While Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive at our house with their own sets of traditions, I can't say the same about New Year's Day. Sometimes there are black-eyed peas on the table but not with any regularity, and our fortunes haven't seemed better or worse for eating or not eating them.
There is, however, one tradition I do observe on New Year's Day: Choosing my one little word for the coming year.This will be the eighth year I've participated in this year-long exercise that is aimed, for the most part, at self-improvement.
You wouldn't think having one little word as a focus for the year can influence you to make better choices, comfort you when you struggle and inspire you to be a better version of yourself but it can. We know the power of negative words but they can be just as powerful when they're positive, especially if one of them is hanging around in your subconscious for 365 consecutive days.
I first embraced the one little word concept in late 2006 when I felt trapped in an obligation I found frustrating and unrewarding. There was no one to blame but myself as I entered into it willingly, and I was stubborn enough to see it through. I had, after all, given my word. I'm normally a pretty positive person but I found myself wallowing in this unhappy situation and I knew something had to change. As I sat at a Christmas lunch with my best girlfriends, I was reminded that each of us had struggles but so, so much more in our lives that was good. I announced then and there that for 2007 I intended to choose joy and hoped they would as well.
At that point I hadn't heard of this single-word focus idea that is now known as One Little Word but it has since become as much a part of wrapping up one year and starting the next as learning to write new numbers when filling out a date. Choose joy was soon followed by listen, rejoice, complete, now, lean forward and finally breathe. I loved them all and they filled a space in my life that might have remained empty had I not chosen them.
Each year I read back through what I wrote about that one little word when I picked it and reflect on what I hoped it would do. While I can't attribute any miracles to those letters and syllables, I feel empowered by them. I still find strength in them even after their year is long gone...a familiar reminder, if you will, of something to work on and draw from. Each one is a little step towards being the best me I can be.
I like to say that I don't choose the words; they choose me. That sounds weird I know but it's true. Sometimes the new word comes to me well in advance of the new year and other times much later. No matter when it happens, I know immediately when it's the "right" word.
This year I've been so busy with the holidays and Wayne's surgery/recovery that I really hadn't thought about the need for a new word until yesterday. It must have been in the back of my mind, however, when I saw this quotation from Maya Angelou:
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
Better. It's a word I've probably said a hundred times these past two weeks. To friends and family who've asked how Wayne is doing. To Wayne as reinforcement for his efforts and a promise of what lies ahead. And to myself as a commentary on our efforts to rein in the chaos and return our lives to normal. We have great plans for when Wayne's recovery is complete. We're blessed in so many ways but life really is going to be better when he can go and do more.
But better isn't limited to him; it applies to my life as well. I can make a better effort at finding balance. It's a constant battle, isn't it...between the have-to's, the ought-to's and the want-to's tugging at our time every day. We all need some of each and while that perfect mix may elude me, I can seek a better balance for less stress and more happiness.
I want to right the better health ship too. It has been capsized a little these past few weeks on the waves of holidays and long days at the hospital. I found time today to fit in a walk in the neighborhood and it was both a mental and physical lift. There are a lot of positives about my health but I want the numbers on those few semi-negatives to continue heading in the right direction and that takes a better effort.
The instructor in my strength class is always telling me I can lift more weight than I think I can but I don't always believe her. I thought of her the other day when I took the Christmas tree down and packed it away all by myself. It's big and heavy and even Wayne struggles with it but when you're smaller, you learn ways to compensate. In 2014 I want to expect bigger and better things of myself...not just in the gym but in life itself.
And I want to be a better person. We all do but I want to be more mindful of those efforts in the coming year. To show more kindness. To listen better. To act with grace and compassion. As Maya Angelou said, I know better; now it's time to do better.
Somewhere in every post for the year's new word is a statement about striving to be the best me I can be because that's really what this journey is all about. I'm going to modify it this year. It's not about being the best. It's about being better today than I was yesterday.
Better, I think you and I are going to have a spectacular year.