Bin those banal new year resolutions and dare to dream
The Australian January 5, 2016
Often it involves sitting in a circle with like-minded friends, acknowledging with gratitude all the things that worked during the year, and writing on a piece of paper all the challenging things I want to let go — traumas, patterns, people — that I then burn and throw into the sea, or bury.
Every 10 years or so I try to do a big list, scanning not just the year ahead but the next decade. It doesn’t have to be exact; a general overview can suffice. My plans for my 20s and 30s were the same as many people’s: establishing a career, putting a deposit on a property, getting hitched, having a baby. Bye-bye personal life.
As 40 approached, I realised I couldn’t take any more pressure and had what I have called my “midlife breakthrough”, although others might have said white coat time. Sitting planning, I listened to my soul — that I needed to enjoy the years of fecundity and youth I still had left. My last hurrah.
We made a sea change to Byron Bay at the turn of the millennium, but also made a plan to return to Sydney when it was time to get our daughter through the last couple of years of high school.
Now that she has moved out, I’m due for another plan for the decade ahead, finally brave enough to look into the eyes of impending mortality.
It’s confronting, accepting our limited time. But as the saying goes, “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.” We’re not coming back to do it better next time.
As we get older there is no more time for denial, says planning expert and advertising guru Jane Mathews, with whom I caught up at a talk in Sydney recently. She says we must start planning our lives properly so we don’t panic or go off track.
“As December approaches we all sit asking: ‘Where has the year gone?’ I believe we need some frame of reference — a bigger picture — so we feel in control of the years ahead. The question ‘What do I really want?’ makes us feel uncomfortable, but we have to be brutally honest with ourselves and not waste time. Start it now so you can enter the new year prepared.
“New year’s resolutions are so trite, giving up alcohol or sweets or some habit. It’s banal, given the bigger things facing us in our lives. Time to get cracking.”
Mathews’s specialty is the period from our 40s onwards, as the title of her book suggests: Midlife Manifesto: A Toolkit to Plan the Rest of Your Life.
The book is favoured by women, but Mathews encourages people of any gender or age to plan ahead. “Before the new year, start researching for a strategy that encompasses spirituality, money and love. Make sure there is balance between the practical and the creative and fun.”
She says: “Time to get off automatic and shift to manual. The first part of our life is about school, career, family. Now is the time for courage, not being too frightened to move beyond the cage door.”
So how to do it? For starters, get a notebook. “The first step is to define your vision: what’s really important to you, what inspires you? Write down what is your perfect day, write your own eulogy, email a letter to your future self, design your own coat of arms, write your bucket list.
“Get a wooden board and pin inspiring photos and images from magazines to it. Examine your key strengths, passions and challenges. Research. Read. Google yourself senseless.”
Then do an action plan — a long-term overview that can be divided into a year-by-year plan and crunched down to a month-by-month schedule for 2016: “Think about clearing the decks; plan to take up a hobby; do a couple of things each month that are working towards your lifestyle and work goals. The little steps count. They are the building blocks.”
Mathews advises including a plan for relationships. “Friendships need watering and fertilising — and weeding, too! Partnerships are the same. Try some new sexy things. If breaking up, then list what you want in a partner, keeping in mind it isn’t the same wish list as 30.”
The plan should include your body: 80 per cent of illnesses in later life are attributed to lifestyle. And what about your spiritual self? For many of us organised religion doesn’t really resonate. Find out what does.
Explore personal interests but don’t neglect work interests. As Mathews puts it: “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”
Try to learn one new thing a year. Our brains are pliable and love to be stretched.
And look to your home. It’s a mothership that needs to be your haven. Declutter and improve it, paint a wall a bright colour, fix those damn door knobs that keep falling off.
Create financial independence. “A man is not a financial plan,” Mathews is fond of telling women. Find an investment goal to reach; make a budget (using an online planner such as moneysmart. gov. au) Work out how much you need each year; get your legal and financial papers in order — your insurance, taxes and prenup. One year when Mathews decided she needed a new hobby, she learned how to trade shares online.
She doesn’t like the idea of reconciling the previous year, preferring to look forward. But Sydney therapist Jo-Anne Baker disagrees. She believes it is imperative that we also write a plan of what we want to leave behind — patterns such as procrastination; things or people or whatever doesn’t serve us — and perhaps reflect on things we are sorry to have done. Then we can dare to dream.
“Fear of the unknown is natural, but it’s about facing reality with optimism and excitement,” Baker says. She says at this time of year it is important to factor “giving back” into our new year plan. Charity through money or deeds creates a richer fabric for ourselves and others. It has the added benefit of giving our new year meaning.