Today we close the books on another year. For some it has been full of joys and fond memories. For others it has meant significant transitions. And some have endured hardship and pain. But whatever story was written in the past 365 days, we have an opportunity right now to tie a bow on it and decide what comes next.
Tomorrow we enter a new year - full of exciting options and endless possibilities. In this moment we can choose to stop and move forward with intention - to decide where to focus our time, energy, and attention. What new dream will we chase in 2016? Will we see a new part of the world? Learn to play an instrument? Will we write the book we have been dreaming about? Run a marathon? Will we finish a degree? Make a significant career change?
Anything is possible, and as we stand on the precipice of the new year, I encourage you to give some thought to your dreams for the year ahead and what steps you need to take to start down the path toward achieving them.
Wishing you a new year full of things that have never been - and the courage to pursue them!
Over the Christmas holiday, my family and I spent time in a lovely home in the mountains. Among the amenities about which I was most excited was a large soaking tub. Upon seeing it, I declared I would take advantage of it throughout our stay. Relaxing in a bath has long been a favorite indulgence, but rarely do I make time to do so at home, and certainly not in such a luxurious setting.
An opportunity to take advantage of the tub didn't present itself the first day when we were busy getting settled and celebrating the holiday - or the next day when we were busy playing games - or the next day when we were busy swimming with the babe - or the next day when we were busy exploring the resort. It wasn't until our fifth (and penultimate day), when my husband asked whether I had used the tub that I realized the window of opportunity was closing. I finally made it happen. And. It. Was. So. Lovely.
It occurred to me that if I hadn't mentioned my intention out loud, I probably would have continued to find reasons not to carve out time for myself, and I would have left our vacation having not indulged in some much appreciated self-care. The same principle holds true in much larger and more important contexts, and it has implications as we look ahead to the new year.
As you map out your dreams and goals for 2016, I encourage you to be vocal about what you want to accomplish. From little matters of self care to bold ambitions, a bit of accountability and encouragement can go a long way. Share your hopes and dreams for the new year - and watch them come true...
The Christmas season always makes me sentimental. I reflect often on the treasured traditions that loom large in my memory and wonder what my sweet girl will take away from the experiences in her early years. I savor the slower pace of time with family - threads of conversations that span the days we spend tucked in together and shared experiences that draw us closer. I smile with each card I open from friends and family who live far away - catching up on their lives and witnessing how much they have grown and changed over the past year.
After the rush of holiday parties, work deadlines, and last minute preparations, Christmas itself seems softer - less harried - less insistent. We take time for phone calls with loved ones and make efforts to extend kindness to strangers. Joy seems to fill the very air we breathe.
As we look to the year ahead, I want to bring this spirit forward. I want to share joy when it is least expected. I want to exercise compassion when it is most needed. I want to capture the wonder of Christmas and carry it with me into the new year. Won't you join me?
I know what you are thinking: sit still? Now? Three days before Christmas? But there are presents to wrap, meals to cook, cards to write. Just let me get through this week, then I can slow down. Sound familiar?
I hear you, believe me. But we both know that if you wait, you won't. Because Christmas will turn into the the New Year will turn into Spring will turn into Summer will turn into Fall and before you know it we are right back here in the same spot, promising ourselves and our loved ones we will do better next year.
So before you tie one more bow, bake (or eat!) one more cookie, or scribble one more note about something you feel you NEED to cross off your list before moving on to the next thing, stop. Sit still. Breathe.
You can close your eyes - or not. It might be helpful to set a timer so you don't worry about whether you are staying longer than you intend. If you need to give your monkey mind something to focus on, try listening to what you hear - whether the hum of the refrigerator, traffic noise from the street, or your coworker typing furiously away on her keyboard. If that seems too scary, count to 100 - or 500. The length of the sitting is less relevant than the act of stopping and breathing.
And when the timer goes off - or you reach your magic number - or you simply begin to feel the edges of your stress headache subside - open your eyes and return to whatever you were doing. I promise you will feel a little lighter, more balanced, and better prepared for whatever comes next.
Return to this practice as many times as you need in the week (or year) to come. Learn to savor the simple act of sitting...
If you are like me, the end of 2015 seems to have come out of nowhere. I could point to the unseasonably warm weather - or the frenzy of activity that has marked the past few months - but irrespective of how it happened, we have fewer than three weeks (!) until we welcome a new year.
As our minds turn toward the blank slate of a fresh calendar and all we hope to achieve, experience, and accomplish, I think it is important to remind ourselves of exactly how we feel at this moment. A bit frazzled? More than a little tired? Eager for a fresh start? So before we crowd the currently clean landscape of 2016 with sweeping goals and resolutions, let's just consider this: We will have the same 24 hours in a day, the same seven days in a week, and the same 52 weeks we had this year.
I know I fell short in a few of the goals I set this year, and something tells me at least a few of you did, as well. A year is, quite simply, never as long as we think it will be. And while I am a strong advocate of dreaming big, I am also growing to appreciate the value of taking a long view.
Rather than list 15 things you want to accomplish in 2016, spend some time reflecting on what might be possible by 2026. What unthinkable goals might you be available to achieve if you focus and invest your time, energy, and resources well? Could you finish a degree? Buy a house? Travel the world? Set an audacious goal - then identify what you can do THIS year to move you down the path.
Dream big - but give yourself time to get there. And enjoy the journey...
The weather in our nation's capital over the past week has been downright balmy. While I am not complaining about seventy (!!) degree temperatures in December, I can't help but agree with the many people I have heard remark that the unseasonable warmth makes it hard to get into the "Christmas spirit." Instead of bundling up in cozy scarfs and mittens, sipping hot chocolate, and preparing for snow, we are spending hours at the playground and enjoying gelato on park benches...
While I believe strongly that Christmas is about so much more than presents, trees, and jingle bells, certain external cues help us tap into the joy that should be the hallmark of the holiday. From the sight of twinkling lights to the smell of pine to the taste of holiday cookies, our senses anchor us in the moment. For me, nothing sets the tone quite like the sounds of my favorite Christmas music.
Enter the seasonal soundtrack! My own compilation includes a little of everything - from the sacred to the secular, the sincere to downright silly - and sets the perfect tone for holiday baking, card writing, and twirling around the room with my little snow angel... Give it a listen here - and if you have other recommendations, send them my way!
Whether you find yourself buried in snow or relaxing on the beach, let the sounds of the season stir your spirit....
With 2015 drawing to a close (yipes!), I am beginning to plan and dream about the coming year. There are, of course, a handful of small improvements and changes I would like to see, but I am hungry for more big dreams.
The past year has been an incredible roller coaster ride, and I am grateful for the journey - even the bumps along the way. I am blessed to be able to do meaningful work I love AND spend time with an increasingly incredible little human. But the landscape of our lives is shifting once again, and I find myself with the challenge/opportunity of reevaluating and rebuilding the framework. As I consider where to go from here, I am doing so in the spirit of this quote. I am aiming for ambitious - even unrealistic - goals, and seeing how it all unfolds.
Rather than focus on resolutions and small changes in the new year, can you dare to dream big? What ambitious and unrealistic goals might you achieve?
During a recent conversation about holiday plans a friend confided, "I just don't have the energy this year. Can't we fast-forward to January?" My heart broke at her honest expression of this all too common sentiment. The carefully crafted images portrayed on social media and a culture of competitiveness can leave anyone feeling inadequate if they can't host the perfect meal, give the perfect gift, wear the perfect dress, and flash the perfect smile throughout the seemingly endless parade of holiday parties.
But can I let you in on a little secret? There is no such thing as perfect. And unless we embrace this important truth, we risk losing our opportunity to experience the simple joys of the season. So before you waste any more precious time striving for something that doesn't exist, press the pause button and reflect on how you want to end your year.
What memories do you want to carry into 2016? Do you want to recall the stress of hosting an elaborate dinner party or remember the great conversation you had with friends over takeout? Do you want to count the number of obligatory holiday events you felt compelled to attend or savor the comfort of curling up in front of the fire? Do you want to spend hours shopping for the perfect present or share the gift of being present with loved ones?
Wishing you a peaceful and joyful season...
The concept of time is somewhat hazy for my two and a half year old daughter. Any reference she makes to the past begins with the phrase, "Last night...." irrespective of whether the event occurred the previous day, week, or month. So it came as no surprise that a fair amount of confusion ensued when her playgroup held its Thanksgiving party on Tuesday rather than Thursday.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" she gleefully exclaimed to everyone she encountered on our way to the party - and all the way home - and everywhere we walked for the balance of the week... As we walked I tried to correct her gently, explaining that Thanksgiving Day wouldn't take place until Thursday, but she persisted. And nearly everyone we encountered accepted her greeting with a gracious smile. I began to wonder how it would be received if we all were more vocal about our gratitude more often. What would happen if we began to spontaneously wish others well and share our joy? What could be the harm in trying?
As we step away from the Thanksgiving holiday, can we carry forward some of the fullness of heart we celebrate this time of year? Can we turn a common day into an opportunity for giving thanks?
A philosopher friend recently shared an article with an intriguing title: The Case for Melancholy. In the piece the author waxes poetic about the merits of embracing one's dark side. Throughout the article he conflates melancholy with creativity and disparages what he perceives as our culture's celebration of happiness and pursuit of bliss.
I was struck by the how starkly the contrast was painted - as though finding benefit in the blues is only possible if we shun not only our own sunny sides, but also the optimism of others. Isn't it possible there is merit in embracing a desire for solitude and expressing joy? Must the two be mutually exclusive?
Some among us were born optimists - constantly convinced they are on the cusp of overcoming whatever challenge they may encounter. Others plan and prepare compulsively - certain every worst case scenario will come to pass. Some awaken singing a cheerful tune before their eyes even open. Others can't conceive of conversation before coffee. But most of us dance between the extremes, and if we are honest, we would admit to finding ourselves at different points along the spectrum at any given moment.
Rather than relegate ourselves - or others - to a one-dimensional existence, it can be freeing to simply accept where we are right now. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment. Whether we experience melancholy or cheer, we can set aside the need to label it and instead observe, accept, and proceed. And I think it is a valuable practice as we head into the frenzy of the holiday season.
In the coming weeks, many of us will spend intense periods of concentrated time with family and friends - full of the potential for delight as well as drama. Even the most compatible families have their opposing forces, and over time lingering friction can rise to the surface.
But what if we allowed ourselves to experience the feelings and people we encounter without judgment? What if we commit to simply stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed? This month I encourage you to allow yourself to be melancholy - or cheerful - or whatever else makes you your unique self - and consider extending the same grace to those around you.
Enjoy a mindful conclusion to 2015...
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!