At this time of year, when the nights are longer, and the air turns bitterly cold, after the festivities of Christmas and New Year when the pretty lights are taken down, it is easy to sink into sadness, depression, or anxiety for the year ahead. After the excesses of the festival season, January seems lean, bleached of colour. In the past, it has been a month to ‘get through’, to ‘survive’ – a month that seems 80 days long instead of 31.
The world around us is full of media urging us to make resolutions, to change ourselves and our habits, just because it’s a new year. The attraction is undeniable – for many the first day of the year is a chance to become someone different, to be better, to do all the things we’ve been putting off. To metamorphose into a butterfly.
Past years have shown me that gradual change is often better than trying to do everything at once. Resolutions are often broken because we leap into them. We want change now. We are spurred on by a new feeling of optimism that comes when Big Ben strikes midnight. Yet we also take our old selves into the new year with us. We are still the same people we were a minute ago.
What if January became something else? Not a time of big goals and resolutions, but a time of going inwards instead? Of moving with the season, and hibernating, not forcing ourselves into a whole new self, but honouring the person who has survived the years, with all the vulnerability and strength that comes with being human? By taking the time to appreciate who you are now, even if that person isn’t who you wanted or expected to be?
What if this was the time that we relaxed, gently easing ourselves into the year, writing and dreaming, planning and thinking, rather than pushing ourselves too hard? Winter, after all, is a time when nature itself goes below ground, when trees are busy preparing for spring, and bulbs are nestling into the earth. Everyone can often benefit from a period of quiet contemplation, especially after the noise and stress of December.
It can be scary to delve into our own darkness and past, into our own psyche. To learn how to relax into ourselves rather than being in perpetual motion. It is hard to accept and forgive ourselves, but necessary so that we can move into the growth and renewal of spring. There is a joyfulness to this. Confronting the darkness, we find our own light and passion for life, gratitude for what we have. We look outward for validation less when we understand ourselves better.
For someone who is a perpetual bookworm, winter affords a time to hibernate, to burrow under blankets and escape into another world. A time to learn something new. To take up winter crafts – cross-stitching, knitting, embroidery – and watch dramas and mysteries. To dream up new goals and consider what I want the year ahead to feel like. What priorities do I have? And what do I need so that I can thrive? Who am I now and what skills do I have? How can I improve on the lessons of the past year?
Last year, I did decide to give up meat and dairy for good on the first of January, but that was a culmination of gradual change. My husband became vegan in September of 2017, and I chose to be gentler on myself rather than give everything up all at once. Before that, I did give up most dairy because I developed an intolerance, and I also gave up adding sugar to tea or coffee. All these habits have stuck with me because I haven’t forced myself to give them up all at the same time. Growth requires patience and the knowledge of what it is that makes us stick with something. Is it reward? Is it ethics or belief? What are the short-term and long-term benefits of the changes you’re making? And what small, everyday habits will help you to gradually ease into those changes?
This January I’m doing a course run by Laura Jane Williams, ‘Writing and Pitching for (Women’s) Magazines’, and already I’ve learnt something new. I’m looking forward to exercising my writing muscles after a few months of struggling with a fallow creative period – I feel ready for a new challenge. At the moment, we’re working on engagement and community on Twitter, so if you’re over there, feel free to have a chat or ask me anything!
Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year is also a wonderful way to deconstruct the past year and plan your intentions for the year ahead too. I’ve almost finished it, and will use the calendar and reflections for each month over the year. There are some in-depth reflections and questions that push you to answer honestly about what you want and need in the year ahead.
Here’s to a winter that allows us to rest, contemplate, and look inwards ready for a year of growth.
‘And yet the natural tug to go inwards as nearly all creatures are doing is strong and people are left feeling as if there is something wrong with them, that winter is cruel and leaves them feeling abandoned and afraid. Whereas in actual fact winter is so kind, yes, she points us in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards the darkness and potential death of what we were, but this journey if held with care is essential.
She is like a strong teacher that asks you to awaken your inner loving elder or therapist, holding yourself with awareness of forgiveness and allowing yourself to grieve, to cry, rage, laugh, and face what we need to face in order to be freed from the jagged bonds we wrapped around our hearts, in order to reach a place of healing and light without going into overwhelm.
Winter takes away the distractions, the noise and presents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love, bringing fire and light to our hearth.’ – Brigit Anna McNeill.