The adrenaline that pushed you through December has worn off and you’re feeling the January blahs. That’s not uncommon. In fact, January 24 is on record as being the most depressing day of the year, due to a combination a factors: Christmas bills, broken resolutions, and dark and dreary weather.
However, if you are brave enough to sit with the uncomfortable feelings of this depressing time of year, January can be a period of important personal growth. With a new year, we get a blank page of paper — a shot of creating the life we want. Exercises of self-examination can lead us to new goals. By gently observing what is and isn’t working in our lives, we can try for more joy in our lives.
This month is the first time in years that I have had the time to do some self-examination and soul searching. I started with these five questions. May they help you have a self-reflective January, too!
- What is one thing that you don’t enjoy?
We are creatures of habit. We sign up to be a volleyball scorekeeper because that was the only volunteer slot left, but three years later, we are still keeping score, grinding our teeth the entire time. Many of us keep doing activities that we really don’t enjoy because we are stage-four people-pleasers and are afraid of confrontation. Every January, I try to identify one thing that I am doing that I really don’t want to do, or that I’m not very good at, and stop doing it.
Three years ago I delegated my role as an administrator of Group Beyond Blue, the online depression group I started, to other folks. I realized I’m much better at bringing people to the site and posting encouraging posts than I am at monitoring potential problems. The year after that I gave away my duty to design and call out a swim workout at 6 a.m. two Mondays a month. Last year I eliminated some of my “obligatory” phone calls.
Trimming off these responsibilities involved a very awkward conversation. I felt as though I was letting people down. But I came away with more time, peace, and a sense of mastery over my life.
- What is one thing that you do enjoy?
Even more difficult than ridding ourselves of a responsibility that we don’t enjoy is carving out the time in our lives for the things we do enjoy. I enjoy lunch with friends, dark chocolate truffles, walks in the woods, and Adam Sandler movies. However, up until a few weeks ago, my schedule was too packed with work, a 90-minute commute, and every kind of therapy you can think of, to do any of them — except for the chocolate.
One of the key adjustments I made this year is to work less and to relax more. Research says this not only promote emotional resilience, but it actually makes you more productive in the end. It’s called the “productivity paradox.”
- What is your purpose?
I realize this question can’t be answered in a few hours one January afternoon. However, the start of the year is an appropriate time to plant the seeds of curiosity: Do you have a purpose that you are ignoring? According to Lissa Coffey, sociologist and DailyOm contributor, when we don’t identify and pursue our purpose, we get stuck, dissatisfied, and frustrated, which leads to spiritual and physiological malaise, including depression and anxiety.
Where do you start? “The key to finding your passion is to seek it from the inside out rather than outside in,” explains David Borchard, Ed.D, NCC, my father-in-law, and a licensed professional counselor management consultant. “We’re like human batteries in that some activities energize you while others drain you. You don’t get to choose what charges or discharges your energy as you came pre-wired into our world with certain potentials and interest proclivities. What you can do, however, is to identify what it is that strongly engages your interests and potentials and commit to doing those things.” In my interview with him, he outlines five steps that can you do to recognize and apply your passion.
- What did you learn last year?
Before the memories of last year recede into the gray matter of your brain, make a list of lessons that you learned. Think of this exercise as an annual review that you conduct for yourself — but forget about the ratings for job or domestic performance. It’s an opportunity for deeper reflection on what came really easily for you last year, and what was difficult and why.
In a prior post, I listed six lessons I learned last year. They included: “Don’t measure your self-worth by your job title,” “Self-compassion is the path to healing,” and “Being yourself takes tremendous courage.” By identifying and expressing the hidden gold — those aha! moments you discovered in your accomplishments, mistakes, and experiences of prior months — you bring them to your attention as you enter a new year.
- What do you want to learn?
As you reflect on what you learned last year, sometimes you’ll stumble on a set of lessons that you know you need to learn. For example, I have only scratched the surface of self-compassion. I want very much this year to learn how to be more loving with myself, as I know that my self-bashing is impeding my recovery from depression and anxiety. Ways to do that? Be nicer to myself and allow time for walks in the woods, lunch with friends, Adam Sandler movies. I’ve also started to pen loving letters of reassurance to the scared little girl inside of me, consoling her in the way that she craved as an adolescent.
The lesson doesn’t have to be philosophical. You might want to attempt a new craft — pottery, woodworking, singing — or experiment with belly dancing, racquetball, or synchronized swimming. When we learn something new — whether that be embracing a new attitude or trying out a new activity — we generate new brain cells and rewire old neural pathways. It signals to the emotional centers of our noggin that we are moving forward, not backward, which is the whole point of January.
Carlile, J. (2005) Jan. 24 called worst day of the year. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6847012/ns/world_news/t/jan-called-worst-day-year/
Schwartz, T. (2010, June). The Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Gets More Out of People by Demanding Less. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/06/the-productivity-paradox-how-sony-pictures-gets-more-out-of-people-by-demanding-less
Dreyfuss, E., Gadson, A., Riding, T., & Wang, A. [n.d.] The IT Productivity Paradox. Retrieved from https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/productivity-paradox/background.html