For the New Year

Conventional New Year’s resolutions don’t interest me much. At least not before careful consideration. Here, then, are suggestions to help reconfigure your 2018 list. They fit with the notion of the road not taken; or the direction not discovered. They are ideas to apply to your resolution-making, not a set of 2018 goals themselves:

  • Slash the resolutions you’ve already made! The more things on the list, the less likely you will attend to any of them. Achieving one or two life changes is remarkable enough. By reducing the number, you must decide what is important to you. The exercise has value by itself. When you consider the rest of the items below, keep this in mind.
  • Challenge your intuitions. Research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Haidt suggests we quickly and intuitively come to our positions on matters as serious as politics and religion. According to Haidt, our brain acts as a kind of post hoc lawyer to defend instinct-driven moral beliefs and to fool us into thinking we reasoned out our convictions before arriving at them. Opening your mind to rejected ideas isn’t easy, but might enlighten you.
  • Don’t borrow trouble. Most of the things about which we worry never happen. Beyond taking proper precautions over what you control, worry is an anxiety-inducing waste. Yes, look both ways before you cross the street, plan your financial future, eat well and exercise, but don’t obsess. Consternation offers you nothing. Need help? Check out Craske and Barlow’s cognitive-behavioral program with your therapist or consider ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy).
  • Realize the road is not always comfortable. A good life depends, in part, on knowing rocky and smooth stretches are unpredictable, inevitable, and usually temporary; all part of the highway we travel. Years ago I asked a wise financial advisor, Rick Taft, “How do you think stocks will do in the New Year?” His answer? “The market will fluctuate.” We could just as easily describe the inconstant fate awaiting us as an unavoidable fluctuation. No matter how smart you are, Fortuna (the Roman goddess of luck) spins her wheel. Good emotional shock absorbers are essential. Failures and tears add to the richness of our existence, however much you and I wish they could be avoided. You can learn from them, but only if you reflect on your life and keep a mirror handy for an occasional self-inspection.
  • Whose life are you living? The one you want or the one designed to make people love you and accept you? Evolution led our ancestors to concern themselves with reputation. Those who did increased their chances of survival and mating success. Like a number of the qualities evolution “selected for,” a preoccupation with public opinion can drive us crazy. Happiness is not the aim of evolution, only passing on your genes to a new generation. Once again, you might need to fight instinctive tendencies if you wish more than an average measure of satisfaction. Anticipation of the world’s disapproval leads one to display a false self and worry about being unmasked. Remember, this is your life (not theirs), and tuning out some of the voices who criticize is part of creating a strong and resilient personality.
  • Relationships are the most fulfilling thing on the planet. Try to have some! (Oops. I offered a goal).
  • Research suggests generosity to others is more fulfilling than spending your nickles on yourself. Similarly, experiences will offer more pleasure and more satisfying memories (say, of a vacation) than things like an attention-getting sweater or a hot car. Think back. Do you feel warm inside as you remember the set of wheels you had 10 years ago? I don’t need to think hard: until three years ago I was still driving the well-used car I bought in 2000! More on how to get from here to happiness from Daniel Gilbert:

It is said that “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Not always, but often. Just so, maturity is achieved by surviving life challenges plus the passage of time, with some learning thrown in, of course. I’m not suggesting disappointment and mistreatment are equally distributed among us, but each of us knows suffering and, fair or not, it is in our interest to learn from the bad breaks.

All the above considered, here are ideas to push your sail boat off the dock and into the fresh waters of the New Year:

  • It is not that you have done wrong (you have), but whether you do more and more good.
  • It is not that you fall, but whether you get up.
  • It is not that you are a victim, but whether you are a survivor.
  • It is not that you make mistakes (you will), but whether you learn from them.
  • It is not that you get angry, but whether you get over it.
  • It is not that friends and lovers disappoint you, but whether you still believe in friendship and love.
  • It is not that you erred, but whether you took responsibility.
  • It is not that you take life seriously, but whether you also recognize its laughable absurdity.
  • It is not that you’ve forgotten what’s been lost, but whether you are grateful for what you have.
  • It is not that you see life’s ugliness, but whether you seek its beauty.

To close, the following old words from the nineteenth-century Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, seem right for 2018:

“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare us to our friends and soften us to our enemies. Give us strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death loyal and loving to one another.”

27 thoughts on “For the New Year

  1. Gotta remember that “Don’t borrow trouble” … I seem to struggle with that one!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this “upper” today…reasonable and doable ideas to start the new year. On a fun note, I think I’ll still keep my 2000 car.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Dr. Stein,

    Happy New Year!
    I enjoyed this blog and you once again have inspired me and opened my mind more to continue and persevere in my own ongoing therapy. I appreciate your perspectives and how your advice seems so practicle and manageable (with a lot of hard work). You have helped me to face my fears with more ease and have a better understanding as I get to know myself. This is my first time in therapy at 57 for anxiety, panic, codependency (people pleaser big time!) and lack of self love. Although one of the hardest journeys I have been on this past year, also very rewarding all I have learned and have yet to learn! I’m slowly approaching the top of the mountain with a lot of aching, sweat and many tears along the way.

    Thank~you for the help you continue to be to me through your blogs and sending me into the fresh waters for the New Year! I adored the Robert Louis Stevenson quote you shared.

    Sincerely,
    Suzi

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are welcome, Suzi, and you enhanced my day by saying thanks. Those who take on a difficult therapy in their 50s are all the more remarkable for doing so!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Several years ago I wrote a blog post called, “No New Year’s Resolutions For Me!”–and I still follow this. Instead of resolutions, I make revisions by asking myself, “What’s not working?” I really like your guidepost ideas, especially “Challenge your intuitions”. I also agree that relationships are the most fulfilling, but we must make time to fill them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your ideas are all valid. “Realize the road is not always comfortable” caught my attention. Indeed. The road to book publication is a tough one. After receiving several rejection letters from literary agents, I plan to contact potential small presses this January.

    Pushing ahead.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Happy New Year! Really needed this post! Thank you, Dr. S for another awesome read! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another great post. I especially like your first point on slashing our resolutions list. I went into this new new year with my main goal being to continue working on establishing and maintaining boundaries, and not making any other “traditional” resolutions. I feel this one is big enough, and has the capacity to help me make improvements to all areas of my life.

    Thanks for sharing this, and Happy New Year. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You are a peach, Rayne. Happy New Year to you. I’m sure you will continue to progress.

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  9. Dear Dr. Stein: Thank you, as always. I am 75 and have spent half my life in 3x a week therapy (CPTSD). This Milton sonnet has kept me going since I was 15. I am sure you are familiar with it. (BTW: I am agnostic.).

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44750/sonnet-19-when-i-consider-how-my-light-is-spent

    I also serve. Sharing warmth. TS

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  10. It has been a long time since I read the Milton, This.shaking. It means more than I can say to receive it on this day. Rhyme not intended. Thank you.

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  11. Happy New Year Dr. Stein….I must admit, this could not have come at a more perfect time for me, as I have had some anxious days about a situation and experiencing the “what ifs” and “I wonder.” Never a good experience for me and your paragraph on “Not borrowing trouble” has helped. Like my own doctor has told me, “Most things we worry about do not happen.” I needed this reminder. I watched your video on happiness and enjoyed Professor Gilbert very much and how he presented his material. I find what brings me happiness is a mind at peace. I do not experience it very often, but even when it is fleeting, it is so nice. I cannot imagine a life without constant worry, but with my doctor’s help I make small increment progress. I hope you and your family have a very happy and healthy year, and your blog is one of my highlights of the weekend.

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  12. Thank you very much, Nancy. They say the happiest people in the world are the master meditators. Perhaps we all can learn from their ability to still the mind. Be well.

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  13. very useful writing

    Liked by 1 person

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