It seems as though as soon as we hit December, the month just barrels straight ahead towards Christmas and then New Year. As you may know by now I don’t do New Year resolutions. That said, the end of a calendar year does have a psychological influence on how we view our lives. It’s the same as birthdays. We take stock of the year gone by and look ahead to what we would like to see for ourselves and our loved ones in the year ahead.What I know for sure is that if we look carefully, we will always find the pieces of the puzzle that make up the bigger picture of what our life is today; you will always be able to connect the dots. And in order to design a future that is more aligned with who we are today, we can only do that when we look back.
In 2017, the song Symphony by Clean Bandit was a top single in the UK. Every time it comes on I am transported back to that year and all I can remember was how that year my husband, son, and I explored the area that we had decided to call home in England. We visited National Trust properties, historic landmarks, the beach in February. We watched snowdrops peak out from the ground and then daffodils emerge in their glorious ode to Spring. We would wake up every morning discussing where we would go that day and what we would do. That song would play every day on the radio of the car we bought 2 weeks after we landed at Heathrow from Hong Kong. When I hear it now, I don’t think about the massive upheaval we had just undertaken. Nor do I think about the many moments of worry and stress over a decision that truly changed the course of our lives.
It’s interesting isn’t it, looking back at our lives? What it has taught me over the years is that when we’re knee deep in the everydayness of our life, we often forget that these are the days we will reminisce about in the years to come. Back in 2017, I was in the throes of postpartum depression. I had no idea what my next career was going to be, my husband had also decided to take a break professionally. We moved from a hectic city in Asia to a quiet, quaint village in the English countryside, and we counted our pennies because we were living off our savings. At the same time, our son was about 15 months old and while we were in the privileged position of being able to witness the subtle changes in him as he grew up to be a toddler, we were also so tired and shell-shocked in the aftermath of the big changes in our lives.
Yet when I hear that song, what comes to mind is all the good stuff, the stuff that makes my heart melt and my eyes tear up with pride for that invaluable, priceless family time. I have photographs on my iPhone of the walks we went on, of the pubs we would stop at. They show a little family cocooned in a special time and place where at the heart of it was a precious little boy who became our North Star as we navigated the uncharted waters of a life without a professional plan, just one of a personal one. It’s like childbirth. In most mothers' minds every birthday of our beautiful baby, we always go straight to the moment that miracle was placed in our arms, not the pain it took to get there.
All of this made me think about the parts of our life that we struggle through, yet when we are far down into the future, we often think back to the good things and wish we hadn’t spent so much time worrying about everything; how we wasted precious moments wishing things were different when things were actually pretty great. Basically, when we zoom out and see our life in its entirety, what we actually see is how beautiful so much of it is—even the difficult times because the present us is proof of the strength we embody, strength that emerged to help us overcome all that we endured.
Zooming out and seeing our life as a whole is a good practice every time we feel weighed down by the details, every time we feel weighed down by the present. Zooming out actually helps us appreciate the details because we know this moment will be over in a blink of an eye. For me, there isn’t a more powerful reminder of that than seeing my son grow and change every single day. The time that keeps rushing past me washing over me like cold water trying to wake me up from my habits, my routines, my worries about a future that hasn’t yet happened but is one that is dictated by the very present moment. It’s a dance we all do with the universe—one where we look back in order to look forward. This is different from being stuck in the past. Rather, it is about seeing the past with gratitude for bringing us to where we are today--both the challenges and the wins. And to be able to look forward with increased clarity and purpose.
Look, if we wanted to, we can always access pain from our past in the vast caverns of our minds. Our brains are hardwired to call up the traumas as a way to protect us from future harm. But if we allow ourselves the time, the patience to do the work on ourselves to heal from the past, we can actually change the neural pathways in our brain. When we do that we begin to have compassion for ourselves; we begin to make choices and decisions from an empowered, authentic place. We then ultimately call up the good memories, the beautiful moments that got us out of the darkness. It doesn’t feel like a forced practice in positivity, rather one that happens naturally.This process is called neuroplasticity and in psychology, as Christopher Bergland, a retired ultra-endurance athlete and public health advocate writes, “…this process opens up the possibility to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo or to overcome past traumatic events that evoke anxiety and stress.” We move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
There are various tools we can use to get us on this path of change, all of which balance between the physical actions we can take and the psychological. Both will have an impact on each other. None of these are revolutionary. They’re pretty simple and self-explanatory but they work.
We start with the physical because that is often the place we can actively begin to explore and ultimately make changes:
Sleep. Good quality sleep is the main medicine we need to see our life from an abundance perspective rather than from a place of lack.
Getting our hormones in check. Depending on what life stage you are in, hormone fluctuation has a huge impact on how we see ourselves, how we see life unfolding for us, and how we feel about everything. If it isn’t your hormones, see what else physically could be an issue for you. Taking control of your health is a great way to feel more in control of your life and the direction in which you want to go.
Exercise. Do something simple, something you would actually enjoy. Even a one minute plank every day can have a cumulative effect on our psychology. I was always pretty active in my adult life but there were quite a few ebbs. To help me get out of the latest one a few years ago and into a flow, I started with simple yoga practices every day. After a few weeks, I would then feel like going out for walks which ultimately led me to taking pilates and tennis lessons. That in conjunction with sleeping well and having balanced hormones have truly changed how I approach everything in my life.
When you do all of these things, you will start to treat yourself better, you will eat better too because you actually want to. And you will feel more engaged in your every day life.
Mentally, your list may differ from mine after all, you are the expert on your life. You know what works for you. Here are the things I have done/used to help me feel more in control of my thoughts and outlook on life:
Books. Reading has always been my solace. Through stories and words I can escape, I can find answers, I can feel more connected.
Music. Back in the day, I always had my walkman on hand (a walkman is the old-fashioned iPod/iPhone/smartphone for those who need an explanation). Listening to music helped me walk with more confidence, it even would help me cry if I needed to. Today it makes me appreciate my past, gets me to dance with my kid in the kitchen, sing out loud, and acts as a soundtrack to my life.
Meditation. It has been scientifically shown to change neural pathways for the better. Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in one spot and focusing on your breath. Meditation can mean doing anything that helps you get out of your own head. For me it has been cooking, sewing, knitting, stripping paint off a table and refinishing it, anything where I work with my hands.
Sudoku. Trust me on this one.
Counselling. I can’t recommend this enough. Sometimes our past or present experiences can feel overwhelming and when we can’t work our way out of them ourselves, having someone listen, understand why we are where we are, and guide us is invaluable.
Coaching. This can be done either in conjunction with a counsellor or on its own. Finding a life coach who will help you see the possibilities in life, help you see yourself as powerful, help you to trust yourself, and help you develop a plan of action for you to walk towards your goals with confidence and purpose is life changing. One client of mine kindly wrote to me not too long ago saying, “it was the best investment (he) made in (himself) this year.”
There is no magic solution to life. There are no shortcuts no matter what anyone tells you. However, life does give us many chances to have perspective and take authentic action on making changes, yet more often than not we go about our days on autopilot. It’s not a bad thing. It’s what helps us get things done. But it’s great when specific moments in the year come around that give us cause to pause and reflect. As you look ahead to 2024, as you envision what you want in the new year, I hope you take some time to appreciate all that you have done and become to get to this point. I hope you remember how incredible you are because living a life, especially one where you are being true to yourself, is no easy feat. But you’re doing it. And for that there is so much to celebrate.
Perhaps for me the song I will think about when I look back at 2023 would be from when I went to Glastonbury in the summer. The memory of dancing in the sunset with my son, husband, and our friends as the Foo Fighters played to a crowd of 200,000 people will live on in my memories for a very long time. It not only makes me smile but it also reminds me of choosing to embrace a situation I always thought would be difficult. It reminds me of choosing to not get in my own way and just feel free, even for just a weekend, because it’s those moments that act as positive signals to the version of myself I keep working towards. The version where I am who I want to be.
As Dave Grohl sang beautifully that warm day in June,
It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday season everyone. Thank you for giving me a few moments of your precious time to read my posts.
From my family to yours, I wish you all a very healthy and happy 2024.