygiene can feel oppressive. For someone who has been ill, depressed, or knocked sideways by someone’s hurtful behavior or game-playing, taking a walk to the corner, repotting a houseplant, cooking a meal at home, or taking a pet for its shots can be huge. Give yourself a pat on the back for any progress. As I’ve said repeatedly, even the tiniest step in the right direction is advancing and can build momentum.
Now, let’s look forward. Ask yourself:
- What would I like to do differently or feel better about in the New Year? (Come up with specific items.)
- What have I been worried about that I know I can’t control?
- Is there anything that needs me to let it go?
- How would I like to be?
You may want to respond differently to ongoing situations, learn to put yourself first, or tackle some big projects you’ve been putting off. My advice is to sit with your thoughts, dreams, and goals, reflect upon what’s stopping or holding you back, and then devise ways to move forward. These can be small plans. In fact, those are often best.
If you want to exercise more, start with something doable and build on it over time. If you are always last on your own list, commit to one morning when you’re not available to others—and then turn off your telephone. If a big project is begging for completion, an action a day adds up to 365 actions by the end of the year. My guess is that you won’t last that long. Often, one small action leads to another. When you start to see daylight, you’ll devote more time—because you’ll want to mark it “Done!”
Look again at that last question: How do you want to be? Use it to come up with a few words you’d like to use as themes for 2020. One year, I decided “kind” was my theme word. Among other things, for me, that meant sharing my thoughts. Telling a friend that I like her handwriting or how she has a knack for small talk. Things like that.
During the quiet time between Christmas and the New Year, I’m going to reflect at length about this and come up with some plans. Won’t you join me? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
More New Year reading: New Year Resolution
A note to the parents of estranged adults:
For those who find themselves facing estrangement from adult children, you’ll find an exercise in my book, Done With The Crying, and in the WORKBOOK, that helps you to “Take Stock,” examine your life, and come up with small goals to begin making changes in specific areas you choose for positive impact. In my work as a Life Coach with all sorts of people, a version of that exercise often forms the basis of new beginnings and fresh starts—like those we can do in the New Year. In the books, the exercise focuses specifically on the situation of an adult child’s estrangement. You’ll find more help specific to familial estrangement at my site: Help and Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.
- Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles And Strategies For Health And Well-Being. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett; 2009:258.
- R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion (Series in Affective Science) (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press.