New Year Experiments
We’re talking experiments for the new year (my own experiments, and the idea of experiments in general), we’re covering the gentle art of pattern-rewriting, and there might also be sound effects. Whee!
Preface! Context! And the usual parenthetical asides.
It’s that time of year when it seems like everyone online is either talking about their rhymes-with-revolutions, or about how they make a point to not do any.
Are these both reasonable options? Yes! Are there other options? Absolutely. Let’s find out!
And of course, as with everything we want to keep in mind (or hold in the heart, keep in heart? How is that not a phrase?) that People Vary. People Vary.
One way we might vary is that some people find the new year invigorating, while some people want to sleep through it. My friend E says he resents even being reminded of the passage of time, fair enough!
Some people love making big changes all at once, and other people like to ease into new patterns and habits in their own timing, either in small increments or just waiting until they feel ready.
One of these approaches is not better than the other, it’s just a matter of figuring out where we land.
And, the People Vary principle also applies to words and how we feel when we encounter them.
We all have our own personal histories with words, layered associations built up over time.
Some words draw us in, some repel us. This can also change with time, and let’s remember that we have some power here too, in the sense that we can always rewrite words and/or our associations with them if we want to. We can play.
But first, we start with just noticing how we feel about these sometimes tricky words, and what they bring up for us. And of course the word I am thinking about specifically right now is resolution, in the sense of New Year’s resolutions.
Start where you are
If resolutions work for you — as a word or concept or a practice (or all of the above!), I love this for you and am excited for your new year resolutions! May all your resolutions come beautifully to fruition, or something even better. Wow, what beautiful wishes…
And if you’d rather opt-out entirely of interacting with anything related to goals, wishes, or anything in between, I support this too. There is so much external pressure to force big change, and that it happens at the exact time of year that is least conducive towards doing anything other than hibernating is honestly kind of cruel, and at best, a really big ask.
This dissonance can be painful, and we’ve talked about this before.
Opting out of the whole thing is not only its own beautiful, creative and subversive practice, it can be a generous gift to yourself. So if that’s what you’re drawn to, I applaud the opting out! Take the detour. Love a detour.
We begin when we begin. When we’re ready.
We begin when we begin
There is so much value and healing goodness in making changes in ways (and at times) that actually support us, and sometimes that means Nap First, receive intel later.
Rest into it or run towards it, whichever you like. Or something else entirely.
All that to say, I am not writing this to convince you of anything, I don’t need you to like resolutions or to be a middle finger to resolutions.
In fact, I genuinely support both of these, as well as any form of Not X, Not Y, But A Third Secret Way, whatever works for you.
I wrote this just to share how I do things. And I don’t need you to do things the way I do them either. All I want is to remind us with love and affection that we have options. We can go our own way. Cue Fleetwood Mac…
* Though I am hearing The Cranberries 1999 Live In Paris version which always makes me cry but in a good way.
A starting point
Maybe my new year practice will spark some ideas for you, maybe you’ll want to review your relationship with resolutions and intentions or [a stand-in for these].
Maybe what you want is a new word, approach or practice, or maybe you’ll realize the way you already approach this transition works really well for you, awesome.
And if none of this is what you want, maybe that clear beautiful no can be a clue that lets you craft something new and different that you like better. Love that too.
New Year Experiments!
The reason I go with experiments over resolutions is they feel more spacious and playful to me.
An experiment involves gathering information (reconnaissance!) and putting together a hypothesis, and being willing to change the hypothesis, or even the entire focus and scope of the experiment, depending on what we learn and how things develop.
Experiments are about being genuinely curious, suspending judgment and releasing expectations. Being present in the moment: willing to be surprised.
There might be some hope-sparks in a certain direction, but the experiment isn’t “good” if it “works” and “bad” if it doesn’t. That’s a misunderstanding of the process. All experiments are useful experiments.
And each experiment yields vital information that leads us to the next experiment.
There are too many unknowns for me to resolve anything one way or the other
I don’t resolve to do anything in particular, to be more x, or have more y, or even to commit to a habit in a certain way for a certain amount of time.
Mainly because I have no idea what’s going to happen, who I am going to be, or what slightly-future-me is going to need. It’s all unknown.
For me, resolutions involve deciding and committing, and I can’t do that because I have no idea what my energy level will be like, or what I’ll be feeling passionate about until I get there.
Last year, in the very first week of January 2022, I got Covid. I was fully vaccinated and boosted so it could have been so much worse, and still, it kicked my ass, turned my life upside down and I am still not close to anything that feels like recovery, whatever that means.
Anyway, I was in pain and non-stop distress for pretty much the first two months of the year, and after that my brain didn’t work.
So it would have been pretty ridiculous — and enormously frustrating — had I resolved to do or produce or get things done, had I wanted to achieve [X number of Y], work out every day, be more this way or that way. None of those were available to me.
Luckily, I hadn’t made any resolutions. I had only renewed some ongoing experiments. Were the parameters of these experiments changed by being incapacitated? Sure, a little, but not much. I was able to shift my experiments and adjust.
A little bit about how I approach experiments!
Compassion is step zero!
But it’s also all the in-between steps.
Rewriting habits and patterns is courageous work. It involves challenging familiarity. We already have our comfy neural pathways, we already whoosh down them automatically, like a toddler on a slide. Wheeee!
If we are going to interrupt our patterns in order to reconfigure them or rewrite them into something better, we want to do it lovingly. Otherwise we’re just reinforcing a bigger pattern of trying to force things or generally being shitty towards ourselves, and what’s the point of that.
What’s the point of reinforcing self-criticism
So part of this practice of Lovingly Interrupting Patterns is noticing when we’ve whooshed down the slide of the old self-criticism pattern, and glowing some compassion and understanding for that too. Oh yeah, no worries, we went whooshing down the familiar path for a minute, so reasonable, so understandable, it’s okay.
Of course we did things the familiar way, that’s why it’s the familiar way. Of course we wanted to force things, of course we were being shitty to ourselves.
That’s the training we’re undoing! Good job, babe.
Good job, babe
Noticing the pattern changes the pattern.
Good job on the noticing.
Good job, stepping over onto the new path.
Good job, being conscious and intentional about being conscious and intentional. Is it always going to work? Hahahaha, not at all. Welcome to being human. Good job, babe, killing it at that too.
When we get into the loop of self-judgment…
And when we forget to be compassionate? Or when it feels impossibly hard…
You guessed it. We can apply compassion there too.
Oh wow, I’m having a hard time being compassionate with myself about this old habit-pattern of the mind, and about how long it’s taking to get out of this rut, okay, noted, can we let that be neutral information for now, and remember that it’s okay to have a hard time activating the new response.
Especially when we live in a culture that pretends the best form of motivation is feeling bad about ourselves.
We’ve run the numbers
External culture loves a shame-guilt spiral, even though we have confirmed through years of experimentation that it pretty much never gets us to where we think we want to be! Run that one by the internal scientists.
We’ve run the numbers on this. Can confirm. Feeling terrible about ourselves is at best hit or miss as a form of motivation. It might occasionally work, for a brief period of time, but it backfires more often than not, is not sustainable in any way, and anyway, who wants to live like that, not me.
Nice try, Puritans, you got this one wrong. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Would you like some examples of ongoing experiments I’m working on?
Okay I reviewed my list and there were too many so picking two examples to start with, I can go into these in more detail later if you like (let me know in the comments!) and am also happy to share more about other ongoing experiments in future updates if that’s of interest….
The experiment of A Spacious Morning
This is an experiment about intentional containers of time, and starting my day with the rituals, routines and practices that are most supportive of mental well-being.
Sometimes focusing on morning spaciousness means I’m busier in the evening, but that’s okay for me because early evening is actually when I have more focus.
Things I have learned from the experiment of A Spacious Morning:
+ boundaries support spaciousness (too spacious and my day gets lost to depression and anxiety, or adhd spacing out and autism stimming)
+ 3:33 on a timer will get me to do something I find appealing but challenging
+ 19:33 on a timer will help me do something that will feel good once I start but I’m resisting starting
+ music helps
Tweaking this for 2023:
What happens if we rename the components?
Would it feel good to check these off on a card?
Syncing morning bobcat stretching with sunrise (exception for when night terrors)
The experiment of Naming Wins
It’s easy for me to get into monster-stories about how I have Achieved Nothing, especially since covid stole what was left of my concussion-injured brain, and I spend a lot of my days just trying to remember what I was about to do.
At the end of each day, my self-criticism monsters give me a long depressing list of all the things I didn’t get to, and I have learned that I can apply a neutral mindset to this list, and turn it into reminders for tomorrow-me.
But the main thing I like to do is counter their list with my own list of wins. Sometimes these wins are very small, but they all count, they all add up, and naming them is helpful for me.
Even more helpful is sharing them with a friend who is able to be much more impressed than I am with my list. I have learned that if I name the wins every day, I get better at noticing them throughout the day.
Tweaking this for 2023:
I’m not sure yet, will update when I know. I think it has to do with celebrating more fully. Maybe an emoji for each win on the list. Maybe lighting a candle while compiling the list. It can be hard for me to think I need a high five on any of this, but STUDIES HAVE SHOWN (aka the last few months) that it helps when a friend cheers me on, and I am always happy to cheer them on as well.
I don’t ever want to turn an experiment into a should, something I use to beat myself up for not doing, or doing wrong, or even for forgetting about.
That’s the entire reason I moved away from resolutions to begin with.
It’s way too easy to let a wished-for practice or habit morph into a stressful obligation. It’s way too easy to feel crappy when we mess up or forget or get too busy or get sick, or [life stuff gets in the way, as it does].
Again, this is mainly the fault of external culture, which wants us to feel bad about ourselves at all times, to always be pushing, striving, trying (and failing) to be “better”, this is how the system maintains status quo and how it maintains itself.
And, as wiser people than me have pointed out, this constant push-push-push hustle-and-grind culture of striving towards an imagined happier, better, unattainable something (but never actually feeling content) is just how capitalism and other forms of hierarchy sustain themselves. So let’s keep interrupting those patterns too.
There is something that is not workaholism and not devoid-of-ambition, but A Third Secret Thing, and I don’t know what it is yet or what it looks like.
Figuring that out is another ongoing experiment, but I do know that it’s a worthwhile question to follow.
What is the opposite of turning a habit into a cudgel
So often we start a new “good” habit, something we have wished for and dreamed of and now we’re doing it, and then the monsters use it as a cudgel for the rest of our life.
I have seen the best minds of my generation eaten alive by this very thing.
The actual work of pattern-rewriting, from noticing the pattern to making space for letting things be how they are, to interrupting the pattern, to switching out an element in the pattern, to applying compassion over and over again, has to be about the opposite of a cudgel.
The new habit isn’t coming in to be the new thing we feel guilty about or frustrated over. Not playing that game is the real new habit.
Easier said than done? Sure. We still get a trillion points, at least, for experimenting with experimenting.
Come play with me, I love company
You are welcome to play with any of the concepts here in any way you like. Come play in the comments!
We are experimenting with experimenting! All experiments are useful experiments! You can brainstorm experiments & practices, for rewriting any patterns or whatever you might going through, People Vary.
And as always, you’re invited to share anything sparked for you while reading, themes you’re playing with, or add any wishes into the pot, into the healing zone, as a friend of mine said, who knows, the power of the collective is no small thing, and companionship is healing.
Wishing you a new year that is an improvement in all ways over the last one, and if you are boycotting the passage of time then pretend I did not mention that! May we all find the supportive rituals, playful experiments and loving compassion we need, or something even better!
If you received clues or perspective or just want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, it’s still slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, and it all helps with fixing what needs fixing, currently focused on making it through winter.
Or you can buy a copy of the my Monster Manual & Coloring Book if you don’t have it!
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share one of my posts with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it so much. ❤️
I love all of this! Thank you for writing it.
I too have had a “but then covid”. It got to me in Oct, and my stamina for doing things is still only small compared to before. I hope in the new year to continue recovering (which does seem to be happening, slowly slowly), & avoid catching it again.
Jennifer, I am so sorry that you are also going through this long continued “but then covid” recovery, I hope recovery keeps getting easier and better in all ways, and glowing much love your way for the whole process of that and everything that goes along with it
This was just what I needed to read today.
I told a devastatingly sexy, heroically badass friend the other day about just how wonderful it felt, as a first thing to do on New Year’s Day, to go for a walk without music or podcasts and really notice the world around me and see what it might be trying to tell me. As I read this post, I started thinking about the return to work tomorrow and how, as a continuation of this experiment I have lucked into starting, what if I take advantage of being all caught up on sleep and get up in time to go for another walk like that before jumping into the scary workday?
I was even thinking that before I saw the section about spacious mornings so, love a good in-sync moment.
I also realized while reading that I get a lot of joy from music but do very little to find new music, so am experimenting with asking friends for recommendations. May I find something new that I love!
new music & spacious mornings and a walk just for noticing, I love all of these rituals and being in sync with my devastatingly sexy heroically badass friends 😘
I needed the reminder to approach change lovingly, thank you.
apparently I needed this reminder today too so thank you for reminding me about the reminder: change can be approached lovingly, so easy for me to forget ❤️
I think this year is about easing back into things gently. In 2022 pretty much all of my ‘do this every day’ things stopped being done, and I learned a lot about just doing nothing. I have more energy now, and my brain seems to be working better, but I still want to be thoughtful about how I add things back in. One of the things I lost, and which has really only come back in the last few days, was the ability to get inside of myself. I’d really like to catch up with myself, but I’m not quite sure yet what that’s going to look like. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all. There’s time.
Here’s to gentle easing and more energy and being thoughtful about what gets added in and in what timeline. Knowing that the catching up is the important part and what it looks like or how long it takes doesn’t matter, that’s reassuring to me, thank you
Yes for the Secret Third Way! Yes for experiments! Yes for nothing ever being the wrong way! Yes for not even having new year until one is ready (or not at all!).
No wrong way! New year can wait! Or be skipped! Secret third ways forever!
Love the feast of Do Overs!
So many gentle sparks of “yes I can move this slow, yes I can choose something”
Baby steps. The companionship of trees. Making a soup.