Who wants to make a New Year’s Resolution? Nobody! They can feel trite, forced, and pointless: Why now? Will it really last? With all the problems in the world, what behavior change would even make a dent? The articles we usually write are about how to take small steps toward change, be SMART about goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), and whenever possible, cultivate hope based in what science has to offer. It’s doubtful those behavioral ideas will be absent here, but as this new year begins, perhaps rather than focusing on behavioral plans, we can zero in on something somewhat different: reflection and intention.
Listen to Gordon Hempton appearing on the Radio Show On Being from National Public Radio
Quiet reflection is very hard to do without the “quiet” part! What is quiet reflection? It is taking a moment to look back and think about your experience of the day and be curious about how you feel and think. Taking a moment like this might reveal greater awareness of feelings, of longings, or possibly even appreciation.
The benefit of having this moment of reflection be quiet is that often the “noise” of our everyday lives gets in the way of us actually being able to fully reflect. If the commute home each day (or the walk from here to there, or the time before bed) is filled with videos, games, and auditory stimuli, the quiet of reflection (about the day, about feelings) will likely not arise in the same way. When leaping from one input to the next, we curate our experience, likely hoping to entertain ourselves or distract from something unpleasant. And this kind of coping has a place of value, to be sure. But maybe making just a bit of extra space for quiet reflection can increase a sense of empowerment and purpose – a sense of knowing oneself and feeling grounded in that knowledge. It’s about forming an intention to “do” less and reflect more.
There are other benefits to be gained by a little quiet reflection. For instance, take the example of listening – whether to one’s own feelings and thoughts or to another’s. The importance of communication is often a focus in my own work with family members where substance misuse is disrupting their lives. There are many concrete things to do that improve communication (remember the warning that it would be difficult to avoid behavioral options in this article!): use open-ended questions, find opportunities to reflect on things you feel empathy about, use statements of understanding regarding the other person’s position, be clear about what you need and feel in a non-judgmental or blaming way… There are many other things one could mention on that list of helpful things, but one truly critical piece that is often overlooked is the non-speaking part of communication: listening. How do we effectively accomplish listening when silence is endangered in our lives? Pretty difficult! If you focus only on what you will say and how you will say it, the skill of listening can be forgotten. Speaking is of little value if you don’t really pause long enough to hear what the other person has to say.
So rather than a New Year’s Resolution of action and behavior, perhaps it’s worth considering making an intention to clear some space for reflection. But please note what was NOT mentioned here in the discussion of reflection: more worry, rumination, self-flagellation or regret. If you spend your added reflection time in these ways, you will miss the real value of reflection! This is not meant to be an opportunity for added negativity, but rather a leap of faith into what the present has to offer when you aren’t orchestrating it with input and distraction. Maybe something you don’t expect will arise, maybe even a vision of what you love and want more in your life.