Every December, without fail, my practice slows down a bit. It seems like most people go into avoid-and-delay-reality mode when the holiday season arrives. Then, like clockwork, everything hits like a ton of bricks come January and both my calendar and waitlist fill up real quick.
If you’ve been avoiding and delaying real life, you’re probably feeling the pain and starting to get motivated to face all that reality you’ve been dodging. Great! You’re motivated! Now what?
Go Easy, or at Least Easier, On Yourself
Accept that you made some mistakes in the last few weeks or months. Maybe you spent too much or ate too much or drank too much. Maybe you became your most childish self while spending time with family or used work to avoid family altogether. Maybe you beat yourself up for every one of these mistakes and then some. Whatever happened, happened. Accepting it is really the only choice if you want to move on. (For help getting started with acceptance, try this short guided meditation.)
Yes, journaling, in general, has immense benefits. But I’m talking more specifically here about writing out your plans. Get your plans for the next year on paper as soon as possible. What’s that cliché? A goal without a plan is just a wish? The first step in your 2019 plans is to write them down, to take them from thoughts to actions by actually putting pen to paper. And be specific: Do you want to work on your mental wellness? Cool. How exactly? Become more mindful, suffer less anxiety, feel more connected to your spouse? Whatever you’re drawn to, be deliberate as you write about it. The more specific, the better.
Be Like a Buffalo
Now it’s time to read. Specifically, read this article and decide to be like a buffalo, whose instincts tell them to run head-on into storms. Running away, like cows do, prolongs exposure to storms and ensures additional, unnecessary suffering. For we humans, running away looks like avoiding, delaying, and numbing. Kind of exactly what the holidays promote, right? We’ve all been cows at one point or another – now you get to decide if you want to stay a cow or be a buffalo.
Break Down Your Goals
Now that you’ve acknowledged and accepted your reality, gotten clear on your goals in writing, and officially decided to be like a buffalo, it’s time to break things down into next steps. And, at times, it might be more like next step. That’s the thing about change: When we do something we’ve never done before, we often don’t know what the path looks like even just two steps ahead. The key is to focus on only the very next step, however small or overwhelming, insignificant or impossible it may seem. Back when I was really suffering in my pre-therapy days, the act of simply calling a therapist’s office seemed impossibly overwhelming. If I could make that phone call, work hard for emotional health, get my master’s degree, and then BECOME A THERAPIST MYSELF, you can join that mindfulness group or read that book or get up half an hour early or make your own phone call. If I had set the goal of becoming a therapist ten years ago, I would have never, ever taken the first step because the big picture was way too big. I just knew I needed change, and I knew I needed help making that change. So, your job now, at the onset of a new year, is to identify: what’s your next step?
Start with acceptance and end with action, keeping in mind that part of acceptance is accepting that sometimes action needs to be taken. After all, isn’t life either progression or regression? “If you’re not still learning, you’re already dying,” Ryan Holiday writes in his fantastic Ego is the Enemy. And as Alison Faulkner says, self-doubt grows when we’re stagnant, so get accepting and then get moving.