Intentions for the New Year: Body Mind, and Soul
I believe that January offers the stillness necessary for revivification, and because of this, I've gotten into the habit the past couple of years of using the month as a true reset. I am especially thrilled about this opportunity this year. I ended 2022 not with a bang nor a fizzle but with a nagging cold, a shoulder injury, and a sub-par attitude. I'd like to share with you today my intentions around the new year to amend these physical and psychic wrongs.
Parts of the plan are banal, others so whimsical I'm a little embarrassed to be admitting to them on the Internet. All of them are actionable items, though small enough to be achievable but big enough to matter. I'm a sucker for a good list, so I've divided it into sections for body, mind, and soul. Without further adieu, here follow my new year's intentions in all of their self-help glory.
My New Year Intentions for the Body
- Eat real food. By December 31st each year, my body is a wasteland of manufactured food-like items, refined sugar, caffeinated beverages, and cheap red wine. In my younger years, I'd punish the prior months' overindulgence with an austere caloric deficit, but these days, I like to simply guide myself back to eating actual food in rational amounts. My only rule here is to avoid food that comes out of a factory. It may be sacrilegious to the fitness orthodoxy, but I think a slab of homemade bread slicked with Kerry Gold butter is more nourishing than a protein bar with nary a pronounceable ingredient. In fact, maybe a better rule would be "avoid foods with ingredients that have more than three syllables," but you get the idea either way. The goal here isn't to lose fat. It's to eat food your body recognizes as such and to actually focus on it instead of stuffing it down mindlessly while watching Elf.
- Train consistently, not perfectly. I happen to be one of those odd birds that actually like going to the gym, but this step is adaptable to any form of physical movement. This step is about re-establishing the habit rather than perfecting the habit. As a one-time personal trainer, I can easily over-analyze my exercise. I'll spend hours planning out the "perfect" split for the week, the "perfect" workout for each day, and the "perfect" plan to get me to whatever aesthetic or performance goal I happen to be working on. By the end of all of that cognitive strain, I have little to no desire to do the workouts I've planned. To avoid this pitfall, this month, I am throwing all goals out the window except the goal of getting back into the rhythm of training every day. Enter the old cliché about perfect being the enemy of the good—it applies here. I'm not trying to do anything besides remind myself why I love moving.
- Take cold showers. I've explained the scientific rationale behind this would-be torture in my previous post, "Biohacking Bliss." Even a couple minutes in a cold shower boosts dopamine by unbelievable amounts, and to get back in the swing of things, I need every ounce of this motivational neurotransmitter that I can get. The bonus is that doing hard, potentially-deranged things like exposing your skin to freezing water in the morning builds distress tolerance and, consequently, resilience. Learning to be comfortable in the uncomfortable is a good way to start the year or the day.
- Do a midday reset. As an elementary school teacher, I am so over-stimulated by the end of my workday that I feel like my teeth are going to fall out. Instead of eating four donuts, yelling at traffic on my afternoon commute, or sobbing uncontrollably on the floor as I did for the entire three weeks before school let out in December, I am planning on ending my workdays this January with an energetic reset. This could mean many things, from turning the lights off in my classroom, locking the door, and lying on the carpet for 20 minutes to going on a stroll down the nature path behind my school and hugging a tree. Anything that triggers my parasympathetic nervous system and brings me down a notch is fair game.
My New Year Intentions for the Mind
- Focus on creation over consumption. I spent far too many hours in the final days of 2022 scrolling through my Instagram feed and watching Netflix. I felt like a zombie. I probably even drooled some. This month, I am saying no to mindless media consumption and yes to mindful creation. Frankly, I am trash at anything artistic, but that's not going to stop me. I've signed up for a ceramics class and have maxed out my holiday Target gift cards (the teacher's bread and butter) on art supplies. I hope to create in other ways, too; I have grand plans of going to some dance classes and maybe even trying my hand at some short stories, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. The point is, when I have some downtime, I'd like to waste it making something rather than watching something.
- Get frustrated. If you're in the midst of trying to do something or learn something, the telltale sign that you're making progress is that you feel so irritated you could break a chair. This is counter-intuitive, but it's true. As the human brain learns, it releases cortisol, the infamous stress hormone, for alertness. If you feel a rush of it, you're probably on the right track, and this is very good news for your brain. Use it or lose it, as they say. With complete knowledge that I will eat my words as I am trying to learn to pirouette or use a power tool or whatever I decide on and am failing miserably, I plan on learning some new tricks. This could run the gamut of usefulness from learning to shuffle a deck of cards to re-learning the quadratic equation. What's important is that I will be learning something new and, for a while at least, sucking at it.
- Concentrate on concentrating. My focus seems to have gone the way of all things. I used to read treatises on political theory, but now I can barely make it through an email without getting distracted. Luckily, this can be retrained. My strategy here is two-fold. For one, I plan on a daily bout of "focused-attention meditation," otherwise known as meditation. I focus on the moment, drift, and then refocus. That's it. In time, the hope is that the time between drifts grows longer. My other tactic, which I practiced today in the grocery store, is what I call "task focus," or choosing one task and seeing it through without departure. I was proud when I left the store carrying nothing that wasn't on my list, but boy, was it a trial. I am crossing my fingers that after a few weeks of focused attention meditation and task focus, I won't feel so proud of not buying scented candles.
- Read. This one is self-explanatory and obligatory but nevertheless important. Don't be a part of the problem. Save literacy before it dies off.
My New Year Intentions for the Soul
- Seek the best. I talk a big game about the world being full of the miraculous, but I've been guilty of hypocrisy as of late. I'd like to change that and once again seek the best in every experience and person I come across, including myself. The human mind is oriented towards what's wrong—such negativity bias has probably kept us alive, but it's a bit of a downer if left unchecked. I am stepping into 2023 with an assumption of goodwill. In practice, this means paying attention to the people and spaces around me instead of writing them off as irritating, hindering, or lost causes. It means looking in the mirror and seeing my intentions rise to the surface.
- Abandon expectations. What thou lookest for, thou will find. An oracle probably said that, and if not, one of them should've. All it means is that we see what we expect to see, and by extension, the more expectations we have, the less life we actually take in. There are about a million and one question marks hanging over my head right now, but instead of whiling away hours in mental rehearsal about what each possibility might yield and feel like, I am trying to walk into each and every moment blind. That might sound scary or at least unwise, but the more I release my control over my own life, the more hopeful I feel about it. Of all the items on this list, this is the most important and the least operative. I mean, how really do you release expectations? I don't know any better than you, but I am starting with noticing when I have them. I've found that once an expectation's been seen, it often dissipates of its own accord.
- Practice open-monitoring meditation. Unlike focused-attention meditation, where I am trying to keep my mind on my mind, in open-monitoring meditation, I let my mind go wherever it wants and simply watch it. In the dark months of winter, I sometimes feel like I am totally empty and void of any and all creative thought. It's been wonderful, even in the couple sessions I've had practicing this new-to-me form of meditation, to see that even amidst my mental hibernation, there is still life in my spirit. When I give my mind permission to go where it pleases, all kinds of strange and fantastical images spring up. It reminds me that the birthplace of everything is the void and that my life force is nowhere near crushed.
- Focus on a shift to gratitude. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Gratitude isn't simply for the good things in life but for the difficult things too. As I stride into this new year full of new adventures that will, undoubtedly, present their own set of trials, I am practicing gratitude towards all that is easeful as well as resistant. When things are easy, that's a party. When things are tough, that's an opportunity. Looked at in this light, which is absolutely easier said than done, life is a win-win-win scenario. The good things are there to be celebrated, the bad things to grow from.
I hope you've enjoyed this rather long list. Maybe it's given you an idea for your own new year's revival, or maybe it hasn't. Stride forth the best way you know how. Lord knows, with January ahead of us, you've got the time.
Satterwhite, J. (2023, January 2). Intentions for the New Year: Body Mind, and Soul, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2023/1/intentions-for-the-new-year-body-mind-and-soul