January is a good time to be gentle with ourselves. It’s a time when we are emerging out of ‘hibernation’ and yet are also faced with expectations to be all things new and all at once. That’s not reasonable nor practical nor altogether healthy for us if we’re honest with ourselves.
It’s a great idea to re-evaluate our lives and set new goals, however, the idea of being able to ‘hit the ground running’ on January 1st isn’t particularly helpful. I find that incremental changes over time are far more sustainable in the long run: ‘slow and steady wins the race’.
However, that’s not to say that it isn’t a particularly good time to use the idea of a new year and a new start to boost our motivation, but the way in which we do that doesn’t need to be in a flurry of activity.
So, feel free to pace yourself as you continue to journey through January.
For many of us, the first changes stem from perhaps going back home after spending time with family over Christmas, or saying goodbye to family if they have stayed with us. Others may not have to move or say goodbye or make any such changes, but the chances are that you will have to start tidying up and reorganising after the festive period. I don’t put any pressure on myself to do this in the first week of January as I like to gradually and gently say goodbye to that holiday feeling and savour the happy moments of it as I do. What’s the rush after all?
After that, we face the next challenge of remembering to get out of bed in the morning and go to work, while also remembering that it’s not socially acceptable to wear pyjamas all day or to take a nap in the afternoon – at least not in normal working life!
Our bodies are still adjusting to the changes in our sleep patterns, our diets and our activity levels. Which is why it’s a good idea like I said at the start of this post to be gentle with ourselves. Don’t expect that you will make and keep many drastic changes from ‘day 1’, that’s too much pressure. Maybe you thrive under that kind of pressure, and I suppose that’s ok, but if you don’t then don’t add to your anxiety by self-imposed and non-essential demands. Things take time, life takes time, so….take your time.
Perhaps it is a good idea to set ‘weekly goals’ in January rather than try to ‘attack’ a whole host of new year resolutions all at once. For example the first week could be simply going to work, with no other added expectations other than whatever else needs to be done to get you through your daily routine.
After that, perhaps the following week you will be more energised to begin to really ‘get going’ or to focus on another area of your routine such as addressing your sleep habits and your morning and evening routines. Your body will gradually adjust as you go at a gentle pace. Maybe in week three you can attend to the tidying up, the seeing people or the other things that you want to focus on.
As we are gentle with ourselves and accept that things take time and change is often most beneficial in the long term when it is gradual, consistent and sustained, then we will in good time find that boost of motivation to stride confidently into and through this new year.
It’s 2020, and this sounds like it should be the year of perfect vision, it has a sense of wholeness when we say it, and seems even a bit ‘futuristic’.
That aside, any New Year brings with it a sense of new expectations and this can be both exciting and challenging.
In this blog post, I’m going to explore some of the expectations we place upon ourselves, and walk you through some of the ways we could approach a new year in a more gentle way that helps us adjust to life with the changing of the seasons and in a way that is better for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Different cultures may celebrate new year at different points, however, in a globalised world we generally note the 1st of January as the start of the new calendar.
And yet, at least in my part of the world, we are still in that period of winter well before spring has begun to show, and so our bodies and minds may continue to be more inclined to the state of hibernation than to that of springing up with new ideas, plans and activities. However, there remains the external and internal ‘pressures’ that now is the time to make a change, to be new, to start afresh, to be better, to get those goals, dreams and plans in motion and to live our best lives.
Some people say that January is a month where a couple of weeks in, people begin to feel low, depressed and to experience the ‘January blues’, when the festive celebrations of Christmas and New Year have passed, the new year resolutions have dwindled away after 2 weeks of trying to make a sudden change and when the weather is still gloomy and spring and summer are just a little too far out of reach to be excited about. We’re mostly all back at work or back in a routine of some sort, and the big and exciting changes haven’t really happened and so we are left with an anti-climax and perhaps even the seasonal low moods of wintertime.
January 2nd for me:
As I write, I have returned back to my own flat after time away during December. I finished work on the evening of Friday 6th December (see that post for ideas of ‘wrapping up’ at work before a holiday), spent the next few days tidying, organising and decorating my flat to make it lovely and cosy for Christmas, after which I packed for a trip to Germany’s Black Forest and to France to see the Strasbourg Christmas markets. On return, I unpacked, washed my clothes, reorganised, tidied etc, had a bit of cosy time at home, went to church to celebrate the Birth of Christ with my church ‘family’, and then packed all over again to spend the next week and a half at my parents’ house with my family for Christmas and New Year.
The next ten days were spent with my family, cosied up inside, enjoying celebrations of Christmas, birthdays, New Year and an anniversary. This involved being looked after by my lovely mum, eating good food, playing music on my violin, family time playing games, quizzes, and even having fun with balloons, napping in the afternoons, reading my Bible, decorating my room, chilling out, laughing, relaxing, a couple of walks in the garden, a short and chilly new year’s eve walk at the beach, board games, films, Christmas and birthday cake, and only one day venturing out to see a friend.
The usual routine of work was completely forgotten about, and all in all it was a good time to be indoors and forget about the cold and chilly weather outside and enjoy some family togetherness and the blessings of having a roof over our heads, warm food, a place to sleep, and all the cosy things of the winter season and being at home with loved ones.
Having returned to my flat last night, I have returned, not quite with the energy and enthusiasm to start a new year, but instead with a bad cold, sneezes, a cough and sore throat. This has meant having to get a lot of rest, sleep and to try to look after myself so that I am as fit and healthy as I can be in time for starting back at work tomorrow! It is a good thing that it is a Friday and that I won’t have an entire week as a shock to the system.
Out of hibernation?
At my parents’ home, they have quite a big back garden, and most evenings a little (although much chubbier this winter 🙂 ) fox visits to receive its ‘daily bread’ 🙂 .
Often times there are also squirrels that scamper around the garden. However, while I was there I didn’t see a single squirrel until yesterday or the day before. It seems that they were hibernating for winter, and then all of a sudden two arrived at the same time, bright and breezy, and in a terrible hurry, before disappearing as quick as a flash.
It was an uncommon sight from the past two weeks as it seems that the squirrels had hidden themselves away with the cold and wintery weather.
Can you imagine a little squirrel popping its head tentatively out from behind a tree, wondering whether or not it is time to venture further into the light of day?
I think sometimes we can have that feeling in January, when we know it is time to get back into the routine of things, back to work, back to going out and about, but we’re not quite sure we are ready for it after so much time spent cosying up indoors, and knowing that spring won’t fully spring for at least another month or two.
A gentler pace:
The first month of a new year can be a difficult one to get into our stride. It seems that everyone around us feels the need to hurry up and put the old away and bring in the new. Christmas trees come down, decorations are put away, lists of goals and new year’s resolutions are made, diets and exercise routines are planned, habits are expected to change and we expect that we should be able to charge full steam ahead.
Yet the reality may be that our bodies and minds are still adjusting to the seasonal changes, the circumstantial changes of our lives, and we may be still trying to shake off the wintery coughs and colds that we have picked up.
So, what can we do to ease the transitions? To find a healthier and gentler pace with which to approach change?
One more step along the world I go:
Goals and Resolutions:
Personally, I find that ‘goal setting’ throughout the year (for me, on a monthly basis) to be much more helpful than new year’s resolutions in January, although I love the chance that a new year brings to reflect, to be thankful and to focus on valuable priorities in my life.
Rather than everything having to be a sudden change, I find that I am building upon goals that I have been steadily working upon and refreshing these and maybe incorporating new ones from the lessons I have learned over the past year.
‘Tis (still) the season to be cosy:
Perhaps you live in a sunnier part of the world, but here in Scotland, it is still cold and wintery in January. While many people may be taking their Christmas decorations down and packing them away, I feel no hurry to do so – for me, it’s one of the things that makes the season cosy while the weather is bleak outside. Living in a flat on the 10th floor means that I don’t really need to worry about what other people think, and so I plan to keep my tree and decorations and cosy lighting up for as long into January as my heart desires, to allow me to gradually move from one ‘season’ to the next.
Health and fitness is often at the top of people’s lists at the start of a new calendar year. However, try to be reasonable in your expectations of yourself so that you are not setting yourself up for disappointment. After possibly being indoors for an extended period of time, with potentially lessened activity levels, is it really helpful for your body to go full steam ahead into a brand new exercise routine, or would steady, gradual and committed changes be more beneficial in the long run?
Another thing we have to think about, as I am having to right now, is our bodies’ natural recovery time from seasonal illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu. We need to get back into a rhythm of healthier sleep, eating and activity, of drinking plenty of healthy fluids, and giving us time to rest and recover from any sicknesses. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t seem to be able to move full steam ahead into your new year goals. Change can be more effective if it is gradual and consistent – slow and steady can win the race.
Something to look forward to:
Having something to look forward to can be a great incentive and motivation for us to get going. Maybe you have a summer holiday booked in that you can start thinking about, planning for and day dreaming of.
If like me, you don’t have anything planned yet, you could maybe have some things in January that you can schedule in to look forward to. Have things to look forward to but don’t over commit, and allow yourself the room to change your mind.
I have had to decline two separate invitations for tomorrow and the weekend, from friends, as I have only just come down with this cough, cold, and sore throat and know I will need time to rest and recover especially with starting back at work tomorrow.
However, there are things that ‘traditionally’ I know I have to look forward to in January each year – one of which is various music events in my city, and the other is going out for dinner with a couple of good friends, and these plans can be flexible.
Other things to look forward to could be setting time aside, or spontaneously making time to do things we enjoy such as self care, a ‘pamper evening’, watching a film at the weekend, playing an instrument, or getting back into hobbies, reading, or other things that can be done without venturing out into the cold weather.
A time of reflection:
I personally like to take time to reflect on my life, to be thankful, and to prayerfully consider what I have learned, and what I should be focusing on and putting my time into. Just because January the 1st has passed it doesn’t mean that we can’t spend an extended period of time, if so inclined, in personal reflection and preparing our minds and hearts for what is ahead – that way any changes we do set about making or resolving to make will be more personal and meaningful and likelier to last the changing of times and seasons as we progress through life.
Back to work:
Unless you have taken time off in January, it is likely that as with most of us, you will be getting back into some kind of a work routine, whether that involves leaving the comfort of your own home and going outside to your place of work, or working at home, for yourself in some capacity, or flexible working. In any case, it will involve a shift of gears, some changes to your routine, and a different mindset to your holiday mode.
How can we ease this transition? We might not have a lot of time to prepare. Personally, I start work tomorrow, and I hope that with it being a Friday, this in itself will ease the transition back into the routine.
If you have thought ahead, you will have done some preparation before the holidays to ease this transition. I wrote a ‘welcome back’ email to myself before I finished up for the Christmas break, so now although I have forgotten what exactly I was doing, I have a list of specific instructions to get me going and keep me up to speed.
Even if you haven’t been organised before the holidays, you can find ways of making your start back to work more bearable.
Try to get a good night’s sleep.
Know where your staff ID badge for getting into work is, if you use one.
Keep essential things in easy to get to places so that the first morning back at work isn’t chaotic, or one in which you have unnecessary panic. For example, think about things you will definitely need such as money / credit card, house keys, car keys, train or bus pass, etc.
If you are very prepared you might even give yourself a head start by planning your work outfit – I am always impressed with people who manage to do this on a regular basis!
Eat a healthy breakfast, or at least keep money with you so that you can buy something to eat during the day.
Remind yourself of when you need to leave, where you need to be (e.g. if you have any meetings – hopefully not for the first day back), and set an alarm to allow you plenty of time to get ready and be on time (this is something I definitely want and need to work on in the coming year 🙂 ).
If you take medication, put it somewhere easy to access so that you don’t forget in a morning rush.
Keep some positive and uplifting music at hand for you to listen to if you are commuting on public transport so that you can be in a good frame of mind to start your day.
Try to keep a supply of cough and cold remedies handy, because chances are you’re not the only one who has been sick, and at new year people tend to want to wish you a happy new year with a handshake or a hug, so don’t forget to do what you can to avoid falling sick again or passing on your own illnesses.
Remember that if you are starting back at work around the same time as everyone else, then you all will be in a similar situation, so try not to worry about the transition into your daily routine.
First days back are generally more gentle days, reacclimatising yourself, remembering your passwords, checking through emails, and preparing for what you will be working on.
Try not to schedule in too many meetings, if any on your first few days back at work, and as people always say, before you know it, it will feel like you’ve never been away.
Change with the seasons:
Nature has a way of telling us when to slow down, to rest, to sleep, to wake, to spring into action, to adventure. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, have a way of nudging us into action and into rest. So while society may be telling you to do this, that or the other, pay attention to the natural rhythms of life, listen to what your body is telling you, and take action at a pace that is comfortable for you to make long lasting, life affirming changes that will stand the test of time, and not just the first few weeks of January.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, blessed, and spiritually enlightened new year, and a 2020 filled with love, joy, peace, self discovery, Truth and meaning.
Take care, and take the time to live life at a pace that keeps you well and healthy. x