Thursday, 26 January 2017

A New, Simpler Year

So, this comes a bit late as a "New Year's Resolution" type post, as we are already nearly into the second month of 2017. But with the craziness of our holidays I haven't really had the time or space to write down all my thoughts on how I'd like this year to go. I love the start of a new year: looking back on the past 12 months and thinking about how to improve myself over the next 12 months. I know that statistically pretty much no one sticks to their New Year's resolutions, and it's not like something magical happens on January 1st that changes people into the person they've always wanted to be. But even still, I love the sense of a fresh start that you get on 1st January every year.

This year, instead of setting goals such as "I want to run a marathon" or "I want to eat better" as I've done in the past, I'm taking advice from this podcast on purposeful living. The idea is to think of a word or a phrase that acts as a theme for the year. Hopefully this word will be reflected in my daily actions, and can help me to clarify my priorities. The word I've thought that should define 2017 for me is something I've been working on over the past year, but I would like to give it my full focus this year. The word I've chosen to help define my goals and actions in 2017 is SIMPLIFY.

In a nutshell, I want to focus on living more simply and purposefully, through continuing to cultivate a practice of mindfulness. Our lives these days seem ridiculously busy, but I firmly believe that we have more control over this than we think, and we choose how busy we are. I really enjoyed this TED Talk by Laura Vanderkam on gaining control of your free time. One of her points I totally agree with is that when you say you don't have time for something, what you are really saying is that it is not a priority for you. People always find a way to make time for the things that are truly priorities. Living a more simple life, with less "stuff" (both material items and "things to do" in the schedule) means that you have more time to give to your priorities. 

One other piece of advice Vanderkam gives in her talk is to think about the start of next year. What would you like to say your year was like? (Or at work, what would your performance review say about you next year?) This is an excellent way to really define what is important to you, so that you can choose how to spend your time. I don't think that next year, when I look back at my year, I'll be happy if my biggest accomplishments are how many posts I put on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat or that I watched all of the hot new TV shows on Netflix. So maybe I need to re-evaluate how much time I give to these activities, seeing as I wouldn't like to think of them as my top priorities!

My biggest motivation for wanting to simplify my life is Ella. I don't want to feel like my life is too "busy" that I can't enjoy just sitting on the floor and playing with her. She is already 18 months old and changes so much every day. I want to make sure that the time I am spending with Ella is quality time, where I am living in the present, and free of thoughts like "I need to get x, y and z done". Because surely whatever x, y and z are, they are not more important than spending time with my child.

So living simply, for me, is firstly about choosing to be less busy, and making an effort to ensure I am spending my time doing things that are important to me. It is also about trying to consume less. Last year I  read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, and it inspired me to examine my possessions in a new light. Kondo claims that if you use her method of tidying, the "KonMari" method, you will forever live in a place surrounded by things that bring you joy and you will never have to tidy again. Sounds like bliss. However, the KonMari method is pretty brutal, and basically you have to examine every item that you own, and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If the answer is no, or if you even hesitate to say yes, then it means you have to get rid of it. I did a pretty ruthless job of KonMari-ing my clothes after reading her book, though I know there are still items in my wardrobe that don't really bring me joy, but I still have an inexplicable attachment to. We also did a good job of getting rid of a lot of our "stuff" before we moved a few months ago. It's all a work in progress. And I still have to work on not making impulse purchases, especially when it comes to things for Ella! 

I think that practicing meditation and mindfulness can help with both of these aspects of living simply. When we are being mindful we are better at making decisions and that is at the heart transitioning towards a more simple life. In the spirit of simplifying my meditation practice, I've been doing a very short meditation every morning as soon as I wake up. I recently read this book by Leo Babauta on developing habits, and he talks a lot about mindfulness as a way to get over the resistance we have to developing new, good habits. Some of the advice that really resonated with me was to start out with a really simple (theme!) habit, and that consistency is key. So, to develop a habit of meditating daily, it is better to spend just a few minutes every day meditating, rather than doing a half hour meditation once a month or something. I started by doing just two minutes, because there was just no way I could tell myself that I didn't have time to meditate for two minutes in the morning! I've been gradually building on this time, but Babauta advises not to add on more time until the habit you are developing has actually become just that, a habit. Something you do automatically without really thinking about. If you try to do too much too quickly, it is easy to find excuses as to why you don't have time for your habit, and failure in creating the habit will be highly likely. 

And so, there you have it, my theme for 2017. I'm looking forward to trying to put this into practice in all aspects of my life, especially as the summer holidays come and I we start back into the routine of working for another school year. 

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