Editors Note: This is a guest post from Marten Fadelle, clinical intern with me at my counseling practice. To learn more about Marten or to schedule a counseling appointment, visit his website here.

Happy New Year!

While there is much to be hopeful for, and much to be wary of, I felt both a sense of gratitude and relief as January 2021 arrived.  I cannot help but reflect on the year that was as the calendar changed. Given the extra-disruptive impact of COVID-19 on 2020, I feel an added impetus to bring about change in 2021. I feel a desire, perhaps even a pressure, to: 

  • Make this year better than the last;
  • Set a new course;
  • Hit the ground running;
  • Set some new goals and make some positive changes.

While none of these plans and goals are bad (they can in fact, be quite helpful, beneficial, and even necessary), sometimes, given certain scenarios, the veiled expectations of a new start can lead to frustration, anxiety, and disappointment.

I have lived in Tennessee long enough to know that it can get cold and it can get snowy here, but growing up in Southwestern Ontario, winter – prolonged sub-freezing, snow-and-ice winter – was a different reality for 3 or 4 months each year. I liken the wisdom of planning for a change in a new year to “wise winter driving” up North: Make plans; be patient; and be willing to ask for help.

Make plans – but don’t hold on to them too tightly! Pay attention to the forecast.

Life goes on in the winter. Work and school schedules, errands, and other activities that require driving continue. But inevitably, the weather forecast will include a warning – that driving conditions are about to get difficult (even dangerous) and your plans will be interrupted – happens all the time. Frustrations are reduced when interruptions and adjustments are expected. 

Go ahead and make plans for the New Year. Set goals if you like. But also, pay attention to your environment and build in frustration-busting flexibility for yourself for the uncontrollable interruptions that will mess up your plans.  For me, examples of frustration-busting flexibility include:

  • Acknowledging disappointment, but also being curious about uncontrollable interruptions and seeing them as opportunities to do something else (creative or restful)
  • Adding the caveat “given my current information and situation…” to the expectations I put on myself.

When you drive in winter weather, you give yourself more time.

Various laws of physics are in effect while driving, and your ability to operate safely within those laws diminishes with plummeting temperature and increased speed. Like many others, I have learned that without adjusting my speed as conditions and traction deteriorate, my risk and my anxiety tend to increase. Giving myself more time to get from A to B allows for slower, safer, less anxious driving. 

Trying to do too much, too fast may become a source of anxiety. Be aware of how you are internally responding to the changes. Be gracious and pace yourself when trying to implement changes or when starting something new. 

If you’re stuck, it’s often best to ask for help and wait.

If you regularly drive in the winter in the North, you’ll get stuck. It just happens. Doubling down in the driver’s seat by ‘standing on’ the accelerator makes a lot of noise, results in a lot of wear and tear to your vehicle, and rarely gets you ‘unstuck’. I’ve walked around numerous stuck vehicles assessing the situation (most often, my own) with the acrid smell of burnt rubber and the ‘tinking’ sound of hot metal in the crisp, cold air. It is an utter disappointment to learn experientially that horsepower doesn’t matter where there is no traction. But that exhaustive stuck-ness is also a gift.

Like driving in the winter in the North, most people I know have been stuck at one time or another in life. After much experience driving in the winter and almost 50 new starts in a new year, I know that getting, or even feeling, stuck, can be frustrating; it can even be harmful. But I can also say that I did not learn the wisdom of loosening my grip on my plans or of graciously giving myself more time, by hearing that advice in the autumns, springs or summers of life – I learned it by actually getting stuck in my winters.

The gifts of my stuck-ness was that the embarrassment of needing help morphed into the humility to ask for help; and the frustration over my lack of control transformed to the accepted vulnerability that I will never have total control. Living life with more humility and vulnerability has been liberating for me.

If you are stuck or if your new start in 2021 has already lost traction, I encourage you to ask for help.

The best kind of help won’t just help you get unstuck, it will also, and perhaps more importantly, help you see the gifts that your stuck-ness might have for the truest, healthiest, you.

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