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Let’s make the new year new, an invitation to be different

If we end the year with the same attitudes and reactions with which we began it, the year is not new, and neither are we.

Humans mark the calendar by external events. I got a job, lost a job; had a baby, lost a baby; got married, got divorced; bought a house, lost a house. Each of these events appears to be the course of our lives. And yet in fact each event is merely an opportunity for us to test and develop in ourselves the capacity for greater maturity and strength.

We don’t need to measure time by the events they contain. We can evaluate our year by the responses we had. Every day offers an opportunity for us to change our reactions and behaviors. Yet our calendars are not marked with: Changed my response; didn’t change my response.

But they could.

I invite you to join with me as we enter the “new year” to make it truly new, not because of new events, but because of new reactions and responses to those events, old and new. What are five habitual responses that you can recognize in yourself, and what alternative responses could you have? And make that truly what your year is about.

For example, look at your reactions to events that you experience as negative. Let’s say a friend says something critical about you. How do you typically react? Do you get angry or defensive? Do you listen carefully? Are you answering the criticism before you have even heard it? Do you respond with a comment about how they do something similar or worse? Do you refocus the conversation on HOW they made the criticism as opposed to the legitimacy of what they said? Do you deflect by scrutinizing the criticism, demonstrating the ten ways it does not fit you, rather than the one way it might?

Here’s the challenge. Could you listen to the criticism instead of reacting to it? Could you consider whether or not the statement is true of you? Do you agree that a different behavior in yourself would be preferable? Is the criticized behavior common for you? Do you know why you engage in it? If it’s a pattern, where did that pattern come from?

By asking these questions you are making one change and opening the door to another. You are changing by asking yourself these questions, instead of just reacting, which is the first change, and you are opening the possibility of a new response to life by confronting a behavior which is ingrained within you. If you can go through this whole process with self-compassion and without shame, you have really won.

If this example of dealing with a “negative” event doesn’t fit, find another that does. In fact, find several.

What about responses to good things or seemingly good things? Let’s say you’ve become engaged to be married. Are you ecstatic and in fantasy that this engagement is somehow going to solve your problems? Do you believe that your loneliness will be over? Do you believe that your soon-to-be-spouse will make you happy? Do you feel puffed up and want to brag about it? Is the idea of being engaged or married more important than the reality of who you are marrying or how they are actually feeling about it?

Here is the challenge: Are you having some fantasy about this turn of events? Where did you get that fantasy? How could the fantasy damage you and your partner? Are you willing to give it up if it’s not truly what’s right for you? Once again, looking at “good news” with a sober eye supports you in one change and opens the door to another. You are developing a different relationship to “good” news by questioning your response, and you are opening the door for an additional change, which is to being in reality about the engagement.

Once again, if this example doesn’t fit, identify one that does. Better yet, identify several.

It doesn’t matter what the event, seemingly negative or positive, life will be life, and each moment will challenge us to be in reality and make good decisions. And yet our habit is not to deal with reality at all, but to be engaged in a roller coaster of emotions that define our life experience. We are happy, sad, affronted, confronted, stressed, confused, jubilant or depressed about x, y or z. And those states of mind are what truly define the year, not the events that seemed to have caused them.

A new year is not new if we maintain old patterns of reaction and response. If you are depressed again this year, scattered again this year, bored again this year, anxious again this year, the circumstances are irrelevant. Circumstances change, the challenges look different, but in fact the challenge is always the same. The challenge is us.

I invite you to note some of your habitual reactions and responses, and challenge yourself to change not your circumstances, but yourself. Mark your calendar with the real events. “Mark yelled at me, and I looked at him with compassion, because I knew he had just lost his best friend. I was transformed today.”

Happy New Year.

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