To a Happy – and Purposeful – New Year!
by: Amanda Kirk, MS.
As is typical for this time of year, I’ve been thinking about the New Year. For someone who enjoys symmetry and organization as much as me, having a fresh start at a new goal on January 1 is almost too perfect. Recognizing my own challenges with consistent follow through over the years, however (not to mention wasted money on unused gym memberships), I gave up on proclaiming the broad and typical New Year’s Resolutions a few years ago. This year, I’ve opted instead for more of a reflection of what my main priorities are and an intentional commitment to honoring them. I’m making hard cuts and allowing only 2-3 main priorities to make my list.
Although not specific to New Year’s, I was challenged by a related concept in a book I read this year. The author challenged the reader to think of a word or phrase that they hoped would be used to describe them in years to come, then try to live out those qualities (such as joyful, intentional, peaceful, hospitable, and so on). I’ve read another author who adopts one word as a theme for her year, which helps inform the decisions she makes both personally and professionally.
I invite you to think of these concepts for yourself, imagine the word or words you would choose, and consider how to implement them in your daily life. For now, I’ll share two ideas that have great meaning for me. These are words that, when incorporated into our outlook, decision making, and way of being in the world, have tremendous impact on us and everyone around us. Perhaps you will choose one of these as a priority this year. Or maybe the concept will just be an important way you implement a different word altogether.
I remember reading about a monk who would practice mindfulness as he washed dishes, focusing completely on the task at hand. He described how all of his senses were engaged – from the smell of the soap to the sound of the water and the clank of dishes. Rather than allowing his mind to wander to something else, past or future, he was fully present in the exact moment before him. Most of us can barely imagine putting this much thought into such a menial task!
In this technology saturated world that values multitasking, it is a challenge to stay fully engaged in conversation, activity, or even internal thought without the ready distraction of a phone, computer, tablet, video game, television, and so on. We often don’t even recognize how distracted we are.
For this next year, may we set aside intentional time to be fully present with those around us and with ourselves. Not just on special occasions, but daily, even if just for 5 minutes. Experiment with it; you may be surprised just how challenging it is to do!
Some practical suggestions: Make dinner time a no phone zone – adults included. Turn off the TV and talk about your day. Get down in the floor and play with your kids with all electronic devices silenced and put out of sight. Keep the radio and phone off while driving, practice noticing everything around you.
Every day, let’s make the choice to spend at least a few minutes present in the moment.
A full calendar is often celebrated, conjuring images of success, importance, popularity, ambition. But what if we cut every single thing out of our calendar (and surroundings) that did not bring fulfillment and joy or met a legitimate need? What if we purposefully identified one or two ways we could serve others and did so wholeheartedly, rather than trying to meet everybody’s (or no one’s) needs out of guilt, obligation, or overwhelm? What if we made time to really invest in our relationships rather than running ourselves ragged on an unrealistic set of “to-do’s”?
I’ve been really interested in the word “margin” this year. I find the word helpful as I imagine the blank space around the edges of a page. It’s the idea of making room in your life, decluttering, having some “blank space” that is not taken up with other things, activities, and requirements. Maybe we could redefine success as a clear calendar, with plenty of margin for what is really most important to us.
Some practical suggestions follow: This can mean things like reducing the amount of notifications you get on your phone, spending less time on social media, blocking out times in your daily or weekly calendar that are just for “down time” for yourself or with your family, removing yourself from that committee. Physically, it may mean literally making space around you. Grab a trash bag and donation bin, then tackle your garage, then your closet, then your cabinets, then… until you only have what is useful and truly wanted in your home.
(Some popular books that expound on these concepts include The More of Less by Joshua Becker and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. They provide a structure to follow if the process feels overwhelming, even if some of the suggestions may not fit for you).
Being present and making space really go hand in hand. In order to be present in the moment and with others, we need space that is not bogged down with mental, physical, and time depleting clutter. However you go into the New Year – resolution ready or refusing resolutions – I hope you will join me in a concerted effort to be more present in the moment and make intentional space for the most important things – and people – in our lives.