Last Saturday, I mailed 75 holiday cards to destinations ranging from Sheffield, England and Killin, Scotland, to more domestic addresses like Denver, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York. For the past three years, I’ve included a photocopied, handwritten “Best of” list with my cards. It’s an assortment of favorite books, music, memories, things I’ve eaten, or places I’ve traveled over the past year. This is what my list looked like this year.
I had some really big milestones in 2016. I achieved the rank of Associate Professor at Pierce College, then I accepted a new position at the University of Colorado Denver, got married, and moved over 1,000 miles (the last three events took place within 30 days). I read some great books, but not as many as I wanted to. I turned 30. I traveled, wrote cards and letters, watched sunrises and sunsets, and took many walks with my dog, Charlie, who has taught me the invaluable lesson that there is something exciting about every single day, even when the days involve seeing the same scenery and eating the same food. He is a living lesson in gratitude.
I know that this time of year is tough; it’s dark, cold, and there are unpleasant reminders everywhere that may make you feel like you’re not happy enough, not cheerful enough, or not grateful enough. This year seems to lack light in a way that is particularly hard to endure. People are exhausted, anxious, and afraid, and rightfully so. I am not here to sugarcoat anything. I will just say, with certainty, that you are loved. You are someone’s light. I know this.
This might also be the time of year when you find yourself tempted to make grand, sweeping resolutions for the New You of 2017, where you make an impossible list of radical changes that will yield an idealized version of yourself, this person who has more money, is more patient, kind, and generous, who weighs less, who eats better, who reads more books, who finishes projects ahead of deadlines, who has glowing skin, who drinks 64 ounces of water every day, who flosses, or whatever.
Just stop it.
I support goals. Boy, do I. I taught goal-setting in College Success for years. What I don’t support—and never will—is the idea that you are not enough. As my friend Jen Pastiloff likes to remind us, you are enough. I will add: You have enough. You do enough.
If you start from that place, if you really allow yourself to believe that you are enough, that you have enough, that you do enough, you will like your goals so much more. And you will be so much happier in working toward those goals. I promise.
A few other tips if you’re setting goals for the New Year…
Don’t set a weight loss goal. Don’t attach your self-worth to a number on a scale.
Do set goals that encourage joyous movement and release from stress. Dance, do yoga, hike, run marathons. If you lose weight and you’re happy about it, that’s great. If you don’t lose weight, that’s okay, too. You are still a worthy person and you deserve happiness and love. (I have to remind myself of this a lot.)
Attach your goals to your values.
What’s important to you? Your career, your family, your hobbies? Probably all of the above. Pick a few areas in your life that you want to focus on this year, create meaningful goals around those areas, and you’ll be more likely to stick to what you want to achieve. Unfortunately, you cannot do ALL the things so you have to pick and choose. Sorry.
Set the bar low.
No, really. Most people make goals that are too ambitious and end up frustrated and disappointed. Set mini-goals. As this article suggests, the key is to take small habits and turn them into the building blocks for your bigger goals. In the article, it mentions that B.J. Fogg does two push-ups every time he goes to the bathroom. That sounds kinda gross to me, but I do like the other suggestions (“Make one choice and then stop choosing!”).
Make your environment conducive to the behavior you want to create.
It sounds really obvious, but it’s true. Your environment dictates your behavior almost more than anything else. If you want to write every day, maybe you should carry your notebook and pen (or laptop, or whatever) with you. If you want to read 50 books, well, you should probably have lots of books around, and maybe a To-Read list. If you want to go to the gym, keep gym clothes in your car. You want to stop eating take out for lunch, pack a lunch the night before. And so on.
I’m still working on my goals for 2017, but I know that I want to read (more books than I did this year), travel (yes, to Scotland, to see my mum-in-law, sister- and brother-in-law, and our niece and nephew), write (a lot!), and do yoga (mmm, hot yoga).
When I was in Ojai in September for a writing and yoga retreat, Jen asked us to write our own personal prayer. A meditation you can use every morning, in that minute before you open your phone, or pick up your baby, or turn on the coffee pot. One prayer for one moment. I’ve been thinking about that, about a prayer for 2017, and it feels so big that it’s almost impossible. This is the best I’ve come up with:
Today is my day to remind the world why I am here: to love, to teach, to fight, to be fierce and gentle and kind. I vow to listen, to use my voice, and to serve others. And so it is.
Maybe you don’t need resolutions for next year, and maybe you don’t make goals. That’s okay. (You are enough.) But I think we could all use a moment, a breath, a pause. So what’s your prayer for 2017?