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When you don’t have the energy for a bold 2020 New Year’s resolution — here’s a simple alternative

My 2019 was tough, I'm exhausted, and an ambitious New Year's resolution is the last thing on my mind. Before looking forward into the next decade, there's value in looking back and making peace with the past.

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Lazily, I turn the page on my novel. The plush cushion feels soft yet sturdy against my back — that unique quality of a hotel room pillow. It’s December and I’m enjoying a staycation weekend, alone. I perk up; something’s off. I peek out over my Kindle to the empty room. It’s quiet. It’s too quiet.

That’s where the strange feeling comes from, I realize. I’m alone, and until now I haven’t spent time alone in all of 2019. For me as an introvert, that’s torture.

But it’s not only that; I’ve had the most demanding year of my life. And now, with 2019 coming to a close, I can feel it in every cell of my body, in every crevice of my mind. I’m exhausted, and I simply cannot muster the enthusiasm for an ambitious New Year’s resolution. So this year, I’m doing something different. I’m doing KonMari to my year.

The end of a tough year

I put down my novel and collect my thoughts. My mind wanders back in time; my year started recovering from a bad case of pneumonia. Really bad. I have a vivid recollection of lying in a hospital bed on a Friday evening, my back and chest aching with the pain from coughing, my heart aching for my tiny 6-week old daughter who’s not allowed in the ward for risk of contagion, and I’m crying inconsolably because I just found out I have to spend the weekend in the hospital.

Before my solitary staycation, that was the last time I truly spent time alone, I realize.

I recovered from my pneumonia, but the health scares didn’t end there; in 2019 three of my friends faced life threatening illnesses. Luckily, all three are recovering now, too.

The drama extended to work. I was called in from maternity leave to handle the sale of our company’s business. My youngest daughter was 5-months old. What was supposed to be a long, lazy summer with a toddler, turned into a full-blown M&A process — baby in tow.

We sold our business successfully, but I came to learn that an entrepreneur’s story doesn’t end there. Making the transition from entrepreneur to executive, from running my own show to helping others run theirs, requires a fair amount of identity work. Who am I? What’s my role as a leader and colleague? How do I define success now?

With all this on top of the regular daily circus of a working mother of two, suffice to say, I’m ending 2019 quite low on energy.

I’m not telling you this to collect pity points. I’m telling you this because in our culture of continuous self-improvement, it’s easy to get caught up in the illusion that we need to be constantly changing and developing ourselves. So my message is this: sometimes it’s okay not to change. It’s okay to be content with where you are, who you are, and what you have. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back for the mere act of survival.

Alternative to a New Year’s resolution: KonMari your year

2020 feels like a daunting year. A year when “great things should happen”. But right now, I can readily admit to feeling exhausted. Exhausted after a 7-month stretch of putting out fires, solving one urgent matter after the next, putting the wellbeing of others ahead of my own. Making a bold New Year’s resolution feels insurmountable. So before gazing into 2020, I first need to make peace with my past.

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions — I do yearly themes. This year, I’m not even doing that. What I am doing instead is this: I’m reflecting on my year, saying goodbye with gratitude, and moving forward with the good. I’m effectively doing KonMari to my year. Here are the three steps:

1 | Look back before you look forward

Much like KonMari does with tidying, the first step is to take it all out and look at it. Writing has always been my preferred method of self-reflection, so what I did was sit down in a café, alone, and start typing. No editing, no judgment; simply documenting the year and my feelings about it. In an hour and a half I filled five pages.

Then it’s all there — the good, the bad, the “I-don’t-know-how-I-feel-about-this-yet”. But unless I document it, it’s all just one big mess of experiences. What’s documented, can be dealt with.

Why reflective writing? Reflective and expressive writing has many health benefits — easing stress, helping to deal with life changes or emotions, strengthening your sense of gratitude, releasing your creativity. When writing about difficult subjects, experts suggest not just writing what happened. Try to find meaning: What can I learn? How was this useful? Can I take another perspective? [1]

2 | Say goodbye with gratitude

KonMari advises us to let go of things we no longer need – with gratitude. The same goes for experiences. Reflect on each experience, thank it for having met you on the serendipitous journey of life, and be grateful for what it has given you. Then let it go. My pneumonia was tough, but it (re)taught me the importance of staying tuned to my body. An interpersonal conflict sapped me of energy, but it taught me the value of simply picking up the phone and dealing with it, human to human, not ruminating over it in my head. Those and other experiences I am happily leaving behind me, but gratefully so.

Why gratitude? The power of gratitude is widely documented [2]. For example, a 2003 study showed that just keeping a weekly list of things to be grateful for increased participants’ wellbeing, even though they didn’t change their lives in any other way. [3]

3 | Move forward with the good

The key to the KonMari method is that little spark of joy an item may give you. It also applies to experiences: find the ones that spark joy and keep them close. In the middle of my exhaustion, or maybe exactly because of it, I recognize how much good I have in my life. I have a loving spouse, two healthy kids, I’m in my dream job, working on a mission I believe in. My friends who’ve been ill are alive, well and recovering.

I’ve gone through tough times, and I’ve survived. I didn’t burn out. If all of this had happened five years ago, I probably would have. Through it all, I managed to keep my head above water, maintain healthy routines, and focus on the things that mattered.

As I gaze into 2020, that’s what I take with me: lessons learned and a deep sense of gratitude.

Before you look forward into 2020, look back

My 2019 may have been difficult. It’s not a year I wish to relive any time soon. But it was also deeply meaningful. And I learned a long time ago, that a meaningful life is not a stress-free life. My hellish 2019 has made me who I am, and who I will become in 2020.

So with the year 2020 looming in front of us — not only a new year, but a new decade — I urge you to look back before you look forward. Because in the eagerness of the new, it’s easy to overlook the beauty and wisdom of the old. Our past is a part of our future. And a bold future cannot be built on the shaky foundation of a past forgotten or misunderstood. A solid understanding of who you were in 2019 might help you see a glimmer of who you will be, and who you can be, in the next decade.

Happy 2020 — let’s make it a good one.

CITATIONS:

[1] James Pennebaker’s book “Expressive Writing”

[2] 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude, Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

[3] Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life by R. Emmons et al. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/application_uploads/Emmons-CountingBlessings.pdf

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