What would bear lots of fruit?
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.
I'm writing this on New Year's Eve. 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 neuropsychologist, a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and a New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (in 14 languages), Buddha"s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 25 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 14 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he's been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on CBS, BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine, and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter - Just One Thing - has over 100,000 subscribers and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.