Seven Gifts to Yourself and Others This Winter Solstice
Winter is coming. The marking for this seasonal change is the winter solstice, which for the Northern Hemisphere occurs on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at 10:59 a.m. EST (which, naturally, marks the summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere).
As the Earth tilts the furthest from the Sun, we remain firmly grounded (isn’t gravity wonderful?). Or so goes the challenge of the holidays, as the desired joy of friends and family come up against the disruptions in diet and sleep routines, and stresses of preparations, expectations, and COVID. The result is that our footing becomes less certain, and the wet, cold, and dark of winter feels more wet, more cold, and more dark.
Yet the one silver lining to the start of winter is that the days start to get longer. To celebrate the coming six months of increasing daylight (until the Summer Solstice) we offer Seven Winter Survival Suggestions:
1. Step Outside. Literally.
The famous maxim, “there is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothes” – while sounding like a slogan for outdoor equipment and clothier, REI -- has its roots in Scandinavia. The hidden message: go outside!
The invitation is to venture outdoors for a walk or run – dressed appropriately, of course -- and take in the world around you: the moisture in the air, the wind in your face, the cold in your fingers and toes. Maybe take a companion or two. You may be surprised what you find, as you breathe in winter.
2. Step Outside. Figuratively.
Our world often becomes a repetitive loop of things we know. We read the same articles; watch the same shows; eat the same food. Our patterns are reinforced by algorithms, comfort, and choice (or lack thereof). Confirmation bias is a term from cognitive psychology that captures people’s tendency to favor information that confirms their previously existing beliefs. Has the ship already sailed, or do we have the capacity to break the repetitive cycle?
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” shares the view that people have the capability to change, and are not rooted in preconceived notions of natural abilities and “God-given talent.” People with a “Fixed Mindset” generally believe their abilities are set in stone. Ms. Dweck’s research shows that brains and talent are only the starting points; dedication and hard work then take over to propel a person to a lifetime of discovery, resilience, and learning. Those with a “Growth Mindset” are willing to take chances and make mistakes, whereas those with the Fixed Mindset focus on reinforcement, and are more judgmental of self and others in their approach to tasks and to life.
By stepping outside of pre-conceived notions, each of us have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective – and experience ourselves in ways never before considered. Heck, you may find yourself enjoying pakoras or lobia daal for the very first time!
Or dance. Or do something completely outside of your normal pattern which you have always wanted to try. And if you fail spectacularly at it – celebrate (channeling the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite her terrible singing voice). And if you succeed – celebrate. Regardless of the outcome, you may find that you are on your way to adding a new piece to your daily routine – one which before you never thought possible – and dang, aren’t you having fun!
4. Give yourself an A.
The Art of Possibility, a transformational book by therapist and coach Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic conductor Ben Zander, offers a number of practices to bring creativity into everyday life.
One practice starts by giving yourself an A.
“You can give an A to anyone in any walk of life – to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team and to the drivers in traffic,” the Zanders write.
In practice, Ben Zander, as instructor at the New England Conservatory, found many of his students anxious and reluctant to take risks in their performance. To combat this way of thinking, Ben gave every student an A at the beginning of the course.
To retain this grade, each student had to write a letter as if the term had ended, to explain what they had achieved during the school year to merit the A. Ben was particularly interested in the student’s description of the kind of person he or she had become.
“The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibilities,” the Zanders write. “This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
Imagine the world if you and those around you started each day with an A.
5. Develop Good Hibernation Skills (aka, Teach a Child to Save 10%).
For some animals, a fruitful winter depends on successfully eating and storing food for the coming cold. This same preparation offers one of the most valuable money lessons to impart on children: save early in life, invest, and take advantage of compounding interest -- where not only your money makes money, but the growth on your savings makes money, too. Your children will find the winter of their lives so much more rewarding as a result.
The Richest Man in Babylon is a 1926 classic by George S. Clason, known for its brevity and its parable approach to teaching money lessons. One of its first pieces of wisdom should be standard advice for all parents to their children: save 10% of whatever you earn. The concept of “paying yourself first” is fundamental to long-term security and wealth building.
6. Be Better Next Year. Or Today.
This is where the rubber meets the road, and where you commit yourself to something for the future. This may mean simply doing a better job at whatever you have chosen to do – at work, in school, at home.
Some people make the world a better place simply by being who they are. We all know these people – we just feel better when we are around them. Maybe you can be one of them. As people get older, more and more they look to others and the community for connection and validation. We are not alone in this world. We are called to continue to revisit our lives to be better and to renew our zeal for all that is around us.
The road to greatness is not always easy. The ability to stay the course, to remain centered on values and mission, are courageous acts. It is so easy to be seduced by the comfortable, by the devil we know; to be liked by others, to please. Yet, once we begin to settle for less, we lose our sense of direction and our essence. This applies to our personal and professional lives.
The value of life is not in life itself, but in how we choose to live. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, what do we see? What are we tolerating? Where do we compromise, and where are we settling for too little? This is not intended to be an indictment of the choices we have each made -- perhaps you are content where you are, with the life you are leading. Consider the words of Jim Collins: "Good is the enemy of great." And why not choose to be great?
At the end of the day, life is about so much more than the return on our investments. Money can only take us so far; fame and beauty are often fleeting.
Everyone's favorite oracle, Warren Buffett, has even entered into the discussion on how he now sees the world of love: "When you get to my age, you'll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them…
"The trouble with love is that you can't buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. You can buy pamphlets that say how wonderful you are. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It's very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love. But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get."
Perhaps the answer here is to live each day with an open mind and open heart, willing to experience all the beauties and tragedies that life brings. Enjoy the holidays and the winter, and celebrate each day and each other!