JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

2019: This May Or May Not Be My/Your Year…

Posted by on Jan 1, 2019

Happy New Year and welcome to the day, the week, the month of “new.” New year, new gym memberships, new resolutions, new promises, and inevitably, new disappointments. New reasons to be hopeful overshadowed by the ever present yet highly ignored backdrop of conveniently forgotten failures of the past. I wake up every January 1st with a duality that makes me want to go back under the covers: hope vs. history. This is the time of year, for whatever reason, we become reflective, maybe even pensive, sometimes regretful, and amazingly hopeful. Thankfully, all of these emotions and disruptions are gone by February and we can get back to our routines and resume trudging through the rest of the year. By October, we say, “how can this year have gone so fast?” and as the next round of holidays approach, we prepare ourselves for the food, the shopping, the gifts, the family, and the new round of new promises. We forget how we did this last year, you know, set out to become the “you you’ve always wanted to be,” and we mount the charge again, and again, and again. “Rinse and repeat,” as my friend, Linda says.

            But what about how powerful this time of year feels? It is a perfect storm for reflection and connecting with emotions you can’t seem to escape yet somehow don’t want to. The holiday celebrations, movies, and music stir us and make us nostalgic. Sitting by the tree at night with only the colored, flashing lights on has a magic to it that is indescribable. The feeling of good will that rushes over us for no reason, that upon noticing, we wish would last longer than a few weeks. The change in weather (even for those not in the north) encourages the body to slow down as the days are shorter and the nights opulent and long. We complain the sun sets before leaving the office but only because we have forgotten to heed nature and slow down a bit, encouraging and even allowing our bodies to recover during winter. As we continue on our daily way, there still is that part of us seeking reflection, seeking connection to family and friends, seeking relief from the perils of the year, and needing the hope January 1st always brings. It is a powerful time of year and none of us escapes unmoved.

            But today is the day to scroll through page after page of what promises are available to buy. I devour it relentlessly, page after page, picture after picture, promise after promise, and the dopamine drips with ecstasy in my brain. Yep, this is the year, my year, I will finally have it all, just like they tell me I deserve. Somehow, I am able to convince my brain that all the previous years have been some sort of fluke, that my failure to have 360° abundance has been a mistake, that if I could just unlock that one little thing, it will all turn around for me and I will have the life of my dreams. And as I find myself unable to satiate this desire, the other side of the duality hits a brick wall. Having written too many “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution” articles to count, my body tenses with frustration and perhaps shame. Have I been one of those promisers? What sort of life has my work led someone to believe they could miraculously create? Who and how many have I left disappointed and unsuccessful? My stomach answers with instant nausea: Snake oil buyer and seller in one swift kick to the gut.

            There will be a lot of articles today about change: accepting change, embracing change, preparing for change, falling in love with change. And they are all correct. However, the funny thing is, we are always changing. It is a fallacy to say you hate change because it’s sort of impossible. Our bodies change constantly, and we should love that fact because it keeps us alive. You walk from one room to another and the temperature changes imperceptibly, and without noticing, your body adapts. You instinctively roll up or down your sleeves because it was warmer or cooler in the next room and the human body is a master adapter to environmental cues and conditions without bothering you to ask if your sleeves can be adjusted now. You don’t tell your body to sweat or shiver when the sleeves are not enough to adapt, it just does. And so goes the mind with change. The human brain is a miraculous computer that deals with millions of bits of information per second. If we didn’t “change our minds” moment to moment, we would miss important opportunities to connect or disconnect—whatever will keep us the safest. Someone enters the room and we must instantly change or adapt to this new entity. Are they a threat or an ally? Will they make us feel better or worse? Should I stay or should I go now (cue The Clash, circa 1981, feeling older now)? And the interesting thing is that it doesn’t even have to be a person entering the room, it can easily be an unwitting memory, the kind that you don’t even realize you are having, as enough to produce the same need for a survival response: stay or go? And so, the changes keep happening both behind and in front of the door of our mind, hundreds of times each day, staying or going, changing without warning. How to get ahead of that is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question (not feeling as old because this is a reference, not an experience).

            The point to all of this is to acknowledge both the reality and fantasy of the new year, resolutions, hope, and human nature. It is not balanced to only have hope, but how do we “balance” hope? It is almost against the definition of it! And if we prepare for our hope to fail, then is that really having hope? No way. So, we hope and then we recover if it fails to come true. Humans are a resilient bunch as evidenced in our annual trek towards that “new you.” We are naturally drawn to things and ideas that inspire hope, for it is a powerful emotion. When I was in graduate school learning how to be a psychologist, one of my professors gave a homework assignment that was to answer a question using only one word: What do you want a client to have as they leave your office from a first therapy session? What? Blank, my mind was blank, completely blank. I drove home waiting to search my text books and thesaurus (no internet yet, definitely older). Happiness? No. Relief? Maybe. Contentment? No. Joy? For sure no because how do I match that each week. Sadness? Not if I want them to come back. The answer was hope, we want them to leave session number one with hope. Hope that they will one day be able to feel all of those things and still be okay.

            The amazing thing about hope is that it seems to contain a memory venom, erasing all the memories that would keep a rational mind from having any in this annual hope event. See, when I woke up this morning, I was full of hope and dreams and the promise the new year brings. Diligent and regular with my ritual of writing resolutions or goals but now with a renewed gritty determination that certainly must be stronger than last year. And then life happened, so-and-so didn’t show up for work, an argument here, a disappointment there, and I found myself sitting on the couch, staring out the window, feeling crappy because today seems just like any other day now, and wondering where all that damn hope went.  

How do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the energy of the season without it simultaneously triggering the opening of old wounds and disappointments from what never came to be? We pretend those misses didn’t happen or don’t bother us…but deep, down they do, and those little pockets of doubt become blankets of “no way” and we spend yet another year pretending this is what we should have when we categorically believe otherwise. My sisters and I have a joke about how “This is our year!” It started innocently as a declaration but year after year, we kept saying this until it has become a New Year’s ritual, claiming in irony that the Taj Mahal is somehow within this year’s reach. As if that is what would make us all happy. How could we have tried so hard and then missed so badly arriving at the place of “it all”?  

As we are all bathing in the hope of our New Year’s Resolutions, perhaps a balancing tonic will be of use. Don’t stretch the rubber band so tight as to scar yourself with the recoil. This is not to say don’t be resolute. But be powerful in your “stretch.” We all know how to set goals: write them down, make them specific and measurable, make them challenging but do-able, give them a time line, and get support for them (reprint from article number one hundred and one previously mentioned). What do they say, “Reach for the moon and perhaps you will get a star”? My favorite story about this topic was told to me by my sister, Julie, years ago. There is a legend in Ireland from a time when times were tough about the young men who would cross the country side on foot, looking for work. As they traveled, they would often encounter walls, the old stone walls built by hand and meant to contain as much as to protect. When they would confront a wall that was perhaps too massive to get over, they would take their caps off and throw them over the wall. These were not just any caps but the wool caps we can imagine that their mother or grandmother had made them and were as much a part of their life as wardrobe. This simple yet powerful act created commitment—commitment to finding a way over the wall.

            I love this metaphor for hope, courage, commitment, and possibility. I love the way telling this story makes me feel and the reactions of the many who have been patient enough to listen. Take the energy of the day, the week, and this wonderful month of renewal, and throw your cap over some wall. Make sure it is your cap and a wall you have traveled to and are standing in front of. Know that it is just a cap but that getting over that wall to retrieve it will make it feel like a pot of gold. This year, just like every year, is your year. While you will always want more and better, you will also always have lots already. That is the magic of this turn of the calendar, the astonishing ability to simultaneously reflect on the past while dreaming of the future.