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It’s a slow rebuilding week for many people; work schedules are lighter and the Holiday frenzy is waning. Countless “best of” and “year in review” listicles are popping up in this slow news week.

While you don’t need a new calendar to reflect on your life or seek improvement/change, the end of the year and a stretch of cold dark months ahead does lend itself well to using this week to put 2011 to rest and prepare for 2012.

I found this Reflection Worksheet a nice way to think about everything I acchompished and everything that challenged me in 2011. Here are the questions:

2011 Reflection

  1. What do you want to acknowledge yourself for in 2011?

What did you create?
What challenges did you face with courage and strength?
What promises did you keep?
What brave choices did you make?
What are you proud of?

2. What is there to grieve about 2011?
What was disappointing?
What was scary?
What was hard?
What can you forgive yourself for?

3. What else do you need to say about the year to declare it complete?
The next step is to say out loud, “I declare 2011 complete!”
How do you feel? If you don’t feel quite right, there might be one more thing to say…

4. The final step is to consider your primary focus for the year to come. What is your primary intention or theme for 2012?
Is it the year of joy?
The year of self-care?
The year of kicking ass?
The year of ease?
“2012 is my year of ________”

That last question leads nicely into planning for 2012. While many people make New Years Resolutions (about 45% of Americans), but more than half of them don’t keep them. There is, it seems, something so innate in us that simultaneously  wants to improve ourselves while setting giving ourselves permission to stay exactly the same.

I really like the idea of having one primary focus for the year, rather than a laundry list of unrelated ideas. I’ve done this for the past couple of years: my only resolution for 2010 was “be happier” and my only resolution for 2011 was to be better about staying in touch with my family and friends. Did I falter on these? For sure.  But I think I understand now what could make me more successful on my 2012 goal (2012 is my year of trying my best): defining what my goal means, how I’ll measure/define being successful at it and what concrete things I’ll do.

A great example of this method is The Happiness Project. The author, Gretchen Rubin, has even made a downloadable version of her resolutions chart . Her overarching theme for the year was to “be happier” and from there she figured out things that would improve her happiness (getting rid of clutter, quit nagging, etc) and then devoted one month to actions that accomplished that, while keeping her overall goal in mind.

My 2012 goal of “trying my best” has a lot of meanings: not letting myself get distracted when I’m working, learning new things, being proactive, letting go of jealousy,  being a kinder, more patient person, letting myself off the hook when things go wrong, and more.  I plan to write my 2012 goal and post it on my bulletin board at my desk, so I will be reminded of it everyday.

Another great approach to New Years Resolutions is a list like this one: 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. Sometimes the best approach to what you want to do is a focus on what you don’t want to do anymore. Maybe a theme for 2012 could be “the year of letting go” and you could devote each month to something you need to let go of.

If, like many people, you have resolutions of “being healthier,” or “losing weight,” think about how you can approach it (taking out meat or soda from your diet a few days a week, signing up for a beginner’s yoga workshop!, going to bed a half hour earlier each night). If health and yoga are part of your 2012 plans, of course I’d love to help (contact me and we’ll work on a resolution plan!) And if you need further inspiration, check out this awesome 91 year old yoga teacher.

Some days it can be quite a challenge to be positive, to keep trying–the universe seems to be against you. The list of what’s wrong with life is easily rattled off. Complaints flow out like carbon dixodie with every breath. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Everything went wrong, and no matter how hard I tried things kept getting worse. I cried, I complained. I took for granted that all that I did have, and focused miserably on all the things I lack. Then this afternoon in my inbox, was a quote:

“We seldom think of what we have but always of what we lack.”
 Arthur Schopenhauer

It doesn’t fix things, and I still don’t feel great, but it helps to stop in the middle of a good pity party and remember what you have.

It may seem like a counter-intuitive thing for a yoga teacher to say, but I’m a cynic and a pessimist by nature. I come from a long line of worriers and can usually find the worst case scenario in most situations. But I think that’s part of what makes me a good yoga teacher– I’m striving to not take things so seriously, I’m working on just being me in the moment, I’m no guru, I’m a real person (a jaded New Yorker with a friendly Midwestern core).

They say when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well, one particularly gloomy late winter day this year, I was walking home from a yoga class feeling pretty sorry for myself and all that was wrong in my life, when I saw this book propped up on the steps of a brownstone.

I’ve been reading The Happiness Project on and off before bed for the past few months, and I just finished it last night. It wasn’t life changing (well at least yet), but it did get me thinking, and I really appreciate her approach of research, theory, and practical  implication.

There’s a lot in the book (and the ongoing project on the blog) that have relevancy to the mindfulness of yoga and the goal of taking your practice off the mat, so I’ll no doubt come back to it in future posts. For now though, one of the main thoughts I’m left with is one that’s mentioned throughout the book:

“It’s easy to be heavy, it’s hard to be light.” 

People (to a certain extent myself included for a long time) think that being happy shows a lack of depth, an innocence or naivety, while unhappiness or dissatisfaction is “cooler”, and smarter. But in reality, it’s so much easier to complain than to be satisfied, to be discontented or ironic than to be enthusiastic and smile.

Especially when life is handing you lemons, making lemonade is not effortless. Being lighthearted is sometimes a difficult pursuit, but maybe that’s what the real idea of the pursuit of happiness should be–not that we should strive for some home and car ownership dream of  happiness, but that we should endeavor to be more appreciative beings, easier to please, and quicker to forgive.