I don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions since, well, it gives the impression that’s the only time you’re expected to make a positive change, gives you the option to put change off until January 1st, and, hell, most people don’t keep to their resolutions anyway. I mean, you wanna make a change, do the research and make it happen. Like, now.
Okay, rant over, and . . .
That being said, ’tis the season and all that jazz, so I figured I’d go over ways in which I’m trying to adopt new habits and make positive changes in my life. To be clear, I began many of these days, weeks or even months ago, while I’ve yet to begin a few others; January 1st is just when I’m posting this, not when I’m making decisions to change or setting out to change.
What truly set me on this path to (hopeful) self-improvement was quitting my job. I’d been working a corporate gig, one of those near-clichés that provided plenty of financial stability without any real meaning or satisfaction. It wasn’t a bad job, at all, but I certainly wasn’t made for it and it was crushing my soul. So, after four years and with the rather surprising blessings of an efficiency and leadership expert hired by my employer, I quit.
No backup plan. No job prospects. I just quit. And I traveled. And I learned a lot. And then I came back and now have a lot of time on my hands. So, I decided to ensure I didn’t waste that time, to ensure I did those things everyone—including me—says they don’t have time to do.
I’m not good at mornings. For years I’ve been trying to develop and maintain a good morning routine, starting with getting up at 7am. I know that kinda thing isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found that when I can manage it, I feel better about the day as a whole.
So, I’ve been trying to create a morning routine that includes many of the priorities listed below. But it all starts with a 7am wake-up time, which should allow me to complete this routine no matter what my daily schedule looks like. Mainly, I have about five or six things I want to do in the morning, and I commit to doing at least three of them. If I can do three, that’s good enough (back to those last two words a bit later).
This would seem easy. I’ve been working out with a fair amount of consistency for over twenty years now. In that time, I’ve discovered that a four workouts a week schedule, usually Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday, works best for me. But I try to do something active every day.
As I’ve gotten older, though, and as I’ve spent the last six or so years working at a desk, I’ve found it necessary to change the kind of workout I do, focusing on movements rather than muscle groups, training for activity rather than lifting for pure strength and size, and targeting trouble spots, like weak glutes and grip, as well as tight hip-flexors, hamstrings and shoulders.
So my workouts focus on bodyweight exercises that improve mobility and mimic activities I enjoy, like surfing (pop-ups) and hiking (step-ups). Stretching now occupies about half of my workout time.
As for the morning: one of the five tasks I try to complete is a series of stretches, specifically the elevated pigeon stretch and the couch stretch. They suuuuuuuuck, but I feel great after having completed them and, after just a few weeks, I already notice improvement in my hip mobility.
Oh, man, I know, right? I can practically hear you all rolling your eyes in unison (it sounds like a boot being pulled from deep mud). The word, “mindfulness”, ugh, it just sounds new-agey and spacey and lame.
No, I’m with you. And, if there was another term to use for this shit, I’d use it, but, well, that’s what it’s called. Mindfulness. So I’m gonna use it.
’Cause, honestly, it’s pretty great stuff.
I’d toyed with meditation for a long time but never achieved much success. At all. I kinda figured it worked for some people but that, for others, it just didn’t, and that I belonged to that latter group. Eventually, though, I came across something that worked for me. Mainly, it was realizing that there’s no such thing as a perfect meditation session—or, if there is, I’ll likely never experience it. So just go with it, with zero expectations. For me, it’s mainly about focus, bringing my attention to one thing (I like to simply use my breath, often imagining a wave crashing into shore with every exhalation and the wave receding, exposing sand and pebbles and treasure, as I inhale) and, as my attention inevitably drifts, bringing it gently back. That’s it.
For me, it helps with focus, whether on a task or on simply relaxing, not being worried, not being angry, seeing the bright side, whatever. I’m super new at this and still learning, but that’s how I do it.
I also use the “one breath” principal. I commit to a single “perfect” breath, meaning with full attention to that one inhalation and exhalation. That’s all I expect of myself. But, then, once you’re sitting there, eyes closed, well, might as well take another breath, right? And so on. Sometimes it lasts five minutes, sometimes three, sometimes just a dozen breaths. Typically, though, I aim for ten minutes—for now—but I commit to that one breath. And that’s another of my morning tasks: meditate for ten minutes, or at least one breath.
I use the one breath principal for other things, too. Like, if I don’t feel like working out, I commit to just five reps; if I don’t feel like writing, I commit to a single sentence. It usually gets the ball rolling and, though I may not get that full ten minutes in, it always ends up being more than a single breath. And that’s good enough (ooooh, second time that’s come up, did you notice?).
I think it’s safe to say that, for many of the people who know me well, if asked to describe me in one word, “creative” may very well be it. Mostly I’m known for writing and, to a lesser extent, drawing, though I’ve dabbled in filmmaking, photography, acting.
Now, for a few years, I was pretty damn productive, writing dozens of short stories and articles and five novels. Two of those novels I self-published and three remain in first draft form. As they have for about four years now.
Yeah . . . I haven’t been especially productive these last four or five years. So, given I’ve got more time now, I want to do a lot more writing and take up drawing again. I’ve committed to writing a blog post a day—it may not happen every day, of course, but it’s the aim—and spend an extra hour, minimum, on some other creative work, either writing or drawing. No word count, just an hour.
To get things moving, another of my morning tasks is to crack open a note pad and write down ten ideas. These could be ideas for a drawing or a sketch or a novel or a blog post. These could even just be ten cool things that happened to me, or ten things I look forward to. Whatever. It’s just a few minutes of play in the morning.
Welp. We’ve come to the boring part, right? I mean, the reason I have all this extra time is that, aside from the occasional freelance work, I’m essentially unemployed. And no matter how fit, zen and creative I may be, bills still have to be paid and groceries still have to be bought. So I gotta find me a job. Booooorrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnng.
Well, a boring job is one of the reasons I’m in this situation, and I’m not going back to that. And 2016 basically put me on a path that doesn’t include a boring job, rather my job search includes a butt load of travel research.
See, I recently got my TEFL certification and so I’m looking for work teaching abroad. Every day, I aim to apply to two teaching jobs. For the moment, I’m focusing on countries in South America and, if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll switch my focus to Southeast Asia. Either way, wherever I end up, it’ll be a hell of an adventure. So job hunting is actually one of the most exciting parts of my day, which is a hell of a nice change!
As a morning task, I check the TEFL job boards and try to find two jobs or schools worth applying to.
In addition, though, I also apply to a minimum of one freelance writing job a day.
Yeah, lots of solitary work up there, huh? Not many other people involved. Pretty much just me breathing, me stretching, me writing, and me scanning job boards. Me, me, me.
Fact is, I am a bit of an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like spending time with people—I quite enjoy the company of others—but socializing does take energy out of me. So, typically, I’m not the one to reach out to others. I can easily go days without spending time with another person face to face. Again, I don’t avoid it, I just don’t tend to seek it out actively the way many others do.
Add to that the fact that I’d like to reduce the time I spend on Facebook, one of my most commonly used methods of keeping in touch with people, and I’m just a step or two from becoming a hermit.
So, I gotta keep getting together with friends, and make the effort to initiate those get togethers. This is especially true given that, if all goes as planned, I’ll be leaving for another country in maximum six months and possibly as little as two months. The number of opportunities I have to spend time with these people can likely be counted on two hands, a single hand in some cases.
Now, this part will sound pretty goddamn cheesy, but along with mindfulness, I also use my mediation sessions to practice something called “loving-kindness”. Yes, it sounds terrible. It sounds like a hug that goes on too long, yeah? But, the person hugging you is both too skinny and too soft all at once, and they’re breathing really loudly through their nose, and you just know their smile is really wide and their eyes are closed.
But, for me, it’s simply about wishing good things for absolutely no gain. It isn’t much and that’s the point. It serves simply as an attitude shift. All I do is, as part of my meditation, I’ll pick three people, two people who are close to me and one I haven’t seen in a long time, and I silently wish that they are happy.
No, stop rolling your eyes, you guys, the sound is really gross.
Honestly, I was skeptical, too. But, I don’t know, for me, it works. I pick those people, I wish for them to be happy, and I just feel happier, too. Obviously, it doesn’t do anything for them, but nor does it cost me anything, and that kindness—the kindness necessary to genuinely wish happiness onto another—well, it lingers and, I think, colors my actions and thoughts throughout the day.
On a more practical level, it makes me wonder if those people are in fact happy, and has prompted me to reach out to them, to check in and see how they’re doing and, in some cases, leads to meeting up. So . . .
I highlighted those words a couple times: good enough. That’s the point, really: these changes I’m making, these tasks I’m trying to turn into habits, aren’t especially big, and they aren’t supposed to be. I’m not aiming to be the fittest I can be or to become a bestselling author or even to write another novel, necessarily. I’m just aiming for good enough, and that’s often all I need.
It’s not about having low expectations, it’s about having no expectations. If I’m doing a workout, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be great, it just has to be good enough. Good enough to keep me healthy, to allow me to go on the adventures I want to have, do what I want to do. If I’m meditating, it doesn’t have to be an hour of complete focus and serenity, just a few minutes is good enough, ’cause I truly believe that shit is cumulative anyway, so every minute counts. And I can always take a few more minutes to focus later in the day, or do a few more mountain-climbers, or jot down a few more ideas.
It’s why I give myself five tasks every morning but commit to only three. Five is great, but three is good enough. It’s not a license to be lazy, rather it’s a means of removing expectations from the equation. Don’t set the bar low, just remove the bar altogether. More often than not, I complete the five tasks, but I don’t feel pressured to do so because I don’t assign to them any specific expectations. Part of the challenge is in simply being content with good enough.
If there’s any bit of advice I could give, it’s to have fewer expectations. For yourself, for your loved ones, for strangers around you. Again, it’s not about lowering expectations or standards, but taking things as they are. Not just as they come, but as they are. And realizing that, most of those things, well, they’re good enough.
Note: All those little tasks I gave myself? I didn’t come up with them. They belong to a bunch of other people and, as luck would have it, many of them are included in a new book by Tim Ferris, titled Tools of Titans. It’s not all gold, but contains quite a few valuable nuggets, including the stuff above. Check it out.