At the start of January, I went down to my local café with a notebook and calendar for the new year. I bought a cup of coffee, put my pen to the paper and pondered the year that has gone, the changes I want to make to my life and noted down ideas for projects, trips or activities I wish to pursue. And a thought entered my mind; since changes tend to unfold more slowly than we're lead to believe, maybe it's easier to think of our new year's resolutions as small adjustments that – with time – will lead us onto a new path or mark the beginning of a new set of habits.
As the pale sunshine filtered through the window, falling on my notebook in slivers of yellow and white, I felt a sense of calm whisk through my body. I thought I'd share my model with you. Here's how I went about the task of drawing up a plan for 2017.
1. The good stuff
As much as the new year can give you energy and hopes for the future, it might also rush in with a sudden pang of guilt or feelings of inadequacy and confusion. Abba's 'Happy New Year' with the opening lines "No more champagne / and the fireworks are through / here we are, me and you / feeling lost and feeling blue" is played year after year for a reason! But try to avoid beating yourself down. Start with outlining the aspects of your life you're happy with. Make a list. What gives you joy? What makes you feel good about yourself and endows your life with meaning? Perhaps you went on a long hike during the summer and returned refreshed and calm. Or maybe you went for a run now and then and it helped you focus. Or spent more quality time with your partner. Write it all down, big and small, anything goes.
2. The bad stuff
After outlining the stuff that makes you happy, identifying the gloomier sides of life should be relatively easy. Don't be judgmental or feel guilty about your emotions. These are just thoughts and you're free to think and write whatever you want. The list is for you and your eyes only.
3. Finding balance
The next step is trying to find solutions to the problems you have identified. If you've got too much work and is struggling to cope at school or in your career, one idea could be to talk to your teacher or manager and hope they are open to making adjustments that will alleviate your workload or help you get back on track.
Some dreams can seem more elusive. Perhaps you're finding it difficult to write that book or get into a certain industry. You might have to work on your skills. Or get better at befriending people in the industry that can become your mentor and give you the advice you need. Or simply make more time for the project at hand.
Emotional problems, like fear, loneliness or anxiety, can be relieved by speaking to friends, family or, if need be, a therapist or counsellor. Don't feel ashamed if you need to ask for help. Life is difficult and you're trying to make it work. At some points in our lives we all need a helping hand.
If your problems are less acute, lifestyle changes like exercising and switching to a healthier diet could make a big difference in your physical as well as mental well-being and inject your day-to-day life with more energy. However clichéd it sounds, your health is connected to all aspects of life – whether we're talking about mood swings, sleep, confidence or your ability to focus.
5. Write it all down
When you get stuck or the issue at hand seems insurmountable or out of your reach, simply try to write down your thoughts in a free and unfiltered manner. Soon, your head will clear and you will be able to challenge your problem more objectively. If writing is not your thing, recording your voice or speaking to a friend you trust could be an alternative.
6. Trial and error
After identifying the problems and solutions, it's time to get stuck in. Start making concrete plans by booking appointments, make time for new routines and talk to the relevant people. Maybe you'll find that you're putting too much on yourself and need to cut back and reassess. Or maybe you're left with a more dynamic day-to-day life. Trial and error is the only way forward.
7. There are no simple answers... sorry!
And remember; there are no short cuts. Grieving takes time. So does depression or overcoming addiction. Don't be too hard on yourself or go for the quick-fix. An upswing in mood or changes in behaviour will be gradual and might first be apparent months after you implement the change. And if you're a perfectionist, like me, you might have to go easy on yourself and not let the list become a burden. It should help you move forward and make your life easier, not the other way around.
What are you dreaming about in 2017? Post a comment below or send us an email at linnea[at]adc-tt.co.uk with your hopes for the future and we will assemble your thoughts into a feature.
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