Taking an Inward Journey

by Dr. William “Marty” Martin

Seasons come and go. In most places, the weather changes throughout the year. Engaging with nature reminds us of the rhythms of life. As you reflect on all that you accomplished last year, how will you celebrate and embrace the year ahead?

     Life’s meaning often is based not so much on what is modest, sensible, and realistic, but on significant contributions, worthwhile pursuits, the achievement of goals, and the fulfillment of our aspirations. In the year ahead, resist the temptation to frenetically rush through each season ticking off each completed task on your to-do list. Instead, pause to look inward and reflect upon these three questions:

  1. How did I honor my commitments to myself and others last year
  2. What did I do to serve others including but not limited to loved ones, friends, and colleagues?
  3. Will this be the year when I hop off the treadmill of habit and routine and do something novel, a bit different, or perhaps even truly meaningful?

Let’s dive into each of these three questions on your journey to be intentional about what 2019 has to offer for you and others.

Honoring Our Commitments

     Looking back on what we have accomplished and what commitments we made to others, we often are left with a mix of feelings. These feelings can range from contentment to guilt. If we have honored our commitments, then we rightfully “pat ourselves on the back.” But if we fail to honor our commitments, it may be for two reasons.

     First, we may have been a bit too ambitious. Second, it may not have been a genuine commitment. Perhaps, out of anxiety, fear, guilt or lack of assertiveness, we didn’t allow ourselves to say “No” to a commitment that others sought to impose upon us. Maybe others sought to hold us accountable for commitments we never made and therefore had no intent of honoring. This year, resolve to distinguish between commitments and complaints. And resolve to courageously stand up for yourself and say any of the following when being pressured to commit:

  • “Not now.”
  • “I’d love to but can’t.”
  • “This does not align with my life and goals right now.”
  • “Sorry but this is something that is not possible for me at this point in my life.”

     Upon using any of the responses suggested above, will you be pressured to defend your point of view? Probably. Resolve to understand that saying “YES” to yourself and your priorities often means saying “NO” to others.

Serving Others

      Serving others is just part of who are as humans. We are social beings. We make and maintain connections for a variety of reasons ranging from providing comfort to others to climbing the corporate ladder.

     The scientific evidence is clear that volunteering benefits both the recipient of the volunteering efforts and the volunteer. Why? When we volunteer and care for others, we release oxytocin, which is affectionately known as the “cuddle chemical.”

     Feeling fulfilled can enable you to experience wealth that is much greater than the balance on your retirement or investment account statement. To be clear, of course, money makes a difference in our lives…a positive difference. Yet, money does not trigger the “cuddle chemical” as humanity can. As you look forward to 2019, does your investment plan include serving others in a caring fashion? The returns on such investments are all but guaranteed and known to be positive for you and others.

Designing Your Life

     What do you want to accomplish in this year? What single goal, mission, or cause will make the most difference in your life? What is the first step you must take on your journey?

     Designing the life you aspire to and deserve involves planning 5, 10, and 20 years from now. But to experience a sense of achievement and celebrate accomplishments, it is essential to make incremental progress within a shorter time frame—such as a year. In 2019, try not to simply roll forward your life’s to-do list from last year.

     As an alternative, engage in what some accountants call “zero based” budgeting. In a nutshell, zero-based budgeting is akin to beginning with a tabula rasa (a blank space) and then defining your goals and aspirations as if last year did not exist. If you are like many individuals who challenge themselves to begin in this manner, you will experience initiating a new beginning as refreshing and liberating.

     Should you do decide to continue working on goals and aspirations from last year, this is OK, too. But you have at least not done so reflexively, but by choice and having made a conscious decision.

     Don’t forget to be grateful for all that you have and to view the world as a source of abundance and not scarcity. Remember that when you look at the world through a lens of abundance, there is always cause for optimism and hope. When you look at the world through a lens of scarcity, there is pessimism, strained realism, and some level of apprehension and loss.

     As we stand at the precipice of the new year and look ahead, dedicate yourself to setting aside time to reflect. Be intentional about how you spend your time, energy, money, and other resources for the next 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,600 minutes, and 31,536,00 seconds.



Marty Martin, PsyD, is a Psychologist in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm. 

Email him at: info@theplanningcenter.com.