Water your fruit tree.
My wife and kids tease me that the title of this practice is corny—and it is. Still, I like it. If you don't nourish the things that nourish you, they wither away like a plant in dry, stony ground.
Looking to the year ahead for you—a year that can begin whenever you want—what's one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?
There is usually one thing—or two or three—that you know in your heart is a key factor in your well-being, functioning, and how you treat others. It's often a seemingly small thing in the rush and complexity of a typical day. It could be getting that 15-minute break each day with a cup of tea and no interruptions or writing in your journal or feeling grateful for three blessings in your life before falling asleep or asking your partner questions about his or her day and really listening or taking your vitamins or eating protein with every meal or getting home in time for dinner with the kids unless you're traveling or getting up an hour earlier each day to start writing that book. It could be finally now making that shift for which your heart has been longing.
For me, one thing that pops off the page is going to bed early enough to get enough sleep plus be able to get up in time to meditate. Doing this sets up my whole day and makes it better.
As you know, most New Year's resolutions are worse than useless: they don't lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them. But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you...well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.
What's on your own short list of the things that would make a big difference for you? Perhaps you, too, would benefit from getting to bed earlier. Or from listening to someone for five minutes or more each day with no expectations. Or from regular exercise, meditation, or prayer. Or from dropping one bad habit, or from picking up that guitar again. Perhaps making art would make a big difference for you, or staying calm with the kids, or finally beginning to spend a few hours each week on starting your new business.
Take a moment to imagine the rewards to you and others if you did this one good thing for yourself tomorrow. How would you feel at the end of the day? What would be the benefits? And then imagine those benefits coming to you and others the day after tomorrow...and the days and weeks and months after that.
Of course, all you can do is tend to the causes; you can't control the results. You can water a fruit tree but you can't make it give you an apple. But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best.
Keep coming back to the feeling of nurturing yourself. It's OK to take care of yourself in this way. Try to feel the warmth for yourself, the strength to gently guide your future self—the one who will be doing this one good thing tomorrow, and the days after that—to keep watering this particular fruit tree.
And know that you can water more than one tree. But it helps to zero in on just one or a few things to focus on for a year.
And then a year from now, looking back to this day, you'll likely be enjoying a beautiful sweet rich harvest.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has numerous audio programs. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, and NPR, and he offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with over 120,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity that anyone with financial need can do for free.