As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 1st, 2019.
It’s that time of year again. Yesterday the calendar came to a close on 2018, and today the new year begins. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the tradition of new year’s resolutions. I love taking the time to reflect on the year in terms of goals achieved. I actually make a list in my journal every year, which is a wonderful thing to have because trust me, when you are as old as I am the years start to run together. I also love that January1st offers a clear date for a fresh start on the goals that may not have been realized. Now the hate part. When I see the same things creep back onto my list year after year, it can make me feel like, well, a bit of a loser. That being said, I do try to reflect on why certain behaviors, or lack there of, tend to repeat themselves, and all we can ever do is try to do better in the coming year.
This year my list is taking on a different tone and substance. There were a lot of changes in my life over these past 12 months, with the biggest change for me happening in September. After eight years of being All In for building Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls, I retired. Not only did I completely stop doing any of the day to day work of WMM, including member recruitment and fundraising, but I also left the board. That was hard, and weird, and I wrote way too much about it here. Now, with a few months past that landmark moment for me, I have a lot of learnings around it, but that is not what this article is about. However, I will say that my biggest take-away has been that the best way to let go is to just let go. You will never be able to land somewhere new if you are busy clinging to the old.
The other big life change for me was that my youngest child graduated from high school in June. She is currently in the middle of a gap year before going off to college in the fall of 2019, and I decided to take a gap year of sorts alongside her. I have traveled like a maniac this whole fall, with trips to places I have never visited before such as Ireland, Scotland, and Kenya. Though the travel will continue in 2019, I am also feeling a huge need to think about what is next for me professionally, and therefore many of my resolutions for this next year are oriented towards that objective. But before I jump into my list and invite you to share your top resolutions, where did this whole idea come from?
If you can believe it, setting new year’s resolutions is a tradition that dates back to Julius Caesar. In 46BC he decreed that January 1st would mark the start of a new calendar year, and he invited his subjects to use this changeover to reflect on how they could be better citizens in the year to come. Pretty cool, right? Over 2,000 years later, people all over the world still make new year’s resolutions, but research shows that only 46% of people manage to keep to their resolutions after just six months. Only 12% make it the full year. Some of the reasons behind this failure rate is a lack of planning, spur of the moment decisions made after three glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and/or not setting specific achievable goals. Social scientists also recommend keeping to just one or two resolutions in order to not dilute your motivation, and to avoid repeating past resolutions that have already proved to be frustrating.
So with that in mind, I will (partially) take the wonderful advice of those who know best and share my top two resolutions. I’m making them new ones, and I invite you to do the same. Social scientists also say that you are more likely to feel accountable for a behavior change if you write it down down and share it with others, so please share!
Practice daily meditation. This may sound like a simple task, but have you ever tried to focus on one thought, idea, or mantra for a sustained period of time? It is shockingly difficult to do, especially considering that in today’s digital age our brains have become accustomed to being bombarded with stimuli every waking minute of the day. However, recent research has shown that practicing daily meditation yields enormous benefits, including increased attention spans and concentration skills, decreased stress levels, and higher capacities for empathy. Even more amazing, studies have shown that meditation can actually physically improve our brains by helping to strengthen the connection between brain cells. Scientists have observed that meditation can lead to our brains being able to process information faster and more efficiently, make better decisions, and even help decrease sensitivity to pain. A good summary of this research can be found here. It’s also pretty telling that most incredibly successful people report practicing meditation, and so in light of all this, not to mention the fact that it costs nothing monetarily, why wouldn’t you at least give it try? For years I have been saying that I will start doing this one day, and now today is the day. Join me.
Oh this is so hard. I really have 10 more, so trying to pick just one to share here is tough. However, I’m going to go with the one that keeps creeping to the top of my mind even though it is going to seem a little hokey.
Practice kindness. As much as you can, in every situation, practice kindness. I spent some time, just know, scrolling though definitions in an attempt to be super clear about what I mean, and as a result of this I actually changed the words from “be kind” to “practice kindness”. Similar to the idea above regarding meditation, to practice something is about developing it into a habit. I really want to be a person who naturally shows up in a way that is friendly, generous, and considerate. Think about how many interactions you have with others in a given day. This can be from the person you buy coffee from on the way to work, to your co-workers and clients, your online social engagements, as well as your time with family and friends. What if our default setting was to always show up with kindness, even in the most challenging of situations where strong action was required? To act with kindness is not to say you don’t let someone go if they are not doing their job, or that you don’t ask for proper service. It just means you do so in a way that is respectful. Our world is fraught with negativity, anger, and the normalization of aggressive interpersonal behavior. Enough. This new year I invite you, as I am inviting myself, to always try to show up with consideration, with friendliness, and with generosity. Practice kindness.
Happy New Year. Wishing you and yours the very best for 2019.