After the festoons and fireplace laughter and the food, there’s a strange time of year in which nothing really makes sense. After Christmas, there’s a time in which the holiday glow has faded, but the real world worries haven’t set back in. It’s a strange in between time that doesn’t feel like everyday life, but also has lost the magic of the holidays. It’s a time that often slips by in a heartbeat and then we’re into the dead of winter, but it’s a shame. There’s so much there to use that we don’t, especially as an amazing time to reflect. Since we’ve hit the darkest time of the year, it’s time to begin moving on again towards summer, even though the coldest months are still ahead. Before Christmas and the long winter months is New Years.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s, and I don’t believe in New Year’s Eve resolutions. I think that if you’re going to make a change in your life you do it or you don’t. There are those that might say, “Oh, but having a start date or event helps me.” To that I point at the staggering tower of gym passes that never get used after the first week of January. The holiday itself doesn’t even have any real significance, we just happened to decide that at that moment, that’s the termination of the cycle. Any point of movement in the orbit around the sun could have been the moment, they’re all the same.
I do however believe in reflection. I think that most of our current social programming and entertainment suppresses this and doesn’t support it enough. We don’t take enough concentrated time to reflect on ourselves, and take stock of what’s going on in our lives, how we feel, and to take a breath to reorient our heads. Life batters us so much and constantly pushes the GO button so that we’re never able to properly stop for a second and look around. We spend so much of our time putting our heads down and muscling through that we don’t actually get a chance to see if we’re moving towards where we actually want to go. How often, in a moment of clarity do we think to ourselves, “Holy Crap, it’s been a year.” A year since I’ve talked to old friends, a year since i’ve gone for a hike, since i’ve painted, since i’ve spent a weekend alone.
We’re very good about setting goals for ourselves, making lists about what we’re going to do. We don’t do as well when it comes to executing. If you have a life change to make, make it immediately, don’t wait for it. While you may be busy every day, and feel things rushing around, take time to be still and reflect every day. We create these arbitrary markers from the beginning of our year to the end, and they do help in certain ways: marking the passage of time, observing social events, marking history. For the most part though, remember that your life is just one long unbroken stream of time. Why wait any further than where you are on that stream to change? The faster you change for the better, the longer you’ll have to enjoy your life after that change. In almost every instance of self improvement, it little profits you to put it off.
In your reflections, better than thinking about what changes you would like to make, is to think about what things have changed you. Rather than focusing on your regrets for missed opportunities, think of all the things that you were most proud of and most enjoyed. What actions got you there? Instead of thinking of all the places you didn’t go, and pushing yourself towards useless regret, you focus on the places you did go, and try to recreate those steps so that you can get to even more places in the future, more efficiently. This past year, I was able to travel to three new countries, meet one of the best storytellers in the world, and enter my final year of undergrad. I find that I achieve more when I think about how I achieved that, than when I try and search for a maybe answer to why I didn't do other things. If it's working well, keep doing more of the same in greater quantities.
This New Year’s Eve, amidst the Champaign, partying, and fireworks, take a few moments to take stock of yourself and where you’re going. This Christmas I received, as a gift, a small blue, hardback copy of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations as a gift, and it seems like the perfect place to finish with a Quote from Meditations not for the new year, but for today:
In every contingency keep in your mind’s eye those who had the same experience before, and reacted with vexation, disbelief, or complaint. So where are they now? Nowhere. Well then, do you want to act like them? Why not leave the moods and shifts of others to the shifting and the shifted, and for yourself concentrate wholly on how to make use of these contingencies? You will then use them well, and they will be raw material in your hands. Only take care, and seek your own best good in all that you do. Remember those two things: the action is important, the context is indifferent.