Small Steps Toward a Creative New Year

Something about the New Year encourages us to take stock of our lives and to fashion resolutions about what we imagine will take us closer to the lives we wish we were living. Sometimes it is the practical (I will organize my kitchen cabinets or else!) or the physical (Yoga every evening, no more snacks!). But think about it. No matter what the motivation seems to be, underneath it all, each promise we make to ourselves, each goal we set, is designed to bring us closer to whom we really are and how we need to live in order to satisfy our soul’s deepest cravings.

We are inherently creative beings, and for that reason, many of us hold a vision for our lives that includes a more creative version of ourselves – someone who paints in their free time, has a novel going on the side, or spends hours crafting handmade gifts on the weekends. But creative resolutions can be tinged with a sort of desperation as the years go by, because let’s face it, rarely are they accomplished in their entirety. Rather we begin with great intentions, can’t keep up, and in the end are right back in the same spot the following January.

This year, I am trying a different approach. American essayist John Burroughs once said, “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” Knowing I will not be able to become creative in all the areas I personally would like to improve (cooking, painting, knitting, sewing, gardening, etc.), I’ve decided to begin by building small habits, which I hope will lead to small (and eventually greater) victories. I know myself better by now, too. Will I realistically go from take-out and thrown together after work pseudo-meals like apple slices and popcorn to a menu from the pages of a Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook? No. But can I do one thing better? Can I try to do the food prep for the week on a Sunday afternoon so I have more time to cook creatively during the week? Or just make a game of trying one new recipe a week? Instead of trying to craft handmade everything for everyone, can I choose one or two things I’d like to make or learn to do for fun, and then gift the results if I choose to?

You see how this will go. Redo the whole garden? How about building the habit of watering regularly? Or maybe planting one new bed? Write a novel? How about a letter? Or a blog post? (You are reading the result of one of the new habits I am trying to cultivate!)

Happily, creativity begets creativity, and each small step we take in the direction (the creation) of our vision, the easier the next steps will be and the more creative our daily lives will become.

Smile, You Are Beautiful

I have numerous exercise DVDs, and on one of them, the yoga instructor talks about the connection between actions and feelings, and he says “You get to act how you want to feel.” In other words, you can act your way out of unhappy or destructive feelings, simply by behaving as if you feel in a more positive way. A smile, for instance, triggers something in the brain that instantly improves mood and so even if you have to fake it, that smile works to transform you in a positive way, which can have wonderful repercussions on your day.

I was reminded yesterday that the same is true of appearance. When you feel beautiful, you are, regardless of what you are wearing, whether or not your hair is done, or makeup applied. And one of the most beautiful, and beautifying, things that you can do is smile.

“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful,” says Zen master and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I think with a smile, you also make yourself more beautiful.

Too many of us, weighed down with worry and responsibility, wonder why we look so tired and old. We look in the mirror each morning and catalog all the ways in which we have aged and deteriorated overnight. Focusing on the negative, we fail to truly see ourselves at all.

Yesterday my daughter reminded me how she actively and consciously tries to be nice to herself. It sounded a little strange at first, but what she says and does makes sense. For one thing, she looks at herself with appreciation, like she would a friend. The more time I spend with her, the more I see in myself the tendency to do just the opposite. One way I plan to grow this year is to appreciate myself more for who I am now. If I can learn to see myself as beautiful, I become more beautiful, inside and out.

Yoko Ono once said, “Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you’ll start to see a big difference in your life.” That is a simple enough practice that I plan to try this year.

Tiny Steps toward Your Best New Year

“And now we welcome the new year.  Full of things that have never been.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

I love the thought of a new year, especially on December 31st, when I think of all I will accomplish now that the calendar page has turned.  Like many perfectionists (read borderline OCDs), however, if I don’t have a clean start on January 1st, I’d might as well forget it, or wait for another “clean start” at the six month point on June 1st, or even the following year.  But at this point of my life, I realize that I don’t have full years or even six month increments to waste waiting for a “clean start” that is nothing more than another unrealistic expectation keeping me from growing and changing in the ways I want to grow and change.

So yes, though I love the thought of a new year, I usually think in terms of a deficiency, another year gone and look at what I haven’t done. But today I am thinking of all the ways my life has changed  over the past twelve months. Think of it. How have you changed in thoughts, attitudes, an actions in the last year?  Hopefully the start of 2018 finds you in a place of positive change and of growth, but if not, no pressure.  Accepting where you are at the start could be the first gift you give yourself this year, and the first step toward a better year ahead.

And what of resolutions? One of my plans was to start publishing something, anything, every Monday morning.  Coincidentally, January 1st was a Monday… talk about a “clean start”!  What could be more perfect?

Notice what day it is?  Today is Friday, January 5th, and there’s no poetry or symmetry in that!  But one of my resolutions is to just work hard toward my goals each day.  I may have a lot of time or a little, but something is always better than nothing.

So with a year ahead “full of things that have never been,” I am going with the mantra of “something is better than nothing.”  By taking the tiniest of steps over the last year, I have found myself in a strong and truly happy place.  Where will more intentional, though possibly just as tiny, steps take me this year?  Where will they take you?