The end of the year is always a time of reflection for me. Like many people, I use it as an opportunity to look back on the last 365 days and take stock of where I saw personal growth and where I remained stagnant. Or, more plainly put, where I succeeded and where I failed. Through most of my twenties, the latter lent itself easily to resolution-making. I’d lay out all my perceived faults and shortcomings, using them as fuel to stoke the fires of my motivation for the new year. What could possibly serve as better incentive for change than highlighting all the ways in which I failed during the previous year? Essentially, every January for most of my adult life, I shamed myself into measuring up to my own unachievable standards.
Great way to kick off the new year, right?
After suffering through far too many of those unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions, I finally (FINALLY!) acknowledged the glaring truth: making big, sweeping resolutions wasn’t for me. I’d delight in undermining my goals right off the bat and then, come February, find myself stumbling through the remaining months with an “I-already-screwed-this-up-so-I-might-as-well-keep-at-it” attitude. To reiterate, that particular method wasn’t working. However, I’ve never been one to just let the year come and go without some kind of self-reflection, which meant I needed to do something to honor the close of the year. I was fairly certain there was a better way to go about it though.
A couple years back, a friend turned me onto the trend of choosing a single guiding word for the coming year rather than penning a list of resolutions. I was immediately on board. Pick one word and then try to make sure my actions throughout the year centered around it? I figured I could handle that.
For the record, this method worked far better than having explicit, black and white resolutions at which I was doomed to fail. The only problem was, it also proved relatively easy to forget about that one little word until I’d already begun struggling to uphold it. My word for 2016 was “priorities.” I’m a passionate person with a lot of strong interests and I have trouble discerning which tasks are most important. I love to take on new projects, volunteer for committees, learn new skills, and ultimately say yes when I should probably say no. Because of this, I often feel as if I’m being pulled in hundreds of different directions and that I’m constantly dropping the ball or disappointing people I agreed to help.
In 2016, I desperately wanted to be free of that feeling. I hoped that having the word “priorities” in the back of my mind would give me a nudge when I was about to take on yet another commitment I couldn’t reasonably accommodate or jump into fulfilling a task that wasn’t immediately necessary. Sometimes it did. There were many times when I was about to pick up my phone for a work-related task instead of playing with my kids and just calling up that simple mantra reminded me of what was important. Other times, I actually found myself saying it out loud when I was about to agree to another thing I didn’t have time for. (“You cannot admin another Facebook group. PRIORITIES, Melissa!”)
It didn’t always work, however. More often than not, I wouldn’t remember that guiding word until I was knee-deep in some task I said I could take on and I’d realize that I was failing yet again at prioritizing. Now that it’s already the end of 2016, it has dawned on me that I didn’t learn nearly as much as I’d hoped about prioritization. Certainly, I grew in some ways—I started bullet journaling, stopped having my phone glued to my hand while my kids were awake, delegated more and said yes less—but ultimately I didn’t keep that word at the heart of all my actions the way I’d planned last January.
What I did do all year long is focus on how it felt when I had my priorities in order and, conversely, how it felt when I didn’t. Unlike that word I couldn’t seem to keep in my mind, those feelings weren’t easily forgotten—they were a byproduct of my every action. The times when I chose right I felt proud and fulfilled. The times I chose wrong I felt guilty and frustrated. After a year of desperately chasing after a single word, I realized that I was being intensely pursued by a whole pack of feelings—and that I never once slowed down to let them catch me.
Now that I’ve finally pumped the brakes a little and turned my attention to the rearview of the past year, those feelings have had time to catch up. Over the past few weeks, I’ve digested the guilt that sits in the pit of my stomach when I fail to make my children my first priority. I’ve rehashed all the million little wasted moments that added up to so much time lost (Facebook, anyone?) and agonized over what I could’ve accomplished instead. I’ve absorbed the intense love I feel for my son when I’m fully engrossed in playing a game with him instead of having one eye on my phone. As I’ve let the full weight of those feelings sit on me, it’s become very clear what I have to do: in 2017, I need to let my feelings rather than a word or a list of resolutions guide my year.
All this to say, in 2017 I’m allowing myself a do-over of the past year. I’m committed to finally learning the value of priorities but not because I’ve convinced myself that the word itself is important. I want to learn what it means to have my priorities in order because I hate how it feels when I don’t. More than that, I absolutely love the way it feels when I do. I want to see that smile on my son’s face and feel the pride that comes with knowing I put it there. I want to make the tough decision to say no to that time-consuming project and feel the contentment that comes with knowing I’ll be putting that time to better use. A year from now, I want to sift through my memories of 2017 and feel fulfilled, content, proud.
Though I know it’s unrealistic to expect that I’ll feel them every day or even every month, I’m pretty confident that if I focus my attention on those feelings, my 2017 will be infinitely better than all those years I spent chasing unachievable resolutions.
Something tells me that, this year–for maybe the first time in my life–I’m finally going to get this New Year’s resolution thing right.