And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
2017 was a year of highs and lows for me in many ways. On the up side there was the Always a Blue House reading tour. Riding high from publishing my poetry collection with Saddle Road Press, run by the incomparable Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell, I had a wonderful time with my writer-sisters Tania Pryputniewicz, Michelle Wing, Marcia Meier and Barbara Rockman who arranged readings, planned poetry workshops and opened their homes for poetry salons. Without them, I would never have been able to pull off such a tour. I can never thank these friends enough.
Then there was the saddest event of the year: my father's death on October 11, 2017. Having spent the last three years mourning the gradual decline of his mental capabilities, my feeling of loss has been a muted grief. I am thankful that Dad didn't linger in dementia limbo. Even at the end, he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends. He still knew we were his people even if he couldn't always remember our names.
With all the tumult of 2017, when 2018 rolled around a few days ago I felt particularly reflective. However, before I got around to making a list of new goals, I read an interesting article in The New York Times: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it DeSteno claims that "By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept." Why do we fail so miserably when trying to keep our resolutions? According to DeSteno it's because of "our tendency to be shortsighted - to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future." And this is all because of the way we look at willpower as the key to success. The very idea of willpower goes against our own evolutionary path as human beings. Focusing on what DeSteno calls self-focused goals was not what mattered most to humans for most of our history. Instead, what led to our success was "strong social bonds."
So just what advice does DeSteno give to help us achieve our goals? Here's where I found the article most interesting. The author claims that we are ignoring the very tool that will help our success. What is that tool? "It's our emotions - specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) - that push us to behave in ways that show self-control ." How intriguing.
This idea made me look at one of the biggest resolutions I've ever made: starting a daily writing practice. When I think about what has helped me get up early every morning to write (since August 19, 2013, 1601 days and counting), certainly genuine pride in creating this achievement helps keep me going. That is simple.
But what about gratitude? What part could this emotion play in helping bolster my resolve? Even though I am not naturally an early riser, the impact of my morning practice has been immense. I have never felt more like a writer in my life. And without this, Always a Blue House might not have been born. And for that I am grateful.
I know I'm grateful to my writer friends for their support. I know that giving similar support to them them can only enrich my life and help me become a better "literary citizen." (See Ten Kind Suggestions for Being a Literary Citizen post on Women Who Submit blog). I try very hard to be that kind of friend and colleague. I've just never named it as compassion before.
DeSteno's article gave me a new way of looking at setting resolutions. When contemplating a new goal, I'll try to remember to find not just the reason for that goal but the feeling that drives me. I'm hoping that will help me stick to what I set out to do.
As for the new year, now I'm struggling to find a reason to be grateful for going on a post-holiday diet. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to feel that!