Although I had a self-improvement resolution in mind before the holidays, it wasn’t until yesterday that I found one word of intention to sum it up. My plan for 2019 is to keep a Kindness Journal in which I write at least five kind things that people have done for me each day. This is a variation on the familiar gratitude journal, but with a specific focus on seeing the world as a kinder place.

Our culture gives us so many negative messages about random cruelty and never-ending strife, it’s not always easy to notice the small, everyday acts of kindness all around us. Just one rude or grumpy person can put us in a bad mood, even if we’ve heard nothing else but pleasant conversation the entire day. When we’ve been told many times that the world is a cruel and unsafe place, we subconsciously give more weight to events that fit the expected narrative.

This works both ways, of course—when we expect kindness, we’re likely to find more of it and to feel safer in the world. So, by keeping a Kindness Journal in 2019, I plan to shift my mindset toward seeing other people as generally kind and helpful, which should in turn reduce subconscious fears of being randomly targeted for something nasty. Those fears don’t have much basis in present-day reality, but just saying so isn’t enough to banish them. Instead, a different and healthier story needs to take root in their place.

While I could explain all that in three paragraphs, trying to condense it down to one word of intention for the New Year was more of a challenge. “Kindness” didn’t seem accurate because the focus is on being more aware of others’ kindness, rather than on being kinder myself. “Awareness” was much too general. I couldn’t find anything that felt right, and Christmas came and went without further inspiration.

Then, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I woke up with one word in my thoughts: “Sublime.”

In the original Latin, this is a compound word that literally means under the limit, or under a boundary or threshold. Figuratively, the word means “as good as it gets.” Modern-day English has two distinct forms of the word. One is an adjective that means excellent or awe-inspiring. The other, a verb, is a chemistry term that describes a phase-transition process in which a solid substance transforms into a vapor without first becoming a liquid.

Sublimation occurs, for example, when the polar ice caps on Mars get above the freezing point. There isn’t enough atmospheric pressure on Mars to keep water in its liquid state, so it changes (sublimes) from ice to vapor. Even right here on Earth, unusual weather conditions can sometimes cause snow to evaporate directly into fog without first melting.

Fog rising over snow and trees.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Also, there are some related terms in psychology, like “subliminal,” referring to subconscious mental processes and effects. The primary meaning that I have in mind for my 2019 word of intention is closer to the chemistry term, though. I want to create a low-pressure environment in which my old fears evaporate and blow away on the wind—directly, without first melting into muddy, icky puddles of stagnant emotion.

And then, maybe—after the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, bright and clear in a deep blue winter sky—I’ll look around and discover an internal landscape that is excellent and awe-inspiring.