My one-resolution New Year

new-year-2015

Silk’s Post #114 — It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the mistletoe … the eggnog … the gift giving … the fond embrace of family and friends … the endless turkey sandwiches … or watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square (does anyone still do that anymore, now that Dick Clark has gone to that great Dance Party in the sky?).

No, I’m referring to that last item on your seasonal “to-do” list: coming up with all the ways you’re going to be a better, fitter, smarter, thinner, more productive, kinder, better organized person next year than you feel you were this year. Statistically, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while 38% absolutely never make them. Sadly, the percentage of those who actually achieve a resolution declines with age. Apparently, 39% of twenty-somethings report success, while only 14% of people over 50 stick to their their promise. So a lot of us are starting from behind.

Now, I expect you’re staying awake at night thinking up your 2015 New Year’s resolutions. No? Perhaps you’re quite happy with yourself in every single way and can’t think of a thing to improve? Ha ha – that was a good one, wasn’t it? Or maybe you’ve given up the resolution game after making and breaking so many of them over the years?

That’s completely understandable.

I admit to being a resolution avoider myself.

It happened to me gradually over a lifetime, as the very same resolutions came up on my list year after year after year. None of them, frankly, ever got crossed-off for good. Eventually I realized I was renewing my resolve every year to become somebody else altogether: a svelte, athletic, helpful, self-disciplined, wise, cheerful, sweet-tempered, energetic person who finds time to do everything from running a business, to reading a book a week, to cooking gourmet meals, to travelling the world, to writing a bestseller or two every year. Talk about overreach. Of course, this fantasy goddess never materialized and the old me has remained firmly in place.

This year, though, I am going to make a resolution. Just one.

According to the US government (and who knew they were keeping track of such things), the most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Here are the most popular resolutions according to Uncle Sam:

Uncle Sam’s List of Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Lose weight
  2. Volunteer to help others
  3. Quit smoking
  4. Get a better education
  5. Get a better job
  6. Save money
  7. Get fit
  8. Eat healthy food
  9. Manage stress
  10. Manage debt
  11. Take a trip
  12. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  13. Drink less alcohol

My inner skeptic took a look at this list and rolled her eyes. Are these really the most popular resolutions, or are they the ones Uncle Sam hopes people will pursue? Statistic Brain, which is candy store for fact checkers run by eager number geeks, at least cites a source for their top ten resolutions list (research published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology):

Actual Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions in 2014

  1. Lose weight
  2. Getting organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Staying fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

Okay, that sounds more realistic. These two lists only share five items, with “lose weight” as the unsurprising frontrunner (no wonder weight loss is a $60 billion industry). What is surprising here is the resolution to “fall in love”, something I never expected to see on a list with items like “quit smoking” (mind you, the online matchmaking industry is now up to $2 billion and growing passionately).

But what about writers? Our list of New Year’s resolutions won’t look like normal people’s. To be a writer is to struggle with a long list of perennial challenges that test one’s confidence, resolve, stamina, organizational skills, discipline, creativity, time management, relationships, imagination, ability to self-edit … oh, I could go on. And on. And on.

Many lists of New Year’s resolutions for writers have been proffered, all offering useful advice to be sure. Writer Unboxed does a list every year, including Even More New Year’s Resolutions for Writers (December 2014) by Keith Cronin. Jeff Goins offered 13 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers in 2012 on his writing blog. Even About.com published Top 10 Resolutions for Writers by Ginny Wiehardt in its fiction writing career section. And the prize for the longest list – the War and Peace of resolutions, if you will – goes to Word Counter Blog, which last year weighed in with 30 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers by Jennifer Derrick. Culling from them all, here is a solid list to consider:

One Dozen Curated Resolutions for Writers

  1. Stop procrastinating
  2. Read more
  3. Get organized
  4. Do your research
  5. Show up consistently
  6. Write from the heart
  7. Try something new
  8. Have more fun
  9. Stop beating yourself up
  10. Stop comparing yourself to others
  11. Finish what you start
  12. Submit what you finish

Of course, you’ve been hearing (and reading, and thinking about, and trying to follow) all these bits of good advice since the day you sat down at a keyboard. Nothing new here – simply the basics of good writing work habits.

But making glib resolutions is easier than achieving highly disciplined work habits. Each one of these writing goals is a hill to climb. Some of them, depending on your own nature, have mountainous proportions. And they don’t come with road maps or instruction manuals.

Take procrastination, for instance – one of my own deadly sins. Three months back, I blogged Wasting away in Mañanaville, in which I complained about typically meaningless and shallow advice on how to “cure” procrastination:

… the old “boot strap” saw is neither an explanation, nor a very useful prescription. Saying that procrastination can be stopped by having more self-discipline is like saying that rain can be stopped by having less water fall from the sky.

I posted a link to it in the Books and Writers group on LinkedIn. Last time I checked, there were well over 1,000 comments, so it must have hit a pretty deep nerve out there in writer land. If it were simple to acquire excellent writing work habits by simply summoning the will power to follow a few resolutions, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. It would be as simple as telling yourself “just do it”. There. It’s a wrap. Let’s move on.

So … if you’ve stuck with me this far (thanks, by the way), you’re probably wondering what in the hell my one, single New Year’s resolution is going to be. Is it, irony of ironies, “just do it?” Certainly not. That would be a story with a cheap trick for an ending.

My New Year’s resolution this year is about as simple as it gets, but I think it actually covers each and every piece of writing (and living) advice I’ve ever received. More than that, it provides the pathway for how to achieve success.

Sound impossible? Like magic? Well, I think it’s all in your head. And mine.

My resolution is: I will be mindful about everything I do.

I’ll think about how I spend my time, and invest it deliberately in the things I care most about. In my case, that automatically means spending more time writing and reading – and a lot less time on all the other meaningless distractions I allow to lure me into wasting precious hours.

I’ll think about how I feed and care for my body, and give it the respect (and extra help) it needs, and deserves, to stay healthy for as long as I can make it last.

I’ll think about how I nurture my mind and soul, to keep my thinking sharp, hone my curiosity, give oxygen to my creative spark, and deepen my appreciation of life.

I’ll think about how I treat my world and the people in it – the people and other living things that I cherish but too often take for granted.

This resolution is all about being more “present” (as Paula eloquently wrote about last week), more focused, more grateful, and more joyful. It’s not a prescription for what to do or how to do it. It’s more of a reminder to make everything count, to embrace life with purpose and not fritter away the gifts of time, health and relationships.

Simply think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what will come of it (good or bad), on every occasion you have a choice to make. All the time.   

If, minute by minute, you listen to your head and your heart – your best, mindful self – I believe you’re going to make better choices with less conflict and angst. Progress toward your true goals – goals you have purposefully chosen for yourself rather than assumed out of duty, or picked up randomly like a stray pet – will follow naturally.

Ambitious? Yes.

Idealistic? Undoubtedly.

Happy 2015 to all. I hope your year shines.

 

Top 10 ways to spend 2014

Dawn of 2014, Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island

Dawn of 2014, Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island

Silk’s Post #67 —  Like my 5writer friends, and apparently many other bloggers I read, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. And yet here we all are making lists that we take pains to describe as “not resolutions.”

I think this whole concept of a picking a random day – January first – to represent a kind of annual life re-set button must be pretty powerful. The urge to look in the mirror, critique ourselves, and vow to change what we aren’t satisfied with (there’s always something, isn’t there?) seems to be built in to our DNA. I think we all long for renewal of the spirit, a fresh start.

You might suppose we’re just following traditions established by a thousands-of-years-old agrarian calendar. A ritual to chase the shadows from a long winter’s night. If that were the case, though, we’d start the “new year” on the day after winter solstice, when lifegiving daylight hours begin to lengthen again, by a few minutes each dawn. But I think there’s something more going on here.

The universe may run on in an endless cycle, but people do not. Our time on Earth is finite, and perhaps that’s taught us to measure things. One of the first things we teach children is how to tell time. After all, we only have so much of it, and the only thing we really have control of in this world is how we spend it.

Maybe that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions evaporate so quickly. We make wish lists of ideals with a sense of wild optimism about what we can change through sheer willpower. “Love is all you need” is a beautiful truth, but it doesn’t really help you lose weight. Believe me. If it did, there would be a lot more svelte women.

Everything we achieve has a cost, and the only real currency we have in life to pay for these things is time, attention and energy. These are in our control, if we’re lucky. Other things, not so much. We pay attention. We spend time. We expend energy. But they’re all finite – we have only so much of them. Every year I become more aware of this.

What we choose to do with this capital defines our lives. This may seem ridiculously self-evident, but knowing something intellectually, and feeling it in your bones, are two entirely different things. I’m finally ‘getting’ how critical it is to invest in the things that are truly important to me. It makes me want to kick myself when I think of how much of this capital I’ve blown over the years on the penny candy of wasted time, mindless distractions, hopeless or unworthy causes.

All the things that make us human – feelings and thoughts, creativity and passion, courage and curiosity, imagination and resolve, strength and compassion – amount to nothing but intent if we don’t give them shape and substance by investing the time, attention and energy to put them into action. In other words, wishing doesn’t make things happen.

Still with me? Sorry for the somewhat dark digression. But after my long philosophical side trip I’m back, full circle, to New Year’s resolutions.

My new theory about fresh starts is that it’s best to to free them from the dictatorship of measured goals. My new goals are measured in mindfulness.

I know, I know. I can hear the groans of the 1000-words-a-day people, the lose-20-pounds-by-summer people, the closet-cleaners, the strategists and the strivers among you. I can hear myself screaming … Nooo-o-o-o-o! … and feel my head rotating 360 degrees while my eyeballs pop out of my skull. I NEED GOALS! I get nothing done without a goal! What kind of blasphemy is this, anyway?

It’s true. We all need goals, and I’m not planning to skip off into a field of daisies without a destination. But I want to set a different kind of goal – one that helps me invest my time, attention and energy in the right direction … without defining the outcome in quantified, pass/fail terms. You’ve heard of yo-yo dieting? It’s got a lot in common with broken New Year’s resolutions. So if I have one “resolution” this year, it’s that I don’t want to spend my time anymore on yo-yo anything.

Here’s my top 10 list of things I want to invest more time, attention and energy into in 2014. I don’t know what will come of it or where it will take me, but I expect I’ll encounter, and hopefully achieve, some goals along the way that have been on my list for a long time. I may even find some new ones. Who knows? What I’m sure of, though, is that I won’t be wasting my capital.

1. My head

I want to learn some new stuff. Listen more and talk less. Read. Study. Fill boredom with challenge instead of escape. Get out of my comfort zone more often. As Elon Musk recommends: “just sit and think until my brain hurts.”

2. People

I want to be a better friend, partner, colleague, citizen. Pay more attention to people I care about. Give them my time. Get to know more, and more about, people outside my own orbit. Do something to help make this a civil, healthy, hopeful, peaceful society. Do something generous that no one will ever know about.

3. Nature

I want to spend more time out in it. Let it do its magic in my soul. Take care of it better.

4. My heart

I want to look into it again, the way I used to when I was young and every heartbeat rang in my ears. Open the boxes and bins that haven’t been seen in years. Tend to the sore spots, shine a light in the dark spots, wake up my sense of joy.

5. My health

That thing I said about people? I’m one of those people I want to be a better friend to. Take care of. Spend more energy on. Be more mindful of. Be generous to.

6. My work

I want to re-learn the discipline that drove me through 35 years of hard work on behalf of others, and apply it to hard work on behalf of me. I’ve earned that. To write because I love to write. It’s a calling. Period.

7. My stuff

I want to honour the icons that matter, value and take loving care of the things I choose to surround myself with, and unburden myself of the lifetime of meaningless debris I’ve accumulated. Give some things away. Polish other things. Let nothing I own, own me.

8. My soul

I want to remember it’s there – that spiritual being inside – and get to know it again. Souls need a lot of attention, like any living, growing thing. I need to fertilize mine. And water it more.

9. My artist

I want to free my inner artist from the bonds of daily practicality. Listen to her when she insists that functionality is insufficient. Live more creatively. Pay attention to beauty. Make things with my hands. Embellish. Sing. Knit. Paint. Imagine.

10. My sense of occasion

I want to make more moments special. Observe rituals that feed the heart and the memory.  Pay attention to fun. Bake cakes. Wrap presents prettily. Make somethings out of nothings. Laugh more. Remember how to celebrate. Take play more seriously.

Happy New Year everyone!