The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. —Joseph Campbell
Did you neglect to make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Or did you make some, and one week into the new year, have already failed to keep them?
You shouldn’t stress about that.
Not because New Year’s resolutions are inherently worthless, mind you. One of the dumbest memes to emerge on social media in the last several years is the idea that they are. People say that you shouldn’t wait until January to make goals, that you should be trying to improve the whole year through, and blah, blah, blah.
This kind of rah-rah-rah rhetoric ignores the research that shows that “temporal landmarks” — significant dates — can motivate you to reach your goals.
Turning the page on the calendar, the expectation of starting anew, and the cultural conversation around resolutions all create a scaffolding that helps you reflect on how you’d like to improve and launch into making those improvements.
It’s like holidays; you don’t need a special occasion to think about another person’s interests and buy them a gift, to write a love letter, to get friends and family together for a party, or to make special foods, but a calendared event prompts you to do those things to a degree you otherwise wouldn’t.
So if you like making New Year’s resolutions and you did feel motivated to hit the ground running on January 1st, then that’s great, and by all means, you should ride that momentum for all it’s worth.
If, however, you didn’t feel a wave of energy going into this month, that’s okay too. There may be a very good reason for that.
Why You Might Want to Make March 20th Your New January 1st
One of the most interesting insights Micah Mortali offered in our podcast episode about “befriending winter” is that January really isn’t the optimal time to make new goals.
Micah, who uses outdoor experiences to develop mindfulness, is big on the idea articulated by Joseph Campbell above: trying to match the rhythm of your life to the rhythms of nature.
In the winter — which Micah calls “the night of the year” — those natural rhythms tend toward a dynamic of rest. Animals hibernate. Plants go dormant. Water freezes over. The atmosphere of the season is quiet and still.
Winter isn’t only a season of rest for the natural world; it used to be a season of rest for human beings too. Before the Industrial Revolution ushered out the seasonal cycle and ushered in twelve straight months of equally go-go-go activity, hunter-gatherer and agricultural peoples were less active in the winter. There were seasons for hunting, planting, and harvesting, and a season where things laid fallow; seasons of outward effort, and a season of inward retraction.
So if ideas about what goals to make, along with the motivation to go after them, aren’t coming to you right now, it may be because this was a slower, more restful time of year for all of creation for thousands of years. Your vibe may be wanting to match the vibe of the universe, and that vibe is currently trending toward stillness.
Micah thus suggests waiting until the dawn of spring, specifically around the time of the spring equinox, to make more concrete resolutions. After the spring equinox — which is March 20th this year — days will begin to be longer than nights. Light will outpace darkness. Photosynthesis will return. Water will start to thaw and flow. Buds will reappear. The world, including yourself, will reawaken, and it’s at this time that you may feel greater direction, clarity, and energy as to where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do in the coming year.
So consider making March 20th the start of your personal new year. In so doing, you’ll combine the power of temporal landmarks with the power of matching your inner rhythm to that of Nature.
What to Do During the Winter
While it can be fruitful to embrace winter as a season of repose, that doesn’t mean you should cease activity altogether. Rather, you should continue the essential maintenance tasks that keep you vital, while shifting your focus to different kinds of activities — ones that are restful yet enriching.
Trees are a good model for what this looks like.
In winter, trees look entirely dormant. The branches of deciduous trees are stark and bare, and even evergreen trees stop growing new needles til spring. Above ground, trees don’t seem to be doing much.
But below ground, it’s another story. As long as the soil stays warm enough, the roots of trees continue to grow during the winter. (It’s ironic and instructive that what keeps the ground warm enough for root growth even when the air is freezing is layers of snow; the deepening of winter promotes life.) As forester Michael Snyder explains, “This winter quiescence — where roots are resting but ready — is extremely important for the health of individual trees and, by extension, for forests in general. Indeed, it is this trait . . . that allows all species, including deciduous hardwoods, the opportunity to expand their root systems in search of water and nutrients in advance of spring bud break.” During the winter, tree roots move toward needed resources to gather the energy that will enable their branches to bring forth new leaves and flowers once the warmer months arrive.
In the same way, while we may not be busy with frenetic upwards striving toward big new goals in the winter, we can use the time to deepen our roots, nourishing and strengthening our inner resources and establishing a strong base for another season of growth.
Here are a few ways to slow down and rest while also expanding your personal root system during the winter:
Reflect. Micah describes winter as an “open” season; you don’t have to yet know your exact, specific intentions for the year. Instead, the task is to send out feelers that will help you develop a vision of where you’d like to head as the subsequent months unfold.
All these listed practices will help with that exploration, as will simple daily reflection. Spend some quiet time each day just letting your thoughts roam and range over the different possibilities and ideas that pop into your head.
Read. When the weather outside is frightful, it’s the perfect time to sit by the fire and read a good book. Reading will plant plenty of seeds in your mind and soul that will eventually germinate as time goes on.
Journal. As you work to expand, enrich, and explore your inner thoughts, it can also be helpful to see what they look like outside your head. Writing things down can help you better understand the parameters of your ideas and allow you to perceive how to take action on them.
If you need ideas on how to journal to find patterns in your habits and move your thinking in proactive directions, listen to our podcast with Campbell Walker.
Keep a dream journal. During this “night of the year,” dig more into what’s going on when you’re literally sleeping. Keep a journal by your bed and as soon as you wake up, write or draw what you can remember from what you dreamed about that night. As you regularly make entries, see if there are patterns in your dreams that may be pointing to a problem that needs addressing or an idea that needs birthing.
Meditate. Aim to make your inner quietude match nature’s stillness in wintertime. Engage in formal meditation, or just take some time to stare into the fire in your fireplace or at the flame of a candle.
Start Running When the Sap Does
If you’re feeling your oats this January, ride that wave of momentum. Even though humans are part of the natural world, we’re also a distinct species, and part of that distinction is our ability to willfully cut across the dynamics of nature. Sometimes this is unwise, and sometimes it’s a perfectly healthy strategy to bring about a fruitful result. It’s okay to eat strawberries in February, and it’s okay to go after an audacious goal in the dead of winter.
But if you don’t feel motivated to tackle some big resolution right now, and, come to think of it, never feel like doing that in January, then you should stop feeling guilty about it. Use this season to turn inwards: rest; dream; reflect; write; prepare for a fertile, flourishing rebirth in the spring.
For more insights on how you can befriend winter, listen to our interview with Micah Mortali: