Stop a moment and look at your days, notice your schedules, consider your goals and dreams and hopes. What are you working on, or planning to work on, that is a priority to you, either because it needs to be done or because it is close to your heart, or both?
Maybe there’s a garden or a book, painting, quilt, or some other creation you are set on nurturing into being. Maybe it’s a car you want to work on, a home that needs renovating, or a home that just needs a little interior makeover to fit your interests and design sensibilities more closely. You might want to take a dance class or learn photography, or your focus might be on health, such as an exercise or diet routine that you want to start seeing and feeling results from, or prayer or meditation you want to learn or be more devoted to.
Maybe it is something more emotional, like working through anxiety or grief or addiction, or healing your thoughts and spirit after loss of a loved one either through death (maybe even the death of a cat or dog or some other animal, which is never just a “pet,” but a friend and part of the family) or the ending of a relationship. Healing your thoughts and spirit because you aren’t where you were hoping to be yet in life, or you’re far from home and miss everything about it, or you left your job by choice or by termination and you’re uncertain what to do next. You might be coping with the emotional and physical strains of a long-term illness that may or may not go away, or coping with ups and downs in your family life that you’re at a loss for how to peaceably solve. Maybe you have felt the lagging sadness of exhaustion and depression for any of these reasons, any other reason, or for seemingly no reason at all.
There are many things that take time to work on. Some are “good things,” those things we look forward to completing due to the sense of joy and accomplishment that will settle inside of us once finished. And then there are the “bad things,” things that we know will bring joy and accomplishment once a change is made, a solution or acceptance found, but that in the meantime feel impossible to work through to reach the transformation that will bring us peace of mind.
Research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology cautions that goal-setting can be counterproductive, holding us back at times, especially when we set out to reach a goal and things change along the way, are not as perfect as we had envisioned. Giving yourself more time to get to positive change means being open to revisions in plans or to different outcomes–if you say something will be accomplished within a year and you are dedicated to it, you will see a change, yet it may happen in both predicted and surprising, unplanned ways. We can set the goals, which are important to have, but we can alter them accordingly, out of want or necessity. Are we always in control of factors life presents us with? No, we are in many ways at mercy of how life unfolds; we move with the days, they don’t move with us.
So who is in control? Sometimes us, but many times not. Pretty much always us when it pertains to what we’re thinking, to how we cope and plan. Being in control of our mind and spirit–this is where our power to improve, to create and fulfill dreams, and to appreciate our delicate existence lies. It is a genuine power, and it doesn’t work without two main ingredients: practice and patience, the roots of giving things a little more time to see a healthy, colorful growth.
Six years ago I read a book by author Sana Krasikov called One More Year. The book is a collection of short stories; the main characters are emigrees and would-be emigrees from the collapsed Soviet Empire. The main character in “Maia in Yonkers” moves to America to earn a living following the death of her husband, and leaves her young son in the care of her sister. Maia’s son, Gogi, finally passes an Embassy interview as a teenager to visit his mother, and comments to Maia in an emotional exchange that he no longer understands why she must live in America, telling her, “Every year you say ‘It’s one more year, one more year’!”
In the context of the story, this comment isn’t a happy one, it isn’t hopeful. It holds in it the frustration of wanting things to change for the better but believing they won’t, the sadness of not knowing how to fix a family that has been separated first by death, and then by geographical distance. It shows years passing by, one after the other, without the longed for resolution. Naming the book One More Year might have been done so to imply this sort of hopeless passage of time; it might also allude to something we must all do at times and which may lead to the outcome we truly need–waiting.
A few years after reading Krasikov’s book, I found the phrase one more year drifting into my mind in the midst of difficult situations. There are two things difficult situations can do to our thoughts that create a dangerous situation for our emotional state: they can produce tunnel vision, in which we see nothing but the problem and feel impotent to plan beyond it, or they can make us want to get out of the problem so badly that all we see is the end goal, and it looks overwhelming, incomprehensible, unreachable because we can’t slow our minds down to focus on the very necessary steps (and time) it will take to get there. These are the perspectives that can lead us into depression and some of the more destructive elements that may accompany it, for some people right up to suicidal thoughts and actions. On a less drastic note, tunnel vision or overwhelming broad vision can make us give up on a goal that is important to us, causing us to tuck it away until a later day comes when we wonder what may be different in our lives had we pursued whatever dream we gave up—what it might have led to next.
One more year. The words began popping into my mind with more force, strong and vibrant, asking me to look not too far ahead, but ahead nonetheless. Be hopeful, and patient, is what they were synonymous to. At the point when it seemed my husband and I would never catch up on our finances after the astounding fees of the immigration process, while we were living in an apartment we were grateful for but also found to be within an oppressive atmosphere we were ready to move on from, and while I was working in a mental health recovery center that seemed to promote further emotional conflict rather than healing—having a contagion effect on many of the employees, myself included—a sense of life as an overwhelming burden rather than a mysterious, beautiful gift began creeping into corners of my mind, threatening to deplete energy, happiness, hopefulness.
One more year. Suddenly, much like a wise teacher, the words were there to offer the chance to recognize a new direction. I made a promise to myself in the form of The One-More-Year Project: We will see improvement in every aspect of our lives by this time next year. And that is, step by step, exactly what happened.
It does help that I’m partnered with someone with a high amount of energy and optimism, it doesn’t hurt to be inspired and supported by others; but I believe that anybody, anywhere, in any circumstances and with or without the support of others has the capability to follow their own needed steps reach their own desired goals. We are all designed with the trait of resilience—by nature, we own the rights to self-improvement.
After moving into a new home, seeking out new career options that will keep my own mental state healthier as I work toward licensure as a clinical counselor, and seeing our financial situation improve drastically with care—all while maintaining gratitude for all of the beauty in life that counters the difficulties, which is a very essential attitude for reaching dreams of any kind—I continue to keep the phrase close by. One more year. A wise teacher and an old friend. As I look at my writing projects, my homework, my business ideas, the dance classes I want to return to because the artistic motion brings me joy, volunteer efforts I would like to be further involved in, or when I encounter moments of sadness or exhaustion or perplexity that sometimes accompany life situations in a strong way, I remind myself—I’m here right now, and I can decide how much progress I hope to see by next year, and I will keep a plan in my mind or in a notebook or on a dry-erase board, wherever it stands out the most, and I will see that progress.
Give yourself a year before you give up, before you walk away from something your heart believes in but your mind has begun to doubt. Promise yourself you will see a change by that time, and then start moving there in steps, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute if you need to. Picture yourself free on a stage, enveloped in dance. Picture your garden blooming with health and radiance. Picture your car running perfect and happy because you tended to it with as much precision as a surgeon caring for a life. Picture yourself smiling, healing, and enjoying your days along with those you love, everything as well as can be, just as it should be.
A family member recently told me about her years when she used to run track; she said that imaging how many miles away the finish line was would immediately make her feel that she couldn’t get there. So she would start running while focusing only on her immediate surroundings. She would then think of finishing that first mile, but keep only that first mile in mind. Once one mile was passed, the next could be acknowledged. This gave her the energy, and patience, she needed to keep her body moving to a very distant stopping point.
If you need more than a year, or less, that’s fine. This is your project now. Just start by seeing where you’re at, focusing, and gradually looking further until you’re standing at the place you set out for. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your patience, your gratitude, and your ability to enjoy life along the way.
Suggested (Inspirational) Reading:
The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying To Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin. Book.
The Power of Patience, Judith Orloff, M.D. Article.
“Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom.”
How To Set Goals, Will Meeks, Ph.D. Article.