January. For those of us following the Gregorian calendar, it is the month named in honor of the Roman divinity, Janus. Janus’s portfolio includes transitions; and the ending and beginnings that are components of transitions. As a result, doorways are often auspicious places to find favor with Janus. Notably, his portraits show him as two-faced, as he looks forward and backward.
The English concept of two-faced has a different origin, although you’ll find claims otherwise. In medieval England, a person under a hooded cloak could use the veil to present one face to the left and another face to the right. To the Romans, two-faced was positive. Janus used his two-faces to double our awareness rather than to half it. Janus points us to a rich engagement with being. We don’t live solely in the moment, but are ever in transition between what has been and what will be. Janus then is our exemplar for our January 1st sense of endings and beginnings, our reflecting back and our anticipating what’s to come. Therefore, here’s some cognitive support to those of you with New Year’s resolutions or, as is trending, using the month to eschew a behavior or to try one out. (What’s new is old. The culture of my childhood offered Advent and Lent as containers for this practice, as do cultures worldwide. What’s yours?) Endings and Beginnings To have time, attention, and energy to start something, what’s making room for the new? Going to the gym? What are you doing now that won’t happen if you use that time differently? What’s the opportunity cost of those lost activities? If the cost of the lost activities is higher than the gain of your workout, you won’t sustain it. Fasting or going dry? These are going to tax your resilience, which is fueled by attention and energy. The attention and energy burned by resisting the impulse won’t be available elsewhere. The opportunity cost in the short run will likely be returned over the long term, so you’ll need to turn your face forward during the payment times. Looking Forward and Looking Back As humans, we experience time in three cognitive positions: anticipation, activation, reflection. Our perception of time is a sloppy mix of anticipating the future, and reflecting on the past, while engaging the moment. You may be reading with thoughts of your next appointment and memories of auld lang syne floating passed your exegesis of this text. As we bring our anticipation, activation, and reflection into conscious alignment, we move toward kairos, the optimum thing at the optimum time. Here’s a first step to bring these positions into conscious alignment. Task Period Identify a thing you are trying to do. Identify the optimum time you think you can do it. Those are your task and task period. Anticipation A day before the task period, try to imagine your future self engaging the task. First, imagine yourself entering the space of work. Note from where you’re coming. How do you feel about your previous activity? What’s your energy level? What’s your level of optimism for the task? What will success look like for this task? Envision who will evaluate the product of this task What will compete for your attention? How are you defending your time, attention, and energy? Activation When the task period arrives, log what actually happens. Maybe you engage the task as planned. Maybe the fire alarm went off (or a metaphorical fire alarm) and the task period became something else. Monitor your level of engagement. Be aware of its ebb and flow. Note what raises your energy and what depletes it. It’s not success or failure: it’s what happened. Reflection This is where the learning happens. You had an anticipation, you had what activated. No matter what you anticipated, was what you activated the optimum thing at that time? If it wasn’t what you anticipated, can you learn something to make better predictions? You may find this worksheet helpful. Here’s to 2020. Make it a good one.