At some point on New Year’s Eve every year I try to mentally recap the year, trying to evaluate whether it’s been good or bad. The reality is always that it has been both, with the balance changing year on year.
This year the only difference is that I am going to try and review the year more gently over the next week or so and in writing via this blog, but also privately. Some of the downs have been rather big, but involving loved ones who may not want their business discussed in my blog.
My theme for the year was ‘slower’ as I tried to become a bit more reflective, a bit more considered and intentional about life. Has that happened? No, not entirely. I am still too keen to fill pauses in conversations, to get my opinion heard loudly and quickly. But at the same time I have been better at carving out quiet time for myself, I am much more comfortable with my own company and with silence around me.
The one habit that has really exemplified that comfort with more introspection is this blog. This is my quiet and reflective time first thing in the morning. This is my soothing examination of the contents of my brain – well some of them. It’s not perfect, but it is a habit I have returned to throughout the year and I really enjoy it. Heartfelt thanks to anyone who comments, or hits ‘like’, it does feel nice knowing someone is reading.
One of my goals for this year was to be slower in life, to do things with more intention and more deliberately. A surprising manifestation of this has been in shopping. I am not a lover of shopping, I found it stressful – there is too much choice, too much expectation to be buying things to make life better. That never sat comfortably with me.
Somehow this year, I am enjoying shopping. I have not yet managed to totally overcome the impulse to just buy things mindlessly and then feeling guilty afterwards, but a few things have definitely helped.
A decision to be more ethical in my purchasing, specifically about environmental impact of what I buy has been a transformation in my mindset. The fashion industry is one of the major environmental culprits, guilty of mass-producing clothing in appalling working conditions, using and damaging a wealth of natural resources and all with the intention of forcing a complete change of wardrobe every month or so. It seems that a seasonal wardrobe is no longer enough, we now have transition wardrobes, party wardrobes, holiday wardrobes. I struggled hugely and refused to buy anything for ages and then overbought on impulse. I have found a form of clothes shopping I love – charity shops. Not just any charity shop, but a specific few close to home, which I visit in a specific ritual involving hanging out with a teenage son, him browsing for vinyl and DVDs and us both having a fortifying coffee before we even contemplate shopping. So, a new wardrobe and a shared hobby with a teen. Great result.
It is rather odd to realise that I look forward to clothes shopping, but I do. I changed work hours this year and changed them to make sure I could still go shopping. Ok, the coffee and hanging out with the teen are crucial parts, but still, there is also weekly shopping involved.
And it turns out that I have so much to say about shopping that this is going to be a two-part blog post – which is astounding me. Part two tomorrow.
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.
Starting every day, when my timetable allows, by writing this blog serves well to focus my mind first thing in the morning.
That focus feels impossible today, so this will be a short piece.
It is a busy weekend ahead, filled with friends and Birmingham Children’s Book Group at Bourneville Book Fest, theatre, food, walking and Palm Sunday. This could be why I am struggling to be succinct or to find focus – the sheer variety of the weekend is making my brain buzz with excitement.
To add to that, I slept less than the ideal amount last night, so my brain function may not be optimal.
“Brain busy” is a weakness of mine, it strikes so often and is generally a good feeling. This is not an anxious buzzing of the brain, it’s a feeling of excitement and anticipation. And exactly what I need to calm with my intention of being slower. Finding focus when there is lots to do and think about is still the goal. One that feels a way off this morning.
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.