I’ve noticed a pattern to my attitude about starting a new year. The harder the year prior, the more I look forward to January 1. It’s like turning in a really bad English paper and getting to start over on a new assignment. A blank page and a new year give us the one ingredient needed for healing, peace, and success: hope. The trick is sustaining that hope through the seasons of the year, especially on the days when it’s hard to believe that our tomorrow will be better than our today. Here are some ways to hang on to hope in the new year.
1. Visualize a New Year’s You
Forget about your New Year’s resolution. Only 8 percent of people keep them anyway. Instead visualize the person you want to become—including as many details as possible. Visualizations are a powerful way of reprogramming our thoughts and accessing hope. We learn through pictures. In fact, 65 percent of people are visual learners according to the Social Science Research Network, as compared to auditory or other learning styles. When I do this exercise, I visualize a woman with a stronger sense of self, less dependent on the approval of other people. She has returned to her passion of being a mental health advocate, inspiring persons through her writing and speaking. She is a devoted wife and mother, and a more responsible dog owner.
2. Plan a Hope Event
You might need a hope booster half-way through the year, so plan a retreat or some other event that will refuel you with optimism and energy. I am planning on walking Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, in May of this year. The famous pilgrimage stretches 778 kilometers from St. Jean Port de Pied to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and is associated with healing and spiritual transformation. You need not trek across Europe for five weeks, of course. A weekend by the lake or some time with a friend will serve the same purpose.
3. Strengthen Your Spiritual Life
Without fail I run out of hope every time I forget about God’s hand in my life and place all my trust in the things of this world. Last year I grasped the helm of my life so tightly that I developed blisters. In a moment of despair, I turned to the Bible and read Psalm 118:8, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” Like all relationships, though, our connection with God takes work. It requires a commitment to prayer, opportunities to discern what God is saying. The beginning of the year is a great time to design a spiritual practice that will help you recognize the divine imprints in your life.
4. Find Hope Buddies
Friends and loved ones are messengers of hope. They shed light on our strengths in moments of weakness and provide perspective when we fail to see the truth. Fellowship is how addicts are able to stay clean, a core component of twelve-step groups that leads to long-term recovery, and how people crawl out from the depths of depression. Identify those people in your life that serve as your buttress and find ways to connect with them throughout the year. Keep them near.
5. Carve out Solitude
Novelist and Anglican clergyman Laurence Sterne once wrote, “In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.” I have found that when I cram my day too tightly with work and motherhood responsibilities, I stop making my own decisions and become vulnerable to the traps of addiction and depression. Being alone is not easy. It requires confronting the demons that stand in the way of Christian living. However, only in the silence can we hear the whisper of truth that leads us to peace.
6. Gather Your Hope Reminders
For Emily Dickinson, “hope is the thing with feathers.” For me, it’s roses and butterflies and rainbows. They remind me of the energy force that lies within me, the tenacious spirit that will not give up. Therefore, I put roses on my desk, carry a butterfly keychain, and look for rainbows whenever the sun peaks out through a rainstorm. If you don’t have a symbol of hope, choose one now, and display it in place that you see every day.
Last year was one of my most difficult years. I fumbled, got lost, and made several mistakes. It was like the really bad English paper I wrote on the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, where I began each sentence with “Mary Todd Lincoln.” I got a D. My inspiration returned with the next paper, thank God.
Life is like that. We get a new year. A blank page. Make this one your masterpiece by keeping up your supply of hope.