Happy New Year! And now what?
It is rare for my clients in counseling to approach a first session with me not having at least a little anxiety about what to expect. I’m new to them. Counseling itself may be new to them. Do I really want to do this or not? What if this guy can’t help me? What if this means I'm crazy? What if? What if? What if?
Sometimes counseling is a bit like strapping on skis or skates for the first time. Feels a bit strange.
Or a lot!!!
The feedback I’m used to getting at the end of that first session is typically along the lines of “it wasn’t as bad as I expected it might be.” Or “I was kind of dreading and putting it off, but I’m glad I went ahead and did this.”
When I say “Happy New Year” it is my way of wishing you an even better than expected year. Wishing you a year you'll later on be glad you had!
But how does this happen?
Often we carry into next year a few assumptions from the last. At times we assume things will be easier and find out they’re harder. Other times it’s the reverse.
As difficult and stressful as uncertainty itself can be in life, here’s a little exercise that may help reduce that stress. It’s usually worth a try, worth conducting your own experiment.
Are you ready?
Get a clean sheet of paper and something to write with. Then make a list. Write down 5 things you were used to doing in 2022 that you prefer to continue doing in 2023. These are things that you might view as healthy habits or productive uses of your time. Things you were doing right, and would choose to then continue doing in the new year. Go ahead. I won’t look. It’s your private list. These can be your top 5 goals for 2023.
What was that like?
And better yet, why is this list going to be important for you to hold onto in 2023?
Life, you’ve perhaps already discovered, is a balancing act. At my age, one of the most important things to remember is “balance exercises” that counteract the aging process and help me prevent falls. But mental imbalance carries the same fall risk as does one’s physical imbalance. To assume we don’t need to work on our mind’s balance exercises is to, well, risk a painful fall sometime.
There’s plenty of uncertainty in life going forward. Plenty of change. And room for doubt. Plenty of fear. Plenty of loss. Mentally, that’s stressful to even think about.
The Christian apostle Paul, before his death, offered what amounted to his last bit of advice for us. It went like this: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
It’s not just when we face death but when we face life in a new year, or even a new counseling relationship, that we face uncertainty….doubt….fear…..loss. Those are life’s fall risks. The loose throw rugs and the slick banana peels along our journey.
We only lose our balance when we fail to think as much about what we are certain about. About what we prefer to continue doing as before. About that room for faith, not just doubt. About love, not just fear. About holding on, not just letting go. About staying, not changing.
Indeed, knowing 5 things we can and want to continue doing in 2023 will be like a handrail to hold onto as we journey forward. Your list is your continuity of care that keeps you upright. And always keeping at least 5 items on that list of things you want to continue doing right……. time after time after time means you won’t fall when doing something wrong.
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Hold onto the rail. Continue taking another breath. Another step. And doing all the 5 things you’re already doing well. Because it’s when we let go of the right thing that, when things go wrong, we will grab for what ends up being the wrong thing. We'll get out ahead of our skis or skates.
I’ll always remember my dear late mother’s 2nd broken hip years ago. She started to slip and reached out for the nearest chair to grab ahold. That chair had rolling casters on it and she ended up pulling it down on top of her. All of us know what it’s like to grab ahold of the wrong thing when we’re under stress and starting to lose our balance. Alcohol. Another drug. Food. Game. Cell phone. TV remote. Shopping channel. Amazon prime. We hold onto our stuff. Our bad habits. Lose our balance. And down we go.
We have our good habits to hold on to. Our good work. Good deeds. Good friends.
Our top 5 list of things we prefer to keep on doing in 2023 same as in 2022. Our hand rail through the New Year’s journey. This, my friends, is how we will get ahead this year!!
Without falling apart.