new year

It’s that time of year where we reflect on the year that was (oh boy) and make plans and goals for the year to come. The implication is that the new year will be bigger and better than ever before. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, of course, so long as we realize that life is uncertain and anything can happen. We’ll simply have to roll with whatever comes.

In her fabulous book, The Confidence Game (about the psychology behind con artists), Maria Konnikova cites a 1988 study out of UCLA (Shelley Taylor).

“Humans have a strong bias toward misperceiving the world. We don’t just think ourselves exceptional. Rather, we predict our lives will always go well —better than before even. We are programmed, in a sense, to think a bit too positively about how things will turn out — even the things we have no actual control over.” ~ Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game

The Taylor study emphasizes that this bias towards optimism has to do with ourselves, not necessarily in our view of the world. Generally, this turns out to be good for our mental health. It gives us the motivation to make plans and believe in ourselves and we have greater resilience when things don’t go as planned.

However, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t leave us a little disappointed. Most of us give up our resolutions very quickly after the new year begins. I wondered if I could look at the new year a little differently, with optimism yet still realizing that anything can happen and our plans might not be realized as we hoped. A visit to a local winery gave me some ideas.

Pearl Morissette Winery

I live in a wine area – Niagara, Ontario Canada – where the grape farmers and winemakers have to deal with very unpredictable weather. Recently, we visited a small, excellent producer of wine in this area – Pearl Morissette. The tasting experience was exceptional. Melissa, our host, focused on the vintages (year produced) rather than the varietal (type of grape). We tasted two chardonnays, each a year apart and they couldn’t have been more different. She explained that at this winery, they didn’t speak in terms of good or bad years, rather that each year was “different.” The winemaker responds to whatever the climate brings. His job is to allow the grapes to best express themselves for that particular year.

“Like any craft, a great discipline is knowing when to do nothing at all. With this in mind, we remain very hands-off with low levels of intervention. Our job is to guide the wine as opposed to fixing the wine. Our grapes are carefully hand-picked solely on the basis of skin maturity. This approach enables each grape to impart its unique character in every glass.” ~ Pearl Morissette Winery

How can we apply this thinking to our new year to come?

Think back over the past year and make a list of all of the unexpected or unplanned things that happened that affected your life? What did you do with them? How did you adapt? Did you wallow in bitterness? Feel like a victim? Did you take some time to pause, be still, and figure out how to respond? Did you adapt to the circumstances and keep moving, albeit in a new direction?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make plans or not be optimistic about our abilities to carry them out. However, we do need to cultivate a mindset of openness and receptivity that will allow us to respond wisely to whatever comes up. It’s quite possible that what will be most transformative in the coming year cannot even be imagined. Rebecca Solnit says it so much better.

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. Three years ago I was giving a workshop in the Rockies. A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” I copied it down, and it has stayed with me since. The student made big transparent photographs of swimmers underwater and hung them from the ceiling with the light shining through them, so that to walk among them was to have the shadows of swimmers travel across your body in a space that itself came to seem aquatic and mysterious. The question she carried struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” ~ Rebecca Solnit via Brain Pickings

Think of the coming year and the plans you are making. Accept that there are many possibilities that could arise as you move forward; some may be opportunities you can’t even imagine. Some might thwart your best laid plans. How will you adapt? Can you look at the new year as full of exciting potential no matter what happens?

How will you bring out the best of you in service to a world that is constantly changing? Make it a vintage year.


Would you like to join us for a year of adventures in seeing? In this private Facebook group (join now), we’ll be doing an exercise a week from the Adventures in Seeing book. You do need the book and FYI, there is a PDF version you can download for $12.99. Or, start your own book group online or at home with photographer friends.


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