Simple Practices for Reflecting on the New Year: A Guide for Dreamers

I’ve never been one for grand New Year’s resolutions or sequestered days of goal setting. The words “power sheets” make me want to curl up under a blanket and wait, cozy and hidden until spring. However, I do recognize the need to reflect on the past and dream into the future.

I’m a romantic, so my dreaming often takes the form of high and lofty (mostly unattainable) goals. Every year, I imagine our family moving to Paris where I become a prolific writer, fluent French speaker, and fashion icon. In Paris, my husband cooks an exquisite meal every evening, and we visit the Louvre on weekends.

In reality, year after year I find myself turning the calendar pages in New Jersey where I wear pilled and faded leggings, drive hundreds of miles through the sameness of the suburbs, and spend my free time roaming the aisles at Target. My husband asks pointed questions about the type of salt I’m using to boil the pasta and why I under-shredded the crock-pot chicken.

Clearly, there is an overwhelming gap between my imagined life and my real one. This gap, between the real and the imagined, is where I’ve learned to focus my energy over the coming year.

Power sheets aside, I do enjoy having a loose plan to help me move forward into a new year or new season. Without one, my default is a slow slide into acedia–a listlessness and dissatisfaction with life–which prevents me from accomplishing the slow, steady work of my hands.

If you find yourself at odds with the goal-driven, intention-setting, productivity-motivated people among us, you’re in the right place. If you find there is a disconnect between the romanticized version of your life and your real one, I’m here for you.

As January approaches, I follow these simple steps to help me envision the coming months for myself and my family.

Review the Past Year

Read through previous journals:

I look to the past before I look to the future. Sometime between Christmas and the New Year, I sit down with the previous year’s journal and skim the pages. I look for highlights, lowlights, and emotional threads. I pay particular attention to patterns of thought and behavior. If I continually wrestle with the same feelings or experiences, then I make note of this as an area where I need to consider change.

I take a deep look at my entries for the previous December and January, reading through my dreams and “goals” for the year to see where I hit the mark and where I missed it. Again, patterns often emerge (aside from the longing for an impossible life in Paris). Where I find myself dreaming of the same ideals, or struggling with the same problems, I pay attention.

Scroll through the year’s photos:

I’m a regular photographer of daily life, so I use my camera roll and my instagram feed as another form of remembrance and review. I’m aware of the tendency for many people to filter their lives in their photographs in such a way that it barely resembles the one they’re actually living, meaning it’s merely a highlight reel.

But, I become easily bogged down in the monotony of my daily activities. I need the highlight reel to remind me that I don’t live a life defined by the simple tasks I accomplish, but I live a life defined by beauty.

I’m always surprised at how beautiful my life is in photographs, and I suspect yours is too. The photos of my daughter celebrating graduation, my son running a race, my youngest smiling for her first day of school, and my husband snuggled on the sofa with our pup are just as real and lovely and full of beauty as the photos of our family posing amid the terra-cotta colored hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

It’s all real. The mundane, the extraordinary, the capstone, the celebratory, the everyday: It’s all part of abundant living.

This year, I created an instagram story recapping my year in photos and it was one of my favorite mini-projects of the season. It served two purposes: reflecting and creating, two of my favorite pastimes.

Envision the Year to Come

Imagine:

This is my version of goal-setting for dreamers. I shed all of my pre-conceived notions and the limitations of my everyday life, and I dream on the page. I sit down and write what my life would look like if I could craft it from scratch without any of my current limitations (real or perceived).

In order to do this, I need to know what my dream truly is and what I consider limitations. My limits are almost always self-imposed–fear, hesitation, procrastination,etc. Sometimes they stem from budgeting issues, scheduling conflicts, or gender role expectations. I never consider my family life a limitation–it’s the best thing about my reality, and my family is present in my mind as I dream on paper.

Once I have imagined this state of utter perfection (see: husband cooking à la Julia Child in Paris), I begin to consider the things that actually do limit me from living the life I imagine. It is here, in the chasm between dream-life and real-life, that the New Year forms in secret and grows to fruition.

As I hold each limitation to the light, I ask how I can make small changes to help me live a life that holds the essence of what I imagine. While I may never write world-renowned works of fiction from an artist’s garret with a view of Sacré Coeur, I can take steps in my everyday life to live the life of an artist. I define what I desire most, using the language of my current situation.

Ask questions that lead to action:

What do you most desire? What is the essence of this longing? How can you define it in the language of your everyday life?

I ask questions like these to lead me towards taking action. Once I’ve defined what I truly want, I begin to see how it’s possible to make subtle and sometimes big changes that lead to a life of congruence–where my inside matches my outside. This isn’t a “drink more water, work out 5 times a week” kind of situation. It’s a look at the bigger picture, which in turn, helps me to start the New Year creating beauty right where I’m standing.

Prayer:

This may seem to be a small footnote, but it’s the most important part of the process. I invite Jesus to enter into my dreaming with me. I need the mind of Christ, a holy imagination, for the year ahead and the changes He wants to make in and through me.

A New Year’s Reflection for Dreamers takes time and intention, but it requires nothing more than acts of remembrance, your fertile imagination, and prayer. If the thought of smart goals, resolutions, and power sheets weigh heavy on your soul, then perhaps these simple practices I use will help you draw closer to a life marked by beauty, creativity, and dreams re-imagined for daily living.

 

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  • marian vischer

    So encouraged and inspired to do this! I’m so glad you took the time to share your process with us. (Burn all the power sheets. 😉)