Last year at about this time I was advised by brilliant woman and business coach Brook McCarthy to take a journal and pen somewhere in nature, and before brain-storming about all the wonderful things I want to create in the New Year, to first look back upon the year gone by, and allow myself some time to both grieve, and to forgive myself for all of the things that had not yet worked out… for the perceived failures as much as the wins, disappointments and ongoing challenges as much as the blessings.
It was a tender and fruitful process for me, because often our enthusiasm to do and be better in the opportunity that is a new year, contains subtle (or not-so-subtle) elements of non-acceptance. We find ourselves kind of sprinting towards new and shinier versions of ourselves in the hope that our shadows won’t catch up.
Or, we give up on dreaming altogether, resigning ourselves to something less than satisfactory because the alternative feels much too hard (which might be appropriate sometimes, but not always).
But what if instead we consciously welcomed the shadows to come along for the ride? Anticipated them even? Stopped acting so bloody surprised when our favourite forms of self sabotage inevitably show up?
What if our Vision for 2024 was spacious enough to actually include and pre-empt some of the challenges or hurdles that are likely to arise as much as the imagining and feeling into what it is that we wish to achieve, create, or let go of?
What if we stepped off the treadmill of Hope & Fear? The blind hope that in the future we’ll be different (better), rather than learning to relax with ourselves as we are, and the niggling fear that there’s something missing in us, or lacking from our world.
Meditation teacher & writer Pema Chodron writes beautifully about this tendency, suggesting that the only way out, and indeed the bravest and most compassionate response to it, is to keep on turning to face that which frightens us - our shame and regret, as much as our fears of uncertainty and failure.
Which is not to say that we can't still set intentions or have goals, and harness the extraordinary power of our imaginations in the creative process, it just means that we'll do so from a place of presence and acceptance of ourselves here-now. We'll be realistic and conscious of our fears and tendencies, expecting them to arise at some point in the journey. And when they do, rather than be blindsided - unhinged or derailed from what matters to us, we can use the opportunity to know ourselves better. To integrate our shadows and make peace with our past, getting free from the things that scare us.
It's brilliant really. It feels to me so much kinder. And honest.
Here's a simple exercise if you'd like to have a go. It's called WOOP.
Grab pen and paper if you wish, and come along for a little free write...
W – Wish
Name your key desires in a sentence or two, as clearly and succinctly as possible.
O – Outcome
Imagine yourself having achieved the thing, made the change, run the course, moved into the house... whatever it is. Imagine it like it was the present moment. What can you feel, see, smell, taste, or touch? What's happening in your mind and heart? Who else is there? If you're struggling to see it then adjust the vision until you can.
O – Obstacles
Knowing yourself as you do, what’s likely to trip you up? What internal tendencies might sabotage progress, such as fear, doubt, distraction, disillusionment, or frustration? How might these tendencies play out? Similarly, are there any external/environmental challenges that you anticipate, such as from other people, work pressures, life admin, health issues, impending change etc? How would these potentially interfere with your progress?
P – Planning
This bit is all about resourcing yourself, like taking food and water on a long or arduous hike. It’s called an if-then plan, and involves focusing on one or more of the obstacles above, and considering how you might address them when they arise. For example, if I encounter obstacle X, then I will respond with action Y. If I anticipate getting frustrated or disillusioned, how will I resource myself so that I don’t get derailed from what matters to me? Examples might be something like talking to a friend/loved one, journalling, having an accountability partner such as a friend or coach, physical and meditative practices to re-centre, taking time off/away from the project without abandoning it completely, declaring dates/deadlines so that I can’t back out etc.
You can work your way slowly through all of the obstacles you listed, considering what resources you have, both inner and outer, to meet them as creatively and compassionately as you can.
And if you'd like some more support and/or someone to keep you accountable, see my 1:1 offerings on the Coaching & Counselling page.
Image by @sofiamuro_