“Last year a foolish monk, this year, no change.” – Ryokan
I think that is the point. How do we practice within circumstances and conditions that may not change as quickly as we like or change without us having a sense of control? Do I really need to change to feel happy, at peace and live a life of meaning? Maybe there is something to aspiring to be that foolish monk. As we enter this season of resolutions and new beginnings, I thought I’d walk you through my plan for feeling the way I want to more often in 2018.
Entering 2017, my teacher, Jonathan Foust asked, “How do you want to feel at the end of the year?“ My response was to feel relaxed, to feel confident, and to feel connected. Another question Jonathan likes to ask is, “What is between you and feel free?” or in my case, “What is between you and feeling relaxed, confident and connected?” My responses should sound familiar to you because they are human: uncertainty, doubt, fear, anger, frustration and overwhelm. Each of these reflect my mind declaring that something is wrong and I need to do something about it, the stress response. But do I? When I’m actively taking care of myself, I cultivate a clarity that recognizes when I’m caught and reminds me that it isn’t the end of the world. So this year is going to be all about self-care.
Relaxation, confidence and connection are states, not traits. Just like with happiness, sadness, fear, and joy, they are impermanent. Here one moment, gone the next. So the task becomes, how can I develop practices and habits that incline me towards these states so that they arise more frequently and for longer periods of time? I’ll start with some principles in identifying these practices: Heart, Simplicity, and Accountability
Heart – Does what I’m doing have heart?
One of my favorite practices when I am very busy is to take my to-do list, which is crammed with 30, 40 or 50 absolute “must dos,” and consider one question: Does it have heart? The answer for most of my everyday tasks is a resounding no. So I’m planning to put them on the back burner. Certain things just might not get done. There are, however, several things that I do regularly – meditating, exercising and creating – that represent self-care and definitely have a lot of heart.
Simplicity – How can I simplify what I’m doing?
I have a tendency to equate busyness with accomplishment. So I create unnecessarily complex plans and goals for myself (which also drive my wife a bit crazy when it involves family vacations). Looking back to my year in review for 2016, I listed 12 intentions and 8 goals. It almost feels like it was written by my inner critic because I wasn’t setting myself up for success. So instead, I’ll have a simple scoreboard. I’ll know if I’m on track each day by monitoring just three simple datapoints.
Accountability – Who will keep me on track when motivation fails me?
I do not like to admit failure. Its one of the shortcomings of a perfectionist. I’ve taught habit building to both adults and adolescents and the biggest point of resistance comes when I introduce the concept of accountability partners. This is someone who you check in with and can support you when motivation is lagging. But it can also be a powerful tool, to keep you doing what you said you’d do and also adjust as you progress. So keep an eye on me Jim, Ryan, John, and Thom!
20/20/20 in 2018
So here’s what I’m planning for 2018. I’m calling it 20/20/20 and I think it follows the principles I listed above of heart, simplicity and accountability. Further, it brings me closer to the states of feeling relaxed, confident and connected. It is all about self-care. Each day, I will take three 20 minute periods of “single-tasking” one of five activities. My choices are meditating, exercising, stretching, reading and journaling. During this time, I’ll only be “doing what I’m doing.” No headphones, no internet, no distractions. I’m going to carve out space so I’m not moving right from one of these tasks to jumping in the car or rushing through my day. And to keep me accountable, I’m telling you! I’ve published a tool I’m using to track my progress so you can publicly shame me if I get off track! I even let you comment on it! Heck, I’d love you to check it out but I’d be even more thrilled if you’d join me with some intentions of your own. Let me know and I’ll add you.
With this plan in place, there is one final piece, self-compassion. I’m not always gonna get the job done. But with self-compassion, I can recognize that if it was easy, I’d already be doing it. I’m doing my best in this moment and my next step is to get right back on the horse, to create an identity of not missing back-to-back days.
In The Creative Task Of Performing One’s Life, Michael Stone suggests that mindful living helps you “hear what your life has to say to you.” Our heart, mind and body are filled with wisdom and have a lot to say. I’m hoping these practices help me hear more clearly.
If you are still kicking around where you are headed, you might enjoy my recent Center For Self-Care post, 10 Questions To Ask Yourself In 2018.
One of my favorite experts in the area of goals, systems and habits is James Clear. I’ve linked two articles below that changed my perspective on goals, intentions and resolutions that I think you’ll like:
I use Pomodoro Timer Lite for the Android to keep track of time when I’m working on 20/20/20. It is great for creating short times of focused concentration. Finally, I’m reminded that routines work great but sometimes they get thrown for a loop. I wrote about this in Maintaining a practice through vacation, illness and busyness.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that almost everything you read here was introduced to me by my meditation teacher, Jonathan Foust.