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Apr 12, 2018

New Years is Bad for Resolutions! Spring is the Season of Getting Your Act Together.

The beginning of the calendar year is a bizarre time to be making resolutions. But still... we do it. Every year. In early January, it has only been winter for a few weeks, and most people have just spent most of that time stuffing themselves with cookies, candies and rich meals. Whatever you may be willing to commit to on January 1 as you look at yourself through holiday goggles that are covered in ham glaze, egg nog and New Year's confetti, has a poor chance of coming to fruition. Despite the holiday, January does not feel much different than December, and it feels a lot like February. For most of us who live in parts of the country where it is dark early, frigid out of doors, and requires clothing to beat wetness and chill, January is a season to cope through, not a season for getting charged up to becoming a new person. 

Spring, on the other hand, is a natural season for assessing your needs, cleaning spaces, and for general renewal. Because Spring is a legitimate time to expect things to change in the world, and therefore a terrific time to think about changing things about yourself. Its a time to renew the spaces in which you exist, a time to rethink your relationship to the world around you, and its a perfect occasion to ask yourself introspective questions about how you're doing without trying to evade the answers. Spring is a time to throw old things away, to rake off the dross and rot that may have built up around you, and to refresh yourself so that you can be ready for new things to happen.

 

I think the best way to do this work is to think about your life multi-dimensionally. Unfortunately for people who like to break projects apart and do them categorically, renewing yourself is not something you can do programmatically. You have to take the whole picture together. This means that sometimes doing things in the physical world is a perfect chance to assess what is going on in your mental or emotional world. Or vice versa. But its a time to look at the whole picture and think about where you're at. For example:

 

  • Cleaning out your refrigerator is something you should do at least a few times a year, and your spring clean should be especially thorough. But it is also an ideal time to be thinking about your food habits and the way that you consume. When you find that tub of un-eaten plain yogurt, maybe its okay to realize that it just isn't for you and that you have to find other options for making sure you eat breakfast. On the other hand, if you find a treasure trove of Chick-Fil-A Polynesian sauce where your butter is supposed to go, maybe its worth assessing how much money you are spending on fast food calories. 
  • Sometimes, it goes the other way. If you are being attentive to your emotional experiences, you may realize that they are influenced (or outright caused) by something material around you. If you sit down and realize that a defining part of your mental experience is that every morning when you get to work you feel frazzled, unorganized and completely out of control, maybe its a time to think about your morning routine or consider something as obvious as the shape your car is in.
  • Once I moved from a city with lots of public transit to a city with little public transit, I realized that I was reading less. The reason wasn't simply because I had less time to read on buses and subways. It was because reading while traveling was a way to GET INTO books and longer pieces that I now no longer had. I had to change my habits. So, a year or so back, I decided that I would try not to read anything on my phone or from the internet while I was in bed. Instead, I made sure I would have actual reading material––books, articles, other substantial literature. It was a way of priming myself to read more and re-instill the habit.
  • Its possible that you are reading this while un- or under-employed. Where you would think that the surplus of time would give you more freedom to do things, the emotional stress of job hunting does not let you get away with a streamlined personal schedule filled with creative opportunities. What I found when I was dealing with being unemployed was that what I needed wasn't a hyper-focus on myself and my circumstances. I needed to spend time NOT thinking about myself and not putting myself at the center of my universe. So I started volunteering, and in the process I was able to shape how I related to the world around me while also giving myself a break from the self-obsession that necessarily comes when you are papering the landscape with resumes and applications. Now, I try to make that part of how I relate to the world more broadly. Most of us could use some time in our days in which we ourselves are not the most important thing in our orbit.

The thing about thinking about your life in this way is that you have to stop, reflect and do a real self-assessment. It is the personal version of throwing out the expired condiment containers in your fridge. And the point is that while you are cleaning your fridge (or garage, spare room, office, car, or all of them in sequence) is a perfect time to do it. Because Spring is a chance for you to see how your internal world, the orbiting relationships that surround you and the physical spaces that you frequent inform to one another. And its the ideal time to put all of those things in order––not one at a time, but together, all at once. Spring cleaning is not simply a cliché or some old world tradition that has fallen out of use.  The Spring is literally programed into our planet as a season of renewal. All of the momentum of everything in the natural world––plants, insects, animals, weather cycles, oceanic currents––are gearing up. So it's a time to roll up carpets and finally crack the door on the over-stuffed shed in the back. It's a time to get down to bedrock and scrub out even the grout. It's the season of "getting your act together."

Note: I've talked a lot about doing a self-assessment without laying out a specific way to do a that kind of self-assessment. And that's on purpose. Because the thing is, there are lots of ways you can do this kind of work, and honestly everyone's best version might take a different form. For myself, a blank piece of paper is a good start for listing things I need to get rid of, change or reassess, as well as a place to list the kind of person I want to be, the kinds of spaces I want to live in, and the way I want to relate to the world. This kind of self-audit works for me because I can keep returning to it, adding and subtracting, and then reassessing again. For you, perhaps a therapist, counselor or even just a good friend is a necessary part of thinking through where you are at. You might use a reference for the kind of self you'd like to be, like Ben Franklin's virtues. You might find that a short, daily diary or bullet journal is more your speed to record your thoughts and provide fodder for self-reflection and plans for how to engage the world. It can take many forms. But it's definitely not the how that matters; what matters is simply doing it. 

 

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