Often at this time of year many folks reflect and consider where they are, look back on what they have ‘done’ or ‘accomplished’ (and I use that word ‘accomplished’ with wide interpretation), and consider how they might move ahead differently in the New Year.
The thought of ‘reflecting-and-resolution-making’ might seem eye-stabbingly exasperating in this particular historical moment. If you scoffed at that paragraph above, I don’t blame you. Part of what I find excessively frustrating about the whole ‘New Year’s Resolution’ thing is how it focuses so much on individual choices and actions, without accounting for broader social, political and historical structures that shape our everyday lives. One of the major problems with thinking “If I could just do differently then life would be better!” is that it discounts the ways world events as well as how thoughts and feelings are conditioned (internalizing sexism or racism, for example) have implications for how we act in the world and make decisions. If COVID has shown us anything, it is that we are NOT individuals floating around separately, but that we live in societies, that what happens in society affects us as individuals.
Of course, to completely collapse under the weight of those broader structures and assume we have no choices is a bit fatalistic. To completely drift at the whim of the broader world discounts that we have agency as individuals. We do have some choice in our lives, and what we do (decisions we make, actions we take) affects what happens to us and other people. So, while of course our lives are shaped by things going on in the world, and values and assumptions, we actually can do differently and make our lives, well, different.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that taking the opportunity to reflect as part of change can be useful. Especially this year, as these major disruptions have forced us to shift gears quickly; we had to do differently without a lot of reflection, changing actions and acquiring new habits because the world changed rapidly. Maybe we’ve learned things, and maybe we can still do differently moving forward.
As I think about the things I did in the past year, I also consider what I thought and felt about those things I did.
Here’s a personal example.
Let’s just say I ate a lot of chips and worked from my computer in my pajamas. These actions happened in the wake of global-pandemic-induced unemployment, shifting quickly to freelance from home, supporting kids through pandemic-oriented school and recovering from major surgery. That’s what I did: I worked in my pajamas and ate a lot of chips. But then, even more than what I did, what do I now think and feel about that? Truthfully, I think that was a perfectly fine way to get myself out of bed and through the day. Those chips were tasty, and I needed a bit of pleasure in my life. Pajamas are comfortable, and I needed that too. I have no regrets.
But is that what I want to do forever? Well, maybe kinda, but also not completely. As I reflect on my feelings and thoughts about my actions – specifically wearing pajamas from my home office and eating lots of chips – I learn these were actually partially OK. For reals.
Working in pajama pants or leggings worked well for me – they’re very comfortable, no one sees them on zoom calls, and I can sit cross-legged in my chair and move easily during breaks. Maybe, moving forward, I want to move myself out of pajama shirts, and put on something that will make me feel better on those work-oriented zoom calls, facing my colleagues and clients.
Eating excessive amounts of chips doesn’t make me feel great, but it also has its good points. The immediate pleasure is super, but eating lots makes me feel kinda gross (like really, bloated and heavy and lethargic).
You’ll notice that I don’t assume that wearing pajamas is completely bad while working. I also don’t scoff at the idea of eating chips altogether. As I reflect, I am really working to connect with my own values,* and not take what folks normally say about pajamas and chips to heart (“Must look professional in a cleanly pressed suit, always!” or “Chips are the root of all evil!”). I try to think critically about what social assumptions I might have internalized about pleasurable foods or foods with fat as being ‘bad’ for my body; that to be ‘good,’ I must not have pleasurable experiences through food, or that my body must be a certain kind of ‘fit’ and pleasurable to other people (read: men). I think about what is actually working for me? What is actually problematic for me? The increased pajama-wearing and chip-eating was absolutely influenced by larger world forces – what was happening in the world affected me, and my actions changed. But through that I learned some things. I can be kind to myself, understand my own need for comfort and pleasure, but still have agency in this situation and make changes if I want to.
These ideas can work for reflecting on community and organizational ‘actions’ too, as well as underpinning thoughts and feelings, but I’ll save that for another post.
*Note: This idea of ‘values’ is really important in thinking about the relationship among thoughts, feelings, and actions, but goes beyond this one blog post – I’ll write about it later. Just know that your values are shaped by you (your being, beliefs, experiences, etc), as well as broader social, historical, political, cultural structures. More in another post!