As we enter 2015, it seems inevitable that my latest (and overdue) article relates to this existential moment and the thoughts of what it means to have a fresh new year to play with. January 1st is welcomed worldwide through a variety of ways, some of which involve many libations, with many heavier heads the following day. Beginning with a kiss at midnight, certain food consumption or rituals are also performed in order to optimize the good fortune gained throughout the year. Eating pork and cabbage (a common practice in the USA, Germany and some other countries) is meant to bring good luck (the pig due to the act of ‘scratching forward’ symbolizing progress, the cabbage or greens due to its colour signifying prosperity). Many other superstitious acts extend to gorging on 12 white grapes at each strike of the clock (Spain/Portugal), burning an effigy which represents the past year’s negativity (Ecuador), putting 12 different round fruits on the table (Philippines) or simply wearing bright yellow undergarments (Mexico).

So many of these yearly traditions relate to the desire for increased wealth, love or power, many things we continually aim for in life due to the hope it will improve and better us. Friends and family come together and we share reflections from the past year that was. Then there is the act of resolution making. This year though, it became a different theme for me, it was one about making ‘Intentions’. The word itself classified by the Oxford Dictionary states ‘Intention’ as a thing intended; an aim or plan’. ‘Resolution’ is declared as a firm decision to do or not to do something. The language of the former permits more inviting thoughts I found, psychologically speaking it allows more leeway for realistic aims than haphazard desires. The practice of intention making for 2015 was shared amongst a table of new and old friends this year outside a New Orleans cafe and we spoke honestly of future aspirations, with promises to exchange updates on their progress in the months to come.  It made me ponder upon previous years as well as what does it mean going forward. As creatures of habit (we are human after all) we always tend to search for a ‘fresh start’, then subsequently repeat and break these cycles. We seek affirmation through our clans to both support and berate our efforts, always hopeful that one day we will remain stoic and avoid temptation. I have noticed that with age though, due to the increased revolutions around the sun, some things do NOT change and we are ever more reliant on the acquisition of fortitude in order to make positive steps for change instead of repeating history once again.

And so I decided to come up with a list of 5 significant intentions (or resolutions if you prefer) that everyone could benefit from keeping, based on experience and looking to achieve more holistic results than another vain attempt at temporary improvement:

Improve your (internal) physique

The mind is the foundation of all action and outcome, from making a decision to moving a limb. A healthy mind does indeed equal a healthy body if enough motivation is applied to maintain its well-being. There are ‘self-help’ books with attention grabbing titles for reference, however for longevity I have also found great stimulation from reading philosophical texts that look to apply thought process to stimulate and challenge our way of thinking. Texts written by Marcus Aurelius almost a thousand years ago still have relevance now and mirrors what modern-day philosophers also write about, providing more evidence of the cyclical existence of mankind. Those before us also pondered on how to live a better life, so why not learn from them? If you fret each year on why you have still not done something, do not blame external influence, instead consider the internal mechanics that will ultimately help you to achieve these goals. Optimum health of mind will grant you more power than a skinny latte (caffeinated goodness aside).

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Renounce Procrastination

This is another mind-related prevention of progress however with good intention must come action too. There are physical obstacles that may delay execution of task (bad weather, reliance on another person, sickness etc) however all things have an end or alternative. I hear many fantastic ideas, people that brim with innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit, but I equally hear less of the outcome, of the fruition of this gestation of inspiration. We drag our heels begrudgingly to only envy those that seem to achieve so much or do interesting things, when it is simply a case of good time management and organisation.  I too have multiple ideas and aspirations however I am now also more realistic. A realistic approach allows less room for predicted failure, which probably causes such procrastination in the first place. So waste less time on predicting what could go wrong and spend more DOING it.  That is how you learn, enabling you to master skill and focus on your accomplishments.

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Practice Empathy

This is an eternal intention, gaining more depth with age and experience. The ability to truly understand and relate to another person’s feelings is something that can be very difficult to do. It makes perfect sense too because how can one truly relate to the role of a Mother if they have not had children? How can one appreciate the monetary struggles a family may have when you have always experienced a healthy bank balance? There are ways to somehow learn such abilities though (other than actually experiencing it yourself one day) and that is to put aside your own perspective and instead consider that of the individual. We unavoidably base the judgment of situations from our own experiences, but being empathetic is also just a case of being ‘sensitive’ too, so although one cannot necessarily know the extent of emotional pain from bereavement without having gone through it, trying to relate to the prospect can give us a clue. Considering the emotions through our visual and auditory cues also help shape our interactions and enable us to be better friends and peers. Take a moment to ponder all the aspects of your fellow human too; our backgrounds, cultures and upbringing all make a contribution so consider these before making assumptions. We are all (thankfully) unique and should learn about our differences and mechanisms, which will ultimately help us cope better with the emotional experiences to come.

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Be amongst those that feed you

I do not mean ‘literally’ feed you (although I do know a fair few feeders that express love through cuisine. I try to consume moderately) but I refer to the nourishment gained through company that compliments and sustains good character. A common situation one can find oneself in is either living or sharing friendship with someone that may have a more negative train of thought or whose experiences have taught them a more tainted viewpoint of humanity. In some cases, through conversation and experience, these types of persona may review their perspective and evolve from it. Through my own experiences, attempting to change or assist such types with their psychological drawbacks can be quite detrimental to one’s own well-being. Although biology has a huge play, an optimum environment is essential for anyone to flourish. The company one keeps is therefore key to ensure a heightened emotional and intellectual state which ultimately can enable us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. I consider myself a creative person and being amongst such people (artists, musicians, problem-solvers) allows us to mutually encourage the other with ideas and positive feedback, coaxing further brilliance that may have otherwise lay dormant. Too often we exist amongst others that are not our social equals, over-consuming time (and wine) to only be left feeling bereft of direction. We all know the right company to keep because we leave them smiling, full of energy and zeal. Impoliteness is not what I advocate; there are moments we must interact for the sake of respect to our peers. Just remember that time is finite and to preserve the excellence of one’s own character, one should pickle it with the choicest ingredients.

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To Thine Own Self Be True

As quoted in Hamlet, this line stands defiantly as a reminder to not waiver from our core identity. When we allow ourselves moments to truly contemplate what we want or what we like to do, only then can we really understand what makes us happy. Not a fan of pop music? Don’t listen to it then. Prefer a solitary walk to group events? Get your hiking boots on. If you find yourself going along with the crowd and joining in with activities that do not fulfill you; desist. This behavior only breeds resentment and it is no-one else’s issue but your own for the final decision you make. Time and experience once again helps to shape and reinforce our ability with decision-making but take pride in your preferences as individual choice solidifies purpose and hones personality. As you immerse yourself more regularly in what you like, your endorphin levels will go up, as well as your self-confidence.

We can stagnate in situations that we think are correct due to an enforced perception of conformity (based on societal beliefs etc) when it is ultimately detrimental.  I have had a variety of chapters in my own life that upon review are quite removed from the person and the situation I am in now. But that’s life! There is no prescribed course of living, only the LIVING part will let you see how it unfolds. So the less time you spend seeking approval for what you actually want to do, the more time you can actually enjoy doing it.

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