When something really great happens — you get accepted to the school of your choice, you publish a book, you land the great job, you find love, you make the team, you get the A, you choose a new career path, you give birth to a human person — celebrating is easy. People around you get excited for you and, even if you’re filled with uncertainty (’cause change, however positive, can be scary!), you likely feel some sort of positive feelings about having worked hard to accomplish something.
But, unless you’re some kind of amazing superstar, these big “wins” are probably not an everyday occurrence. In fact, they might happen only a few times in your lifetime! While I’m all for celebrating life’s big, exciting moments, I think we could all benefit from turning a little celebratory attention to the little, everyday wins. This is especially true at the start of a new year when you’re probably trying to: (a) keep up with positive progress made last year, (b) start making positive progress this year ’cause last year was a bust, (c) maintain some combination of the A and B, or (d) come to terms with the fact that it’s a new year and you better find a way to get your act together before a new decade comes along!
No matter how you feel about new years, there’s always a bit of pressure associated with the start, with those twelve months of possibility stretching out before you. Resolutions or not, we all hope that this year will be better than last year (or, if last year was a great one, hope that this year will live up to it). We’re all eyes ahead, focused on what we want to do or achieve in the weeks to come. Many of us are trying to better ourselves, to make choices that will be more aligned with who we want to be in the future. The beginning of each year offers such hope to be a better version of ourselves, and, while that hope can propel some of us into positive action, it can also make an awful lot of us feel like we’re already failing at the year, even just a few days in.
Personally, I had grand ideas for my post-holiday self. The end of the year is always my busiest, both personally and professionally, so I often find myself saying that “X will be different in the New Year” or “In January, I’m going to tackle Y.” Not surprisingly, we’re a week in and few things have changed dramatically from the time when the calendar read 2018. Change, at least for me, tends to happen slowly, and frequently it’s only when I reflect back on things that I realize how much progress I’ve made.
I frequently face a “new year, same me” frustration, growing angry at myself for not making all of the picture perfect choices I swore I would make once that calendar page had turned. But yesterday, after chastising myself for a not-so-great choice I made, I found myself mumbling, “I wonder how many good choices you make every single day and don’t even think about.”
And that little sentence stopped me in my tracks. How many positive choices do I make all the time without even thinking about them? How many changes have I made, over time, that I don’t even think about praising myself for because they’ve become habits? While mulling over these questions, I recognized quite a few good choices I’ve made recently that a previous version of myself might not have made, like…
- I didn’t pick up my book and read for hours in the middle of a workday
- I didn’t say the not-very-nice, judgmental thing that came to mind
- I didn’t sleep in, neglecting the dog until much too late in the morning
- I didn’t order pizza when I had a perfectly good meal in the fridge
- I didn’t forget to take medicine and a rest when I got a headache
- I didn’t skip writing in my gratitude journal, which brings me joy
- I didn’t go down to the corner store and pick up a bottle of wine
- I didn’t put off vacuuming even though I really wanted to
- I didn’t send a call to voicemail and avoid the conversation
- I didn’t leave the bed unmade (which always makes me unsettled)
- I didn’t delete the email and avoid my editing tasks
- I didn’t conclude that I could skip this week’s blog post
- I didn’t turn down an opportunity to help a friend in need
- I didn’t consume an entire bag of candy mindlessly
- I didn’t neglect my daily yoga practice, even while very tired
- I didn’t allow myself to smoke cigarettes like I used to
- I didn’t leave dirty dishes stacked up in the kitchen sink
- I didn’t throw plastic in the trashcan instead of the recycling bin
- I didn’t lose my patience with the incessantly yapping dog
- I didn’t ignore the spreadsheets, despite the boredom they bring
- I didn’t buy that thing I really don’t need but really wanted
These are just a few of the good choices I’ve made recently, most of them made without thinking twice about them. This list isn’t meant to be, Woohoo! Look at me and all I’ve done right! It’s meant to show you that, despite the plethora of not-great choices I’ve made so far this year, I’ve also made a lot of good choices too!
If you’re like me and you’re feeling a bit let down by the new year, unsure if you’ll be able to live up to your 2018 self’s version of who you’d be this year, I highly recommend writing a list of your own. Especially if you’re working on New Year’s resolutions (or if you’ve already broken them), writing down a list of positive choices you’ve made — even if they seem silly or obvious, like brushing your teeth or going to work — can really help you reframe the start of the year for you.
A new year is a great time to make changes, make resolutions, set intentions, etc., but don’t let it be a time when you beat yourself up for all you’re not yet doing, forgetting about all the positive choices you’ve made (or are currently making). We’re all on different paths. What’s positive for me might not be for you; what feels like a big accomplish for me might be effortless for you. So take some time this week to think about what you’ve been doing — particularly the things you’ve done so many times that you don’t even think about them anymore — and celebrate them. Because, when you think about it, all of those big wins in life — the moments we celebrate with fervor and festivity, confetti and congratulations — are really only possible because of all of the little wins we take for granted.