Beyond Wishing and Hoping
December 30, 2014
by Kim Childs, CPPC
Whether or not you believe in resolutions, these questions are always worth asking.
For several years I’ve participated in Burning Bowl ceremonies on New Year’s Eve. They involve writing a list of things that we want to shed – from resentments and self-destructive habits, to negative beliefs, unhelpful relationships and excess baggage of all kinds. We’re even invited to thank these unwanted things as we write them down, because they might have served us on some level, however hard that is to recognize. We then burn the list.
Next, because nature abhors a vacuum, we need to reflect on what we most want in the New Year and write about these desires and intentions. This list is one to keep, read and follow like a prescription, because habits tend not to change by themselves.
In preparing to write about desires for the New Year, it’s helpful and motivating to review the important areas of your life (career, health, family, community, etc.) and look for what has gone well in the past year. This echoes a classic Positive Psychology exercise from founder Martin Seligman, who discovered that people who take time at night to write down three things that went well during the day can experience less depression and more optimism over time. It’s important to add why things went well, too, in order to see your own ability to positively influence your life and replicate the conditions and strategies that made things go well.
Example: I got a lot more physical exercise in 2014 because I made it a habit and linked it to other daily activities that were already in place (e.g. walking to the bank or library instead of driving).
Once you see what’s already going well in your life, identify and write about the areas you want to improve. Name some concrete goals and outcomes to give yourself something to aim for and measure (i.e., “a regular meditation practice” versus “to be less stressed”). Write, in the present tense, as much detail as you can about the improvements you seek to realize in the new year. This helps to infuse the vision with feeling and make it more real to you (e.g., “I am taking time to pause, breathe and be mindful each day and it feels so good.”).
This way of designing the future is related to another classic Positive Psychology exercise, from researcher Laura King, known as the Best Possible Future Self. Her prompt to the research subjects went like this: “Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.”
King found that subjects did this exercise for 20 minutes straight on 4 consecutive days enjoyed long term mental and physical health benefits. By thinking about our best possible future selves, we learn more about what we most desire in life. This, in turn, helps us to restructure our priorities in order to reach these goals, asking ourselves, “What can I do to live into this scenario?”
The answers to that question create new habits and behaviors, which bring about lasting change.
Whether you’re envisioning your best possible year or your best possible future, let your desires dictate your actions, going forward. In other words, be the character depicted in that “movie.” Aiming for more inner peace, would she check her email first thing out of bed or light a candle and meditate or write in her journal?
Finally, I recommend taking an end of the year detox bath, featuring one cup of Epsom or sea salts, one cup of baking soda and ten drops of lavender oil. Soak for at least 20 minutes, then invite any stress and tension to drain out with the water. As you apply your favorite lotion, appreciate your body for all it’s done for you this year, and promise to take good care of it.
I wish you a happier, healthier, more fun and fulfilling New Year. May you look back on it in a year’s time and say, “Well done!”
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.