New Year’s resolutions are terrible, try themes instead. I’m making 2019 my Year of Calm (don’t laugh).
Thematic = pragmatic
One of my favourite podcasts, Cortex, put me onto the idea of yearly themes.
New Year’s resolutions, the hosts say, are basically garbage. They’re usually vague and almost always abandoned.
I have to agree.
I like the idea of having an objective goal – produce X articles, get to work before 9am Y% of the time – but I’ve never attached them to the New Year (with the exception of quitting smoking, which I managed with the help of a two-day hangover in very early 2013).
Most resolutions are uselessly vague. “Go to the gym more”; “eat healthily”; “work harder”.
When they’re clearly not happening (due to no processes being planned or implemented), the failure is disheartening.
Better, it seems, to name the year and try to steer your actions in the general direction. To take the above examples:
- The Year of Fitness
- The Year of Good Food
- The Year of Productivity
Although a ‘theme’ is even more nebulous, that’s to its benefit. It’s crossed a line. You can’t really fail at a theme, so there’s no excuse to throw your hands up in defeat. You just keep it in the back of your mind as you make choices.
If, at the end of the year (or quarter, if you like progress reports), you can look back and think “huh, I didn’t do so well at that,” then it’s pretty easy to start evaluating why. This can help you decide on your theme for the next year.
Also, it just sounds cooler, right? Pratchett-esque. The Year of the Revolving Tortoise.
I first thought I’d call 2019 The Year of Productivity.
It’s still an aim of mine to transform “being busy” into “being productive” – and I might even use it as a sub-theme (uh oh, here’s one of the issues: categorisation > doing stuff).
However, if I try to identify a thread that runs through the negative areas of my life – lateness, cycling through half-finished tasks, boiling over with frustration – it is a lack of calm and clarity.
Believe it or not, I’ve even found a way to connect this to the puppy. She’s so great, you guys. Did I mention?
The benefits of being calm have been forced upon me since reading The Dog Listener (if you’re a dog owner I seriously recommend it).
In a nutshell, the author advocates usurping the role of ‘alpha’ in your little pack by being quiet, calm, consistent, serene – aloof, even. A bloodless, silent coup.
This has the desirous side-effect of calming the dog down as she is released from the stress of leadership. As Luna is a major source of my less-than-calm moments, the benefits have been immediate and twofold.
As you can imagine, ‘being a calm influence’ hasn’t come naturally to me.
I’m as highly strung as they come. I flinch at the slightest provocation.
In fact, when I’m in the house alone with Luna, I have to play background noise through my headphones so that I don’t react so obviously to outside stimuli.
And I’ll tell you what, it’s working a treat. The dog’s calmer, I’m calmer and Joe, who’s always been obnoxiously calm, is enjoying the quiet.
It’s not just for the dog that I want to calm down. I think my endless ability to become flustered and frustrated is seriously harming my progress with ADHD symptoms.
Although I am now (with medication) more capable of focusing on work and household tasks, it all quickly falls apart if I give into irritation or a need to rush.
I can feel the hot ball of despair growing in my chest as I fail, yet again, to find my headphones, or forget whether I’ve locked the back door, or spend two hours on a dead-end tangent at work, or meet the results of my inconsistent dog training in the form of a chewed up box of gravy (difficult to get out of towels, by the way).
Tears prick at me insistently. I let out a shout, slam my hand on the desk or – unforgivably – yell at the puppy.
The “it’s not fair!” childish sense of injustice at my failings is soothing for, oh, about a millisecond. Then I feel like crap, and everything’s even worse than it was before.
So, I figure I should harness this new, deliberate calm.
At home, it’s easier than it would usually be, because I’m working within a system and seeing the benefits immediately.
I also have to try and make career choices that could emphasise this serenity: from the micro (a real attempt to stick to one task at a time) to the macro (picking work that isn’t going to automatically make me tear my hair out – as I’m job searching, this is a real concern again).
I have no idea how to go about this, really, so I’ll just be adding another layer of consideration to my decisions.
‘Mindfulness’, they call it, although I’m a bit wary of terms that pop up so often on Instagram.
I could think of it more like ‘clarifying the process’. If I take a second to try and view my problem through a filter of detachment, I’m more likely to be able to identify the next step.
(By the way, I totally realise that this is simply not going to happen a lot of the time. I will genuinely try my best, but I’m not so up my own arse as to imagine I can transform into a tranquil soul by wishing it so.)
In addition to the ‘mindfulness’ (it’s just easier to say), I’ll do 30+ minutes of yoga a week and continue listening to thunderstorm tracks in the evenings.
Mmmm, soothing sky shouting.