Starting the year

I am late to the slew of new year’s blogs written by many with a love of the new start that the change of the calendar offers us.  There is a large community of people who relish the challenge of setting new year’s resolutions.  And, in my email inbox and social media feeds at least, a whole load of marketing related to getting us started on great new habits right at the beginning of the year.  I am being invited to do yoga, meditate, buy courses, explore new parts of the world, sort out my budget, track my time, take on physical challenges, go sober, make this the year I find my true self, go on retreat, book many holidays.  You get the drift of the things I tend to sign up for.

I am most definitely one of those people who love new year’s resolutions, I relish the opportunity to have a blank page in front of me and to reflect on what adventures I could challenge myself with.  But here’s the thing, I make a ton of resolutions in various guises, but none of them are really ones which I have to start now in January, and even fewer do I have to start on 1st or 2nd January.

There seems to be a big thing this year of taking the opportunity of the “fresh start” as Gretchen Rubin calls this particular opportunity to change habits.  I’m not sure I believe it is a fresh start though, I love the opportunity to have some reflection and planning time, but it is perhaps not the best time to get started on life-changing habit change.  So, I’m not.  I have plans and goals and adventures ahead.  And I am loving the feeling of anticipation that the year is full of possibilities.  I think my January resolution-making is much more akin to a gardener – now is the time of the year to browse the seed catalogues and to plan the plot, and to maybe place an order for the seeds we will need to make the plot flourish.  But it’s not time to get out in the garden just yet.

Relishing a rest – and catching up

The promised review of last year never transpired, mainly because I went on holiday and did what I should do on every holiday – rest. I am still on leave from work this week and am determined to make the most of it and really rest in an attempt to build up immunity to the lurgies which envelope us at this time of year.

I have, however, spent some lovely time reviewing last year and what has gone well and what I need to work on a bit more this year. I know, it’s a fairly arbitrary time to make resolutions, but I love doing so, so any excuse works for me.

The holiday gave me a chance to reflect on what worked in 2018 – I missed this blog (a good sign I felt), I finished a couple of books to reach my reading target for the year, which had been a big increase on 2017’s target. I am still not a prolific reader, but averaging 3 books a month feels good to me now, as I started with an average of about 0.25 books per month.

I spent a lot of the holiday walking up and down hills, so my increased fitness was really obvious to me, as was my more controlled intake of food, so the Slimming World/running/yoga combo has done me the world of good.

in reviewing my year , I really appreciated my attempts at reflecting on each day. I experimented with a sentence-a-day type of journal, which worked intermittently. But where it did work it was great – a lovely record of things that have happened over the year, brief, but obviously what felt most important every day. People always seem to be important, as does resting. Both thoughts have influenced the choice of 2019’s goals. More on those to come. Depending on whether I ever get back to full speed.

Arbitrary deadline

Today is my last working day of the year.  When I next sit at my desk it will be a new year, a new start and I will be a totally new person.  

I will be very efficient, there will not be a thousand emails in my inbox, my to do lists will be legible and realistic.  I will calmly prepare thoroughly for all meetings and ensure that I have read all the required papers and have done some extra research on all topics to be discussed. I will follow all meetings and events with timely feedback and follow up wherever necessary. I will be available for every colleague whenever they need me, answering every email, phone and skype call as they come in.  I will have reflection time every day to develop my work against my plans and priorities. I will reach every deadline with time to spare.  I will be happy and calm at all times.

Ah, just writing all of that is making me feel so much better, I am typing and giggling at myself, which does a power of good.  My personal need to leave the year in some sort of state of perfection is indeed funny, even if I have not been able to see that in the last couple of days.  

Mainly I am looking forward to a holiday and I need to be very self-aware and check this daft feeling that I need to leave my desk today with everything in order for the imaginary perfection to be possible in a fortnight’s time.  Especially as it would take me two weeks just to clear that inbox. 

Happy last working day of the year to you, whenever it may fall for you.

Visiting Birmingham

One of the spring time resolutions is to discover more about my home town of Birmingham, UK.  I am an immigrant to the city, arriving here 19 years ago, drawn by a sense of friendliness, a real buzz as the city changed dramatically from its industrial roots.  There seemed to be a desire to do something different, not develop, that implies it was in some way backward, but that is not true at all.  This is a city built on discovery, on science and industry, and on a strong sense of being Birmingham.

For those of you not from here, I know the reputation is not always of a dynamic city, but believe me it is.  I have myriad political views about whether that dynamic nature is being encouraged and allowed to thrive, but despite cynicism on my part on the reduction of local facilities, education, health care, social care, I suspect that there’s something in the nature of being here that will ensure the city continues to thrive.  Ever the optimist.

So this spring I intend to visit some of the many places I have never actually been to.  Feel free to add to the list, but so far I have Aston Hall, Selly Manor, Blakesley Hall, chunks of Sutton Park (I have done some, but seriously, it’s huge!).

I have one of the brilliant Independent Birmingham cards and intend to start working through the members of the scheme.

I haven’t been to the Ikon gallery for ages and there are rooms at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that I have never seen.  And – confession time – I have never been to the Barber Institute of Art.

There are a couple of quirky places I want to get to – the Coffin Works and the Pen Museum are on that list.

Add to that the miles of canal to explore and the parks to visit, and I am wondering if this is a whole year’s work?



Resolutions galore

I made the rash, and possibly gin-fuelled, decision to have quarterly resolutions this year.  The process of making resolutions over the Christmas period when I have no work and lots of free time and alcohol has always struck me as less than wise.

So as well as the word of the year being ‘slower’, I will have four different but connected quarterly words and a list of resolutions to guide me to the overall resolutions in the year.  I am laughing quietly to myself as I write this.  My ability to over-complicate my own life amuses me greatly.  But although some find it complicated, I do genuinely love it. I gain huge amounts of energy from having a written focus for the year, from having something to reflect on.  At the same time, what worked in January probably won’t feel relevant in August, so this method may give me some flexibility.

Although it may not sound it from the complexity of the process, I am incredibly kind and generous to myself within the framework.  So what if I did not complete all I set out to?  So what if I abandoned several projects on the way?  So what if no one else can see any transformation or progress, or even anything slightly different?

The aim is never to decide the end destination, it’s just to give a bit of a framework and focus to what I do.  I have 168 hours to fill every week and my hope and dream for the resolution framework is to make sure that I am spending those hours mindfully and intentionally.  But kindly and generously as well.  A fair amount of them are dedicated to sleep or rest for example.

Having the guidance of resolutions makes saying no a bit easier.  I cannot do everything, so sometimes it helps to know what the priority is.  That gives me some focus.  And I love having focus.

Reading time

I heard an interesting podcast today, one of the Optimal Living Daily series.  They are interesting and make me think, sometimes they make me hit stop, but mostly they do not.  And they are short.  That is a good thing.

Anyway, this one was about reducing our access to the news and instead advocates reading books in order to learn about the world.  The theory being that the emotional roller coaster of the news (specifically on TV) is designed to make us feel vulnerable and therefore most likely to buy the products advertised around the news.  Which makes sense of the number of adverts for holidays in newspapers.

One of my ‘slower’ resolutions was the perennial, but no less urgent for it being repeated, ‘read more’.  I think that one of my issues with reading more is that in spending time reading, I cut myself off from the news.  I listen to audio books instead of the Today programme, I read a novel instead of the newspaper.  But this piece (it was originally a piece by a blogger named Mr Money Mustache ) has reframed that thinking a bit for me.

And it is true, literature offers you a different perspective.  Yes, I escape from reality, in that what I am reading about is not happening here and now, but all fiction is based on some sort of reality isn’t it?  Fiction puts me into a different pair of shoes and keeps me there for a while as the story lingers in my thoughts.  I experience something other than my life.

And how much of the news is reality?  How much is actually affecting me.  Believe me, I engage with current affairs – I campaign, I vote, I write to my MP, I discuss politics – I think I am a fairly active citizen.  But there’s a lot that I cannot change and on balance, not hearing the news more than once a day doesn’t seem to make me less able, instead, the space away from it energises me.  And gives me more time to try and make the world a better place, rather than just worrying about how awful it seems to be.