20 January 2014

For all the months that breeze by in a wave of momentum, January is one that takes extra effort. It’s the law of inertia – a body in motion wants to stay in motion; a body at rest wants to stay at rest. I hurtle through December like a bullet train, then screech to a stop in relief for the lazy last days of the year. To get things moving again in January I’m puffing like the little engine that could.

We’re vulnerable in January – soft and squishy from the holidays, pensive at the thought of another year passed. But I try to draw comfort from being another year wiser too.

Here’s my little collection of tips for making the most of the new year:

Finding time

We can’t make more time, but we can change our perception of it by keeping things fresh.

When habit kicks in, our minds shut off. Often this is good – we don’t need to re-learn how to brush our teeth every time – but when daily life is too routine, time passes with hardly a notice.

In new situations, our brains and senses flip on excited alert – travel to a new place, and we notice sounds, smells, tastes and sights in a heightened way that we never do with the familiar. A single day in a foreign environment can seem longer than a week of regular life.

More than time, it’s action that defines new chapters in our lives. A long interval with little change can be glossed over in one short chapter. But when we start something new, we begin a separate chapter. All those different stories make for a longer, more interesting read.

So keep things moving. Make plans. Make decisions. Sign up. It’s effort to try new things, go new places, meet new people. But the reward is a life worth remembering.

Finding energy

Where do kids get their boundless source of energy? They have youth, true. But more than that, they have fun.

Fun activities are energy-producing, leaving us more energized than when we began. But much of what we do as adults is energy-draining – work, household chores, obligations.

The adults I know that have an inspiring amount of energy are ones that really love what they do. Outlook helps – my friend Lisa, for example, has a joyful approach to daily life. But for many of us, it takes some effort to schedule fun.

Fun is not my natural take on life – I’m a born worker bee – but bringing back fun a few years ago restored some of my pre-parenthood sanity.

I went back to childhood to remember fun – writing, photography, dance – but it’s different for everyone. For many in California, it’s outdoor activities like running, cycling or tennis. Others may take up a skill they’ve always wanted to pursue, like martial arts, painting or swing dancing. Maybe you resurrect yo-yo, juggling or hula hoop. Or karaoke.

Whatever it is – let go, lose yourself. It will do wonders for your mental health. And give you more energy for the rest of your day.

The same goes for people: some are energy drains, and some are energy givers.

We can’t always avoid the energy-takers; every family and community has some. But remember: what people say, even if it is directed at you, is about them, not you. Their negativity is their problem, not yours.

I feel sorry for those who wallow in darkness, but I have no patience for energy-drainers bringing others down. We can reject negativity with compassion, and steer clear.

Spend time with those that stimulate you, cheer you on, make you laugh, boost your confidence, give you peace. Their energy will charge yours.

Finding direction

For the young, finding direction is a byproduct of self-discovery. The teens and 20s are a time to be active, introducing yourself to new people, places and situations. What resonates within will guide your next step.

For veteran adults, direction is more of an inward search. We have been around enough to know who we are.

Seeking direction often takes a dig through memory to remember what motivates us at the core – a task that, like our search for fun, often brings us back to childhood. What interests have endured? What longings still persist?

Most of all, finding direction is about listening. Still the outside clamor and locate your voice within. It is quiet but persistent. Sometimes you find you’ve been shushing it for years. Give it the floor. And listen.

Problem-solving party

When you (and your spouse) get tired of hearing you debate the same eternal problems, recruit your closest, wisest friends for a problem-solving party.

It’s easy to get stuck on repeat with your own tiresome troubles, but solutions to other people’s problems always seem simple and obvious. A discussion among friends is also free from the history and emotional charge of marital discussions.

It’s fun to come up with creative ideas for your friends, or point out how inevitable their solution really is, if only they could hear themselves. Your friends will enjoy the chance to do the same for you.

Afterward you will have a team of friends to hold your hand when you need it, keep you going, keep you honest. Just the act of seeking solutions will start you on your way to making change happen.

The long view

My problem-solving-party friend Nicole once told me a story that changed my perspective on life. Nicole had heard an interview with an accomplished octogenarian who, every decade of her long life, had begun a different, ultimately successful career.

Even without knowing the details, I think the curiosity and fearlessness of that approach is so inspiring. And it takes the pressure off. We can’t have it all now, but who’s to say we can’t have it all eventually?

In our anxiety, we often long to see down a straight path. But the curvy road can be more varied and interesting.

The key is to keep moving. Even the smallest step is progress, and it’s never too late to start a new chapter.

Recommended reading

  • I loved this look back by Amateur Gourmet on his 10 years of food blogging, starting as a recent law school graduate not wanting to practice law.
  • This New York Times piece from 2012 about Target mining customer data (Some of you may remember I referenced it in a discovery post) takes an intriguing look at habits and cognition.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lisa 20 January 2014 at 9:08 pm

With a great and true friend like CG, how can I not be joyful??!!


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