Considering the outcome of my previous New Year’s resolution on a dark, misty afternoon, I judged that it hadn’t amounted to much. Although I had resolved to feel unburdened by self-imposed tasks, my to-do list snowballed instead. It all started innocently enough; I decided to spend a little time improving my coding skills. That led to my manager deciding I was tech-savvy enough to help another group with technical writing.

Meanwhile, with a big push for AI development underway, my workgroup had to do software testing in addition to our regular tasks, and by June that had expanded so much that we had overtime hours available every week. At the same time, my husband was making plans for our mixed quad crew to row in October at the Head of the Charles, which would be our first time traveling to this extremely competitive regatta in Boston. I earned some overtime money to put toward rowing expenses, while keeping up with both my regular workouts and rowing practice in the quad.

The Boston trip was exciting, and I was glad that we did it. Still, this was a year in which I felt exhausted and fragmented more often than not. I couldn’t honestly say I’d gotten anywhere with my resolution to unburden myself. What I really wanted to do was to soar through life free and easy, floating weightlessly above it all, kind of like this old-fashioned image I came across recently:

Word-art that says, "A Joyous New Year to You!"

(Image credit: The Graphics Fairy)

“So, go ahead and do it then.”

Dot, my personified to-do list, stepped out of last year’s resolution post and tapped one of her shiny red shoes impatiently.

“Okay, that sounds good as a resolution and a word of intention,” I had to agree. “Soar. Let go of the burdens, becoming so light without them as to lift up into the air. Yes, I like that idea—but how can I take any practical steps toward doing it?”

“You don’t, really.” Dot opened her hands, showing their emptiness. “You just let go, and everything else takes care of itself. Here’s a question: What were you doing last week?”

“Not much. I was on vacation.”

“Did you feel unburdened?”

I thought about it for a moment before answering. “Yes. I suppose so. It felt quiet and calm, with nothing much going on. I didn’t feel that I was carrying any burdens in particular.”

“Well, there you go.” Dot smiled. “That means there’s nothing to stop you from soaring. Maybe your feet already have lifted off the ground, just a little, whether or not you’ve noticed yet.”

On a cloudy New Year’s morning, I was browsing through images in the online library for my digital art display, looking for one that suited a reflective mood. Composing my intention-setting blog post was still a work in progress. Last year’s resolution—to replenish my energy while being careful to avoid overscheduling—had left me feeling somewhat better than in the previous year, but as December went by, I still didn’t feel that my energy had gotten back to where I wanted it.

Where that not-quite-there feeling came from, I wasn’t sure. Physically, I gained better fitness after a second season of virtual coaching, in which my husband and I won more medals at the rowing regattas. Work hadn’t been overly stressful, and I was sleeping reasonably well. I didn’t have any overwhelming demands on my time. Still, there were days when a small errand or additional task set off my subconscious threat detectors, leaving me with a sense that my time needed to be more vigilantly guarded.

There seemed to be no real basis for that in the present. Everything I needed to do was in fact getting done, and I had enough free time to laze around reading novels or whatever. That didn’t appear to be translating directly into more creative energy, though. Here I was on New Year’s Day, and I still didn’t have a clear intention for 2023 or a blog post to go with it.

In the digital art library, an image of a curving walkway, apparently in a public park, caught my eye. It didn’t suit the season, with yellow-tinged treetops of early spring in the background matching the path’s dusty color. I clicked on it anyway, just to see how it would look as an imaginary window on my wall.

Photo of a dusty yellow walkway with grass, boulders, and trees in the background.

A pigtailed girl in an old-fashioned dress ambled out of my subconscious and stepped onto the walkway. She looked vaguely familiar in her bright red shoes, with a small dog prancing at her heels, but I couldn’t quite place her.

“You’re not one of my past selves, are you?” I asked, in a doubtful tone.

The girl responded with a cheery smile and a shake of the head that set her pigtails bobbing. “No, I’m Dorothy, your to-do list. You can call me Dot. After all, you’re in the dot-com age where most of your planned tasks involve staring at a screen. I make a good personification of them, if I do say so myself.” She twirled in a happy pirouette, and the dog gave an enthusiastic yip.

I took a step forward on the walkway, realizing that the hard surface under the yellow dust was made of neatly laid bricks.

“Oh, you’re Dorothy following the yellow brick road!” That explained the sense of familiarity, but how she might relate to the mundane tasks on my to-do list baffled me. Taking a quick glance around, I didn’t see any wicked witches or other potential hazards. The scenery just looked like an ordinary park.

“I’m Dot,” the girl told me once more, “and right now, I am standing still on the yellow brick road. Even in adventure stories, we’re not obligated to keep moving all the time. This is Sunday, and it’s also New Year’s Day—is there really anything that you need to do right now?”

I considered the question for a moment. “Not much, just some laundry and a rowing machine workout, neither of which has to be done at any particular time. I do need to get my New Year’s resolution and a word of intention clear in my mind, though, and finish writing my blog entry.”

“You want to change how you feel about time,” Dot helpfully summed up the rambling thoughts I’d been sifting through before her arrival, “so as not to tire yourself out by staying on the alert for things that aren’t really dangerous.”

“Yes—it sounds rather silly, doesn’t it, when you put it like that.”

“Not at all. Even if leaving something undone is not dangerous in itself, worrying about it can cause real problems.” Dot reached down and gave Toto a gentle pat. “If you didn’t write your usual New Year’s Day post, your readers wouldn’t pay much attention because they are busy with whatever is going on in their lives. Some of them might notice, but they wouldn’t fault you for lacking imagination. You would judge yourself for falling short of your own standards, however—and that’s where the harm lies.”

Small shadows flitted over the yellow bricks, and I glanced up to see a troop of winged monkeys briskly flying by.

“Okay, that makes sense to me, Dot. How would I turn it into a resolution and a word of intention? Resolve to remind myself not to feel burdened by self-imposed tasks? Unburdened?”

“That’ll work, yes—and one more reminder, too. Sometimes, getting where we want to go is a lot easier than we may think it is.” Dot gave me an impish wink, clicked her heels together three times, and promptly disappeared from the picture.

Last winter seemed like a time to reassess and recalibrate, setting aside whatever did not work well. I chose Alignment as a word of intention. My New Year’s resolution was to pay more attention to mental chatter and to avoid indulging any useless negativity that showed up.

In retrospect, it was a success—but it felt like a very long, exhausting slog. My husband hired an online rowing coach, Christine Cavallo, to create weekly training plans for us. They were good plans; we improved our fitness and rowed much faster at the regattas. It was a bit of a shock to my system, though, because I hadn’t trained nearly as hard in the past. I had thought of myself as reasonably fit, but I found out that I had a lot of space for improvement.

As the year went on, all sorts of negative thoughts bubbled up, along the lines of being overburdened and totally drained of energy. The training plans didn’t in fact take up huge amounts of time, but I felt that I had no time to myself because I wasn’t used to my days being so regimented. I felt that I was constantly rushing from work to rowing to dinner and then falling into bed exhausted, with no time or mental energy to even think about anything else.

I knew those feelings were unhealthy and I needed to put things in better perspective, but that was easier said than done. No matter what I told myself, each day still felt like a struggle. It wasn’t until late in the year, after the rowing season ended, that I realized the training regimen had brought stressful emotions to the surface from many years ago. They came from a time when I felt that I was being pushed far beyond my tolerance but had to soldier on anyway.

When I recognized those feelings for what they were, I didn’t feel as troubled by them. Instead, I realized that there are plenty of ways to organize my time without being in a rush and that I am entirely capable of doing it. My resolution for 2022, I decided, should be to welcome life’s flow, in all its beauty and abundance, and allow it to replenish my energy naturally.

Small waterfall in a forest.

I did an online workout on the Hydrow rowing machine this morning and went over 6 million lifetime meters. The instructor gave me a nice shout-out for my accomplishment, and I started the day feeling pretty good. Although this is still the off-season for rowing, soon it will be time to start another training plan to build fitness for the 2022 regattas, which are not that far away.

This year, I won’t let it stress me. Instead, I’ll go with the flow, looking for ways to make each day fun!

When last year got started, I thought my New Year’s resolution was pretty simple. Instead of loading myself up with daily self-improvement obligations, I just wanted to focus on developing clarity in my life. I didn’t anticipate much change to my everyday routine.

Of course, we all know what kind of year 2020 turned out to be. Not much needs to be said there, except that it definitely gave me a lot more clarity as to what matters and what doesn’t.

One thing I’d had in mind to do during the summer was to get my lower front teeth straightened with Invisalign. The teeth had moved a bit out of place in recent years, and I thought it made sense to get that taken care of now, rather than waiting. I didn’t get started until September, but that seemed okay because the expected 13-week treatment plan would end before the holidays and, of course, I wouldn’t be traveling.

Invisalign uses plastic alignment forms that are changed once a week, gradually pulling the teeth into their optimal position as the sequence progresses. The aligner is supposed to be worn at least 20 hours per day, and it must be removed before eating or drinking anything but water. Needless to say, that puts quite a crimp in most people’s habits of snacking and coffee drinking.

Photo of a coffee cup with steam rising from it.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Probably in a more normal year it wouldn’t have bothered me much, but in 2020 it felt like another big disruption in a year of disruptions. Having to gulp my morning coffee took the comfort out of it. And I wanted my comfort, waaaah! So, although my teeth seemed to be moving into place well, I didn’t feel as positive as I might otherwise have felt. Instead, I was counting down the days left in the treatment schedule and telling myself stuff like “It’s okay, just six more weeks until I’m out of these things.”

That wasn’t the best attitude, obviously—and I got my comeuppance for it when one tooth remained stubbornly crooked at the end of the projected treatment period. It wasn’t all that far out of place and would be simple enough to fix; but by then, I felt like having my teeth covered in plastic for even one day longer was miserable rotten luck and an awful way to start the holidays.

After a few days on vacation, I settled down enough to realize that my own bad attitude had made the situation feel a lot worse than it actually was. What I needed to focus on instead was that my teeth soon would be nice and straight, along with gratitude for being able to get the Invisalign treatment, which was much quicker and easier than old-fashioned braces.

That line of thinking led to a word of intention for 2021—Alignment—and an accompanying New Year’s resolution to monitor my internal chatter more closely, putting a stop to pointless mental grumbling and anything else that is not in alignment with a joyful future. Although it’s not realistic to expect negative thoughts won’t ever show up, they don’t have to be indulged when that happens, but can instead be recognized for what they are and sent packing.

If I had to rate the success of my New Year’s resolution and word of intention for last year, I’d call it a mixed bag. My resolution for 2019 was to better appreciate others’ kindness by keeping a journal of kind things that people did for me. I made daily entries through the end of March, when my subconscious mind unexpectedly yelled at me that I needed to quit giving myself extra stress with unnecessary self-imposed tasks. So the resolution lasted only three months.

My word of intention, Sublime, went more according to plan. I meant it in the sense of the chemistry term—constructing a low-pressure environment in which to vaporize long-frozen anxieties and disappointments. Over the course of the year, some old negative thought patterns did indeed come into conscious awareness and lift away.

The problem with sublimation, however, is that it creates fog. As autumn turned to winter, I often felt that I lacked clear direction—not just for the coming year, but for life more generally. Those feelings gave rise to my word of intention for 2020: Clarity. I’m looking to discover a path leading through a mindscape of brilliant sunshine on a clear winter day, after the fog has lifted and the days have begun to lengthen toward spring and new growth.

Sunlit path through snow in a forest.

(Photo credit: Ari Helminen)

I’ve chosen a New Year’s resolution aimed at reinforcing that intention by regular practice, but without pushing myself to complete any daily tasks or to accomplish any particular goals. What I have in mind is only this: whenever I feel a lack of clarity, I’ll gently bring the moment into better focus. Maybe I’ll do that by paying more attention to my breath, or to a fallen leaf, or to the angle of sunlight through a window. The world is full of small details that form clear images; it’s simply a matter of noticing them.

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.

For the past few years I’ve made—and mostly kept—New Year’s resolutions aimed at cultivating a better mindset. I visited a positive blog every day of 2014 and chronicled these virtual travels on my Random Kindness Blog Tour page. Then, in 2015, I resolved to get my days off to a cheerfully silly start by saying “Yay!” each morning to my shiny new red toaster, so that I would begin every day with a smile.

My resolution for 2016 turned more serious, as I wrote daily notes reflecting on how my past thoughts and actions had coalesced into present-day circumstances. Although I hadn’t set out to dig up old stressful memories, but wanted only to gain more insight in general, some unpleasant stuff surfaced anyway. I went into 2017 feeling drained of mental energy, as if I now had empty, dimly lit spaces all through my mind where heaps of old garbage had been taken out; and I resolved to write about gratitude for the empty spaces.

Toward the end of the year, though, I lost interest in writing daily gratitude notes. I felt intuitively that it was time to let go—to set aside the self-imposed obligations and the burden of always pushing myself to do more. I still wrote an occasional note every week or two, as they came to mind, but their tone had changed. Instead of expecting to discover profound life lessons on a regular schedule, I found myself writing notes that spoke of stillness and trust. I had planted new gardens in those fallow fields of the mind and left them to grow in peace, rather than behaving like an impatient child and digging up the seeds every day to see whether anything had sprouted yet.

Newly planted field in autumn.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

As another year begins, my resolution for 2018 is simply to allow myself to be present in the moment. I haven’t created a schedule obligating me to practice mindfulness on a regular daily basis or to meditate at certain times, nor am I keeping a journal about it. I can’t see a need for all those layers of abstraction. Occasional short pauses, however they may happen, are what I have in mind—noticing the brightness of sun reflecting from snow, the stillness of bare trees without any wind moving through their branches, and the smooth wood grain of the kitchen table.

Presence, and nothing more.

When I thought about making a New Year’s resolution for 2017, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to choose wisely. Last year’s resolution seemed harmless enough at the time: my word of intention was Coalesce, and I set myself the tasks of reflecting daily on the patterns that had been created by my past choices and writing down a question about them.

As planned, I kept notes—they weren’t really detailed enough to call a journal—in which I wrote both an observation and a question for each day. I expected that this would help me to recognize subconscious patterns and to make changes as appropriate. Well, it did, sort of; but I hadn’t foreseen some of what came bubbling up. Smoldering old anger, feelings of being trapped and unsafe—basically, all the stuff that gets stomped down in the mental garbage can and flattened to make room for more subconscious garbage.

After inadvertently letting those nasties loose, I spent much of the year feeling like all I did was clean up after them, without much energy left for writing or other creative pursuits. When would I reach that happy place I had imagined, free of old limiting patterns and bubbling over with spontaneous, joyful inspiration? Was there such a place? I kept on peeling away layers of old junk, expecting to discover something better; but I saw only quiet, empty spaces curving away into an unknown future.

Empty railroad tracks going around a curve.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

That was how I came into December, with my creative energy more depleted—or so it felt—than when I started trying to sort things out last year. I didn’t feel much inspired to write stories or to start new projects. Sometimes I noticed little signs of a positive shift, such as my face in the mirror looking more relaxed and rested. I was sleeping fairly well, and a few small health issues had cleared up. Still, I felt tired and unmotivated by comparison to past years, and far from where I wanted to be.

Although I kept telling myself that I should feel glad of the empty spaces because I now had plenty of room for something good to show up and fill them, I couldn’t make myself feel it. So I decided that my word of intention for 2017 would be Gratitude, but not in the usual sense of looking around and counting one’s blessings—I know that I have many. The kind of gratitude I need to cultivate this year is a healthy appreciation for the lessons I learned from taking out the mental garbage. I’ll do that by writing about them in my daily notes, along with the possibilities that are unfolding.

Even if I can’t feel it yet, writing each day about the potential for good things in those empty spaces ought to attract positive energy to take up residence there. I don’t yet have to choose from among the many possibilities; it is enough, as a new year begins, simply to recognize that they exist.

Many of us choose words of intention and make resolutions as a new year begins. This is only my third year for both, I must confess. Before that, I hadn’t thought much about the process of creating an intentional life through small everyday choices. Although I had plenty of persistence and generally managed to follow through on whatever I decided to do, I lacked the patience needed to go along with it. All too often, I stressed myself out trying to cram every ambitious idea, plan, project, and expectation into the present.

Whether it is magic as some would say, or just the ordinary workings of the subconscious mind, whatever thoughts get the most attention are the ones most likely to find their way into real life. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is necessary or even possible to discipline every thought and clearly visualize every detail of a long-term goal in order to get there. Everything that we encounter changes us, even though it may be in tiny, almost imperceptible ways; and thus our intentions are always in motion as we move into the future, the details shifting and coalescing to form new patterns like the bright sparkling colors of a kaleidoscope.

Floral kaleidoscope image, mainly in blue shades.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I have decided that my focus throughout this new year will be on mindfully appreciating the little details in the present that mesh with the intentional life I am creating. Rather than trying to force everything into a precisely constructed life plan, which strikes me as an unrealistic expectation (and one that wouldn’t be much fun even if it reasonably could be accomplished), I move forward trusting that the patterns will fall into place in due course.

My word of intention for 2016 is Coalesce. I’ve resolved to keep notes each day on whatever I happen to encounter that is a product of my past intentions, along with any questions that may come to mind and any images that seem relevant. Keeping a journal of this nature will give me a better sense of what patterns are in motion right now, as well as identifying where changes are needed and settling doubts about how they’re going to work out. I don’t need to foresee everything that will happen in the future—after all, my life would get pretty boring if I did!

A very happy New Year to everyone, full of wonderful wishes that come true! I began setting my intentions for 2015 way back in October, when I bought a fairy figurine (shown in this post) as a symbol of releasing my dreams to fly free in beauty. I didn’t have a word or a New Year’s resolution in mind until Christmas, though, when one of my presents turned out to be a new toaster.

New red toaster with display screen.

A toaster certainly doesn’t need to have bright red side panels and a display screen that shows the settings and the time remaining. It’s just more fun that way! And the plain old toaster it replaced was still working just fine, as good as new—but “new” was 1986, when loaves of bread were narrower and people wouldn’t even have thought about putting a bagel in a toaster. I had been putting slices of wide bread in the old one sideways and toasting bagels in the oven.

So I decided that the new toaster would be my visual reminder that the world is full of fun stuff to enjoy, and that it’s perfectly fine to replace things even if they are not worn out! My New Year’s resolution is simply to say “Yay!” every morning when I go into the kitchen and see the toaster. (Not out loud though, as that would be a bit much to expect my husband to deal with!)

Because saying “Yay!” to a toaster is so silly, it will make me smile and laugh, which is a good healthy way to start the day. And my word of intention for 2015, meant to bring positive energy and to celebrate abundance, is also Yay!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.