Better Questions is supported by readers like you. If you get value from my writing, consider becoming a supporting member. Exclusive content, weekly deep-dives, free beta-access to future courses and more.
It costs 1$.
Happy New Year.
Yes, it's objectively true that any new year is indistinguishable from the year that came before. Time is a spectrum; it doesn't stop and then start anew. We're the same people on January 1st that we were on December 31st, more or less. Time's flow is continuous and uninterrupted.
Many people jump from the observance of this undeniable fact to the assertion that any resolution to change, do something different, or improve that's rooted in the new year is bound to fail. There's nothing today that's different than yesterday, and so you're no more likely to observe your new year's resolutions or stick to those new habits than you've ever been. The idea of a fresh start is just that - an idea, and therefore, an illusion.
But I disagree.
What this dismissal of a "fresh start with the new year" as merely an idea misses is that everything is merely an idea. We are all map and no territory. We are most certainly not passive observers of the inevitable flow of time, registering the "real world" objectively. No such human exists. Instead, we are only idea, we are purely idea, at least in how we understand and move through the world.
Thus, my disagreement is not with the notion that "the 'new year's fresh start' is an idea," but with the notion that it is merely an idea.
Ideas are all we have, and they can be enormously powerful.
With that preamble out of the way, allow me to reveal that I am a sucker for New Year's Resolutions, a fan of goal-setting, and a practitioner of planning.
Over the years my "plans" have become less detailed, and more directional; as I've grown to appreciate how the complexity of the world can frustrate even the best-laid plan, I've come to rely more on setting a general direction for myself. I try to "feel into" the year as it comes, a process more similar to wayfinding than to BHAGs or SMART goals.
I still use concrete and measurable targets to drive each quarter's activity; I've tested a number of different approaches, but breaking down projects by quarter still makes the most sense to me.
Each year, I share my goals and focus for the year to come. Last year, I wrote about the Year of Building Your Team. It was a theme that emerged and re-emerged several times over the year, in ways I could never have anticipated. It changed me profoundly, and, as every year does, informs what is important to me today.
So. As I look forward to 2023, what strikes me as most important? Most needing attention? What is my theme for 2023?
The Year of Letting Go.
For the longest time, I have written both essays and songs in the same way:
The title, or a lyric, comes first...and then the piece emerges from it.
I don't know if the two are completely unconnected, and then become connected in my mind after the fact...or whether the piece that comes before subtly influences and guides everything that comes after.
But it's been that way for a while, and I enjoy it. I like to think it gives me a bit of a window into my unconscious.
So I wasn't surprised when this year's theme came first before I had any real idea what it meant. It was simply the first thing that popped into my mind when I sat down to mull over a theme for the year, and despite trying to revise it several times to something that made more "sense" to me, it is the only one that has remained. And so there it is.
The Year of Letting Go.
What does that even mean?
As I mulled the phrase over for the past few weeks, a few things occurred to me.
For one, I carry around a significant amount of tension. This doesn't necessarily mean that I consciously feel "tense;" but rather, if I take a moment to stop and focus on my body, I notice that my stomach is tightened up like I'm expecting a punch. My shoulders slowly climb upwards towards my ears and stay there. My wife often makes fun of my "resting wince face" - I look like I'm in pain, even though I'm not aware of anything being amiss.
Dealing with my back pain in 2022 led to some stretching, which led to the immediate realization that my body is incredibly stiff. I have trouble scratching my own back, or shoulders. I can barely turn my head to the side without my neck seizing up. I'm lucky to touch my shins, much less my toes.
I am, to a great degree, locked up. And I don't know why.
As is often the case, these problems emerge concurrently with and informed my reading of, several different books and authors. For this issue in particular, my readings of Freud and Lacan (there is an unconscious that can manifest physically), Alexander Lowen (the "self" is the body, and the more disconnected we become from the body's direct, physical reality, the more disassociated and depersonalized we feel), and Iain McGilchrist (the highly left-hemispheric, "rational," analytical view of the world leads to increased depersonalization and extreme detachment from the body) led me to wonder if some of my most troubling, recurrent psychological issues might not express themselves physically - and, if so, be best addressed physically, rather than psychoanlalytically.
I really don't know, but even if all I accomplished was a gradual loosening of muscular tension, I think that could have a profound effect on my quality of life. But it really does feel to me that there's something I'm missing, some kind of deeper sensing of and attunement with my physical body that would improve how I move throughout the world.
Not to mention several hang-ups, anxieties, and unproductive patterns of behavior (to put it mildly) that seem to resist typical cognitive-behavioral interventions. I'm just getting a bit sick of dealing with the same problems over and over, the same roadblocks to full self-expression. Maybe a different approach is the answer
Or maybe not. We won't know unless we try, eh?
When I visualize this year, I visualize a process of letting go: of tension, of the need to constantly improve, of my old anxieties and hang-ups that not only don't serve me anymore but never served me particularly well to begin with. The fact is, those things stay with me because, for one reason or another, I'm holding onto them. Even trying to fix them or improve them or work on them is just another form of holding on, of constantly acknowledging their existence, their primacy in my life.
What if, instead of trying to fix everything, I just...let it go?
I honestly don't know how to do that. As I said, the above is not a plan - it's a theme, a vibe, and a message that can't and won't be interpreted and understood until this time next year.
I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me. You can expect to read about some of that this year.
As always, I appreciate you being here so much. It means a lot to me.
And I hope you have a wonderful New Year.
COOL STUFF TO READ:
I really enjoyed this quick little infographic of tips. The one that jumped out at me was about "Optimizing your life for excitement," which I'd never thought of before. That's a pretty powerful little frame-switch.
Better Questions Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.