Each year, often on the 31st, I sit down and review the past year. Weirdly, it's not a tradition, or something I schedule, or something I do because of my job (or to publish on my website). In fact, I often think that 'this year' I won't because I find the 1st of January an abritrary date. I don't like the idea that because it's the first of a new month in a new year that suddenly we have to become new or better versions of ourselves or that we have to make massive changes. For decades I didn't even really celebrate New Year's Eve because I found it silly to put so much importance on one day a year. And for years I've passionately spoken against the concept of 'New Year, New Me'.
And yet, on the 31st of December every year, I've felt compelled to put down my thoughts about the passing year. And as much as I'm likewise not a fan of new year resolutions, it's hard not to ponder what the new year will bring and what I hope to achieve in it.
Over the past year, I've soften on a lot of my stances. I used to be in a relationship with this really rigid guy. He had some really strong convictions about stuff and I felt I had to be the same but as I noticed that his convictions were only skin deep and he didn't actually live by his own moral principles, I started to question my own convictions too and why I had them.
I'm a big believer in self-development and personal growth and part of that is learning - learning new things and expanding your horizon but the past year I've been really interested in the concept of 'unlearning' (technically, this isn't possible. You can't unlearn or erase things). So, what I mean by 'unlearning' is to reconstruct your relationship with existing concepts. To question what you have been taking for granted or presumed as truths - about yourself, others and this world. To examine beliefs and dare to be really honest with yourself around why they are your beliefs and whether they still serve you.
For example, I used to be an atheist. And to be honest with you (and I don't feel great admitting this), I found people who had any other kind of beliefs systems, silly (or a less kind word to that effect). To me, it was obvious that there wasn't any god(s) or spirits or a universe that could give and take. But with my 'unlearning' I had to face two truths: 1) I thought that people who had a different belief from me where weak or in denial. That they couldn't cope living in this world as it is and therefore had to rely on magical and made-up beings to cope with existence. I found this sad. I pitied people who couldn't accept (my) reality that there's no life after death, that life is simply random coincidences, that there was no meaning or purpose to our existence and that there are no reasons for why things happen. And then, with daring to look at my own beliefs and dare to question them, I realised that I was the one who was scared. I used data, science and research to calm myself, to make sense of the world around me, to feel safe in my beliefs. I had found comfort in thinking that there is no greater meaning to anything in this world, that there isn't any higher powers, that I'm not in control of my destiny due to some laws of attraction. My atheism and science-based beliefs were made up by the same ingredients as I attributed a religions or spiritual person. 2) It's arrogant of me to think I know that there isn't more to this world than what I can see and measure and logically understand. For me to think I'm so incredibly clever that I can know that there is no God, or gods, or any thing else makes me sound... unhinged, really. Quite grandiose.
I still can't convince myself, nor am I particularly interested in convicting myself, that there is a God, gods or any kind of spiritual interference in this world but I acknowledge that this belief offers me a sense of control and certain, so it's a belief that serves me and I also acknowledge that I don't know, so I call myself agnostic now. I don't believe but I also don't know.
That's my number one lesson from 2022 - to question my beliefs and to be open to other perspectives and the ability to hold my truth while also holding another person's truth simultaiously. It's made me a kinder and more compassionate person. It's made me less defensive, aggressive and unlikable. It has served me in my friendships, my romantic relationship, with my family and when I am online reading things or on social media, and so it's, first and foremost, helped me live a calmer and more loving life internally.
Whereas I thought it'd be scary to let go of my perspective, of my truth, it's been freeing. To have a disagreement with my future husband and instead of us growing apart in our differing perspectives, becoming defensive in our conversations or using dirty tactics, like gaslighting or playing the 'moral high ground' card, I can sit and validate myself in my perspective and know that I'm right in how I feel and think, while also validating his point of view and know that he's also right and allowed to feel and think as he does. It expands my horizon and it allows him to feel understood and accepted (but just for the record, I'm still learning and unlearning this stuff! I'm far from perfecting this attitude, nor is that my goal, as I don't believe in perfect. But even my growing awareness of how I show up in disagreements or how my beliefs can bully both me and others have been healing and helped create deeper connections).
There have been so many more lessons in 2022 around boundaries, trust, truths, friendships, shaming, acceptance, gaslighting, happiness, anger, hurt, freedom, guilt, escapism and avoidance, love (oh, so many lessons around love), kindness, growth and much more but my yearly review is private and personal, so they won't go on here but I did want to encourage you to look back at 2022 and ponder what you've learned and what you might want to 'unlearn' going forward to help you write the very best Manual of You™.
Sometimes when I work with people and they learn something new about themselves or how the world works and it gives them an aha-moment, they criticise themselves for not knowing already or not realising sooner. But you don't know what you don't know. It's not fair to beat yourself up over things you didn't know you didn't know.
And so, part of personal development and writing your own user manual is about learning, growing your awareness around how you function, how other people operate and how the world works. However, the longer I do this work, the more I realise how important the 'unlearning' element is (as in, to reconstruct the information you hold to serve you better). I had one client who, worriedly, said: "Isn't that just a form of gaslighting yourself? To lie to yourself to tell a better story?" I'm not asking anyone to lie to themselves or others or to paint a better or prettier picture to get off the hook from wrongdoing. It's really important to take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actions, however, we tend to never tell very nuanced stories. We tend to tell quite blaming, unkind and judgemental stories about ourselves such as "I'm a terrible partner or parent." I'm not suggesting that you try to convince yourself that you're a fantastic partner or parent, I'm encouraging you to say that sometimes you make mistakes but to also look at your intensions - where they to harm? To manipulate? To cause pain to someone else because it gave you pleasure? If yes, ok, maybe you are a terrible partner or parent but I'm sure you also have some learning and unlearning to do from the past which has shaped you into behaving this way. However, the people I work with tend to answer no. Their intentions aren't bad.
So, to tell a better story, I'm not asking for rose tinted glasses, I'm asking you to not use poop tinted glasses either and find a more balanced and honest story. "I yelled at my child, but I didn't mean to. I was under a lot of stress. I can now apologise. I'm not a categorically bad parent for having yelled at my child. I'm a normal, flawed, but trying my best kind of parent."
But it's also very hard to 'unlearn' because as much as we don't know what we don't know, it can be hard to question what we think we do know.
I worked with someone who said that they were being told they were 'too much' and they were 'too passionate and excitable' and 'too rambling' and they needed to change. And I pondered out loud if the change was to stop being those things or to change their attitude towards those things. Perhaps, they weren't 'too' anything but rather the people around them were 'too little' and the change was to feel sorry for these people lacking passion, excitement and the love for a good, long-winded story. Maybe their unlearning was to reject negative stories about themselves, offered by others and instead nurture those beautiful parts of themselves. Maybe there was something around unlearning a conservative societal message that isn't serving anyone.
So, looking at your user manual, what might you want to examine to learn more, but also what might you need to pause and ponder, to unlearn for growth and healing?
As for looking ahead and making a vision for your 2023 - by all means if that works for you, inspires and motivates you, go for it!
Over the years I've learned that I shift so much during the course 365 days that what I think might be awesome in January, I might find annoying or stupid by spring and that if I create too big a vision (like '2020 will be my best year ever' which I genuinely thought and planned for until the whole world changed in March 2020) I leave a lot of space for disappointment and for not meeting my expectations. So, I go soft and gently into a new year when it comes to expectations -- kind of going back to the whole 'New Year, New Me' concept which I totally understand the idea behind but I just think it puts too much pressure on us and it means we're starting the new year not accepting ourselves as we are, so I'm a much bigger fan of 'New Year - Same Me' and leaning into self-compassion and self-acceptance and if you want to lose weight, or drink less, or be a better partner/mother/friend/colleague then you can start on a random Tuesday in February as much as any other day but it should come from a place of love, not a place of self-loathing based on other people's beliefs that you've internalised such as what our toxic society dictates 'beauty' is. If you want a 'new you' I'd highly encourage you to create that new version based on healthy and kind beliefs about yourself, others and the world around you. Build this version on who you truly want to be, not what you think other people expect of you or what you think society/culture wants from you. And if you use the word 'should' ("I should lose weight", "I should be more tidy") it's a pretty clear indicator that this isn't your belief but someone else's that you're trying to apply to yourself. Stop 'shoulding' all over yourself, as I usually tell clients.
In 2019 my 'resolution' was self-acceptance and love - even during the hard and dark times. To understand that even when feeling very low 'this too shall pass'.
In 2020 my 'resolution' was building a life that worked for me, based on my needs and values. This did not play out the way I thought or had planned but, nevertheless, even during a pandemic, it became a helpful, guiding light.
In 2021 my 'resolution' was to 'follow the joy' (I'm trying to write a book about this concept) and it was both really directional while also being gentle. There weren't any strict set of rules or restrictions but simply a mantra to follow what felt good, what aligned with my values, what made my heart sing instead of moan.
In 2022 my 'resolution' was connections and I dedicated the year to meet new people and make new and wonderful friends. This was a resolution based on something that was healthy for my mental health rather than trying to change some part of me because I thought those parts weren't good enough.
I haven't solidified my 'resolution' for 2023 yet... I suspect I'll gain clarity as the bell tolls for a new year and inspiration strikes... or maybe it'll happen on a random Wednesday afternoon at some point over the next few weeks - who knows!
I hope my meandering thoughts were helpful. I hope it can inspire you to make some notes in your Manual of You™ and I hope to see you here next month for more musings.
Happy 2023 - may this and all future years bring you lots of joy, and acceptance of the difficult times as well.
Thank you for reading. As with everything I say and do, feel free to take what you find helpful and applicable and ignore the rest. You certainly don't have to agree with me but know that we're both allowed our various, and perhaps differentiating, perspectives. What you consume and what you apply is entirely up to you - it's your life and, therefore, your choice after all.
Also, I'm dyslexic so there are bound to be spelling and grammar mistakes. I'm OK with that - I hope you can be too.
Much love - T.
On the 1st of each month, I'll write a meandering journal entry about my biggest take-away from the previous month and what I'll add to my own manual of how to human.