I am always fascinated by the New Year’s holiday. Every 365 days people gather to celebrate the turning of the calendar, giving way to a brand new year filled with aspirations. There is one word that I believe encapsulates New Year’s: hope. No matter what happened in the year prior, we are filled with a sense of hope surrounding the upcoming months. We make resolutions, set goals, and create new routines, believing these things will bring whatever it is we’re seeking – happiness, improved health, better relationships, and so on. It also highlights our innate resolve and resiliency. Despite a year filled various struggles, hardships, or setbacks, the new year offers a clean slate, an opportunity to hit the reset button.
Disclaimer: this post will not be a look back on the year 2020. I will not be reflecting on the hard lessons learned, the obstacles overcome, or learning how to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. We all know how unbelievably difficult this year has been and I don’t much care to talk about it in any greater detail. From this point forward you will not see any of the following words or phrases: COVID, quarantine, shutdown, social distancing, masks, “new normal”, pandemic, or any related words. I understand that the calendar turning to 2021 will not magically remove any of those words from everyday conversation in the foreseeable future. However, I am choosing to look ahead at what this year can be. I am choosing to have hope.
For much of the last year my “word”, if you will, has been balance. Essentially, I have been seeking to find balance in my life. Balance between work and personal life. Balance between being active and resting. Balance between extracurricular activities. Balance between investing in relationships and taking time for myself. I constantly found myself telling other people that I was looking to establish balance. So, after nearly 12 months of aspiring to be balanced do I feel that I achieved it? Honestly, not really. Despite so much chatter about balance I don’t feel that I truly found it, at least not to the degree that I was hoping. So what was the issue? What was keeping me from finding this elusive balance?
After some reflection and prayer, I believe I solved this puzzle. I spent too much time talking about balance and not nearly enough time actively working on establishing balance. In my mind, simply talking about balance would miraculously bring about perfect order in every facet of my life. That’s obviously not how it works. If I spent as much time actively making changes in my daily life to establish balance as I did talking about it I may not be writing this post. But in the spirit of New Year’s I am filled with hope as I continue my quest to find balance – this time with a bit more wisdom. It’s time to hit the reset button.
As I started brainstorming ways to implement changes in 2021 I was reminded of a seminar I attended a couple years ago. This seminar covered wellness of the whole person, including aspects that you may be familiar with: mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. But the presenter added a few extra categories: social, financial, occupational, and intellectual. The presenter explained that each facet of our person is crucial to our well being and overall happiness. Focusing too much on one or two facets can detrimental to the others. It’s important to invest in each one, and in doing so, one can find balance.
This seminar served as a springboard as I searched for ways to find balance. I decided to come up with one thing I can do in 2021 that ties in to each aforementioned category. Some are tangible, quantifiable goals that I can easily track. Others are a bit more open ended, without a clear or specific objective. I wanted to come up with actions that were achievable and yet challenging enough to actually make a difference in the upcoming year.
Mental: Complain less
This one would fall under the “open ended” category, as it’s nearly impossible to quantify the number of times I complain throughout the day. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more negative in the way I speak and react to things. More often than not, it’s something small and relatively meaningless that draws my ire. Growing frustrated and annoyed by such small things has started to seep into my overall mindset and how I approach the rest of the day.
My objective with this particular goal is to reframe how I react to miniscule inconveniences. For example, occasionally my Internet may be a little slow when I’m trying to watch a show. Typically I get agitated and angry because all I want to do in that moment is watch TV. Instead of giving into that negative mindset, I’m striving to approach it in totally different way. Instead of complaining, I want to acknowledge how lucky I am to have Internet and a TV.
I can’t recall a single that that complaining resolved an issue. So why do it? I often tell myself that it’s healthy from time to time to vent and let go of pent up frustration. I might feel better immediately following but what I’ve discovered that the frustration and negativity lingers until the next time I need to vent. I want to counteract the complaints with more statements of thanksgiving. I know the inconveniences won’t magically disappear. However, by complaining less I am hoping to recognize that the little blessings in my life far outweigh the negatives.
Physical: Try something new
We continue with yet another open ended objective. I intentionally wanted this one to be non-specific. In many years past my sole New Year’s Resolution was physical in nature: lose weight, run so many miles, exercise five days a week, blah blah blah. Like so many others I would be committed and dedicated for the month of January until inevitably fizzling out. I fell victim to the same thing each time. I got bored. Going to the same gym or running the same roads day in and day out just for the sake of it gets to be so monotonous. This year I want my physical goal to be something exhilarating and, more importantly, fun!
This past year I tried a couple new things that brought me an immense amount of joy: backpacking and disc golf. I talked at length in a previous post about my backpacking endeavour. While I enjoyed it for numerous reasons, one reason in particular was that it challenged me physically. I discovered that I was capable of pushing myself much more than I anticipated. I also got into disc golf. Like, really into disc golf. I found myself playing just about every single weekend in the fall and into the start of winter. I’m not particularly good but it has provided me a fun, active outlet and a way to spend quality time with the friends that I play with.
What new physical activity will I try in 2021? Maybe I’ll try a new sport or join a new team. My best friend Matt and I are talking about possibly running a marathon next fall. Perhaps I’ll do a Tough Mudder. Honestly, I’m not sure what exactly I’ll try, but I’m excited to find out.
Spiritual: Spend at least five minutes a night in silent reflection and prayer
I feel a constant need to always have noise. I am constantly listening to music or watching TV. As soon as I wake up I start listening to music and it continues through the remainder of the morning- in my bedroom, in the bathroom, and in the car. Once I’m at work I instinctively put my headphones in and pick up right where I left off in the car. The drive home is no different than the commute to work. Every second of downtime at home is spent with the TV on, even though 75% of the time I’m not even actively watching anything. I have reached the point where I can’t even fall asleep without the noise and light of the TV in the background (I mean I can but I don’t want to). From the moment I open my eyes to the second I lay my head on the pillow there is the constant presence of noise.
I’ve convinced myself that I need this noise. It serves as necessary distraction amidst the stress of life. Sure, I do find a lot comfort in music and the shows I watch provide me with a lot of stress relief. However, so much noise has become a detriment to my spiritual life. While five minutes may not seem like a long time, it’s an eternity to me without music to track how much time has passed.
Of all of my goals for 2021, this is the one I have gotten a head start on. So far I am pleased to report overwhelmly positive results. Setting aside dedicated time each and every night has been a boon to my prayer life, helping me to feel an incredible sense of peace as I reflect on each day and discover God’s incredible presence throughout. It’s already become a crucial opportunity for me to focus in on the areas of my life in which I need to dedicate more time and attention, as well as acknowledge the many blessings. Most nights I’ll find myself in prayer far longer than the five minute benchmark I set – sometimes as long as 15-20 minutes. That is fine by me.
Emotional: Describe each day in one word
This one goes in tandem with the previous goal. As I spend each night in silent reflection, I intend to look back on my day and determine what word best describes how I’m feeling. Was I happy today? How about grateful, joyful, or inspired? Maybe I was angry, frustrated, or upset. However I’m feeling that particular day, I’m going to sum it up in one word. I’m hoping this serves a multitude of purposes. For starters, I believe it will help me be more mindful of how I’m feeling throughout the day and be more fully present in the moment. I also think it will serve as a unique way to recall certain days and see what kind of trends there may be. If I’m in a funk I can look back at the days I wrote down more positive words to serve as inspiration to get back on track.
Social: Respond to texts and messages within an hour of seeing them
If I’m being honest, this one may very well be the most difficult goal for me to achieve. I have developed the unfortunate (but well earned) reputation of being a bad texter. It’s not that I don’t like talking to my friends and the people in my life. Far from it. But for whatever reason I struggle with maintaining consistent communication. What I often tell people who I have (un)intentionally ignored is A) I totally responded in my head! or B) I really thought I hit send! or C) Oh, I didn’t even see your text! There is a hint of truth in those statements. I do like to take time to craft a response before hitting send. But far too often I let those messages fall by the wayside until eventually enough time passes to where my response wouldn’t even be relevant anymore. In doing so, I feel I am losing out on quality relationship-building momentum.
My goal in being a more responsive texter is simple: I want to be a better friend and family member. I don’t want to give off the impression that I don’t care about or value the people communicating with me. Quite the opposite. I want to be more intentional with my conversations with the important people in my life.
Financial: check my bank account/budget once a week
This one may appear to be one of the more boring or inconsequential goals that I have. However, I think this may be one of the more crucial objectives I have. I feel like I’m at a strange crossroads in my life in which I don’t feel like a full-fledged adult but I’m definitely not a kid anymore. Proof of this is just how little I’ve paid attention to my bank account. I’ve never been a person that is motivated by money or seeking the highest paying job. With that being said, money is a necessary part of life. In the past, I typically check my bank account but once a month, and only to pay the bills. I couldn’t tell anyone how much money I had in my account at any given time or how much I had saved up.
As I’ve been looking ahead to the next phase of life (a house, maybe?) I’ve started to understand that I need to be more fiscally responsible. I believe checking my bank account and creating a consistent budget will help me be more aware of my spending and take more responsibility for preparing for my future as a real adult.
Occupational: ask more questions
This is yet another open ended goal. I am very happy with where I am in my career. I enjoy what I do, and more importantly, I enjoy the people I work with. For once I feel like I’m at a stage where I’m not perpetually looking for a job. With that being said, I don’t want to simply be complacent and content with where I am. If anything, I want to be the best I can be in my position.
One of the things that has held me back in the past is my reluctance to ask questions. I blame this on a couple things. One is my pride. I want to be the one that comes up with the answers and solves the problems on my own. I convince myself I don’t need help. The other is fear. I feel that if I ask too many questions I’ll come across as incompetent or stupid. Unfortunately, my pride and fear have often landed me in situations in which a simple problem has escalated into greater issues.
I also want to better rectify my own limited knowledge and understanding. Asking more questions can only help resolve that. I work with a lot of great people that have a vast array of experience and knowledge. I’ve been doing myself a disservice by not picking their brains and absorbing the many lessons they have learned.
Intellectual: limit my screen time to three hours a day
As I mentioned before, I feel a constant need to have noise. Going hand in hand with that is my need to always my phone in my face. I’m embarrassed with how often I find myself pulling my phone out of my pocket for no reason whatsoever. Once I’m on my phone it’s difficult to get off it. One minute becomes five minutes, which grows into ten minutes, and so on. There are weeks I’m on my phone for an average of over four hours (and sometimes five) a day. I shudder to think how much I have missed out on as my eyes were glued to yet another pointless article or social media post. I believe such a dependance on screen time has stunted my creativity and intellectual capacity.
This is a goal that I think can help just about every other objective I’ve laid out. Spending less time on social media and seeing all the negativity will help me maintain a more positive mindset. Instead of laying on the couch staring at a screen I can better use that time by running or working out. Rather than wasting time and brainpower every night I can instead be more focused on my nightly prayer and reflection. By limiting my screen time throughout the day I can be more aware of what’s going on around me, which can help me more easily come up with a word for the day. I can better utilize my time on my phone by responding to texts and messages. Putting my phone away while working on my budget can help me be more invested in my finances. Instead of scrolling through social media at work I would be much better off coming up with questions for my coworkers so that I can learn more about my craft.
Having eight separate goals running concurrently can, and likely will, be daunting. However, I am eager to see what comes about after implementing each of these changes in my daily life. If anything, simply brainstorming these ideas has been an infusion of motivation heading into the new year. I am ready to hit the reset button and strive to be the best I can be.