The week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day is always a time for reflection and intention-setting – doubly so for me because my birthday falls on the day after Christmas.
Every year on my birthday, I like to spend at least a few hours at a coffee shop journaling and thinking and planning for the year ahead.
But the thing about setting intentions on your 34th birthday is that, undoubtedly, you’ve made all these resolutions before.
Ugh. It’s so disheartening. Every single resolution I made last year? I could make them all again this year.
There are a couple of reasons why resolution-making doesn’t work well for me.
1. I do way better with a mantra – an overarching goal, like do the next right thing or let it go – than I do with a list of practical things I want to do differently.
2. Making a resolution triggers my inner perfectionist. Deep down, I think that if I make enough resolutions, if I work hard enough, I will achieve perfection – I will be a perfect version of myself.
Despite these challenges, I can never resist engaging in reflection and intention-setting. However, this year, my actual plan is the broadest its ever been.
This year, I want to live every single moment of my life with intention and on purpose.
Like, every single moment.
The ones when I am snuggling with Teddy and talking with Tee – and the ones when I am binge-watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and snacking on lime tortilla chips. Those can be intentional moments, too – intentional moments of rest and down time.
The idea for this intention has been brewing for quite a while. But it was spurred forward during my drive down to North Carolina with Tee and Teddy for Christmas. Tee and I were listening to a podcast, as per usual. I found myself perusing the TED Talks audio feed, and discovered this talk by writer Laura Vanderkam:
So. Freaking. Good.
Vanderkam proposed an exercise to inspire people to make conscious choices abut how they spend their time. She talks about utilizing all 168 hours of each week to do the things that are important to us.
To illustrate this point, Vanderkam gives an example: there’s a really busy woman with a jam-packed week. The woman’s water heater then breaks, and she ends up having to devote seven hours to plumbers, phone calls, paperwork, cleaners, etc.
Vanderkam explains her point: “I’m sure if you had asked her at the start of the week, ‘Could you find seven hours to train for a triathlon?’ ‘Could you find seven hours to mentor seven worthy people?’, I’m sure she would’ve said what most of us would’ve said, which is, ‘No — can’t you see how busy I am?’ Yet when she had to find seven hours because there is water all over her basement, she found seven hours. And what this shows us is that time is highly elastic. We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.”
In other words – it’s all about priorities.
And Vanderkam goes on to advise us to treat each of our priorities the way we’d treat a broken water heater.
I love this.
My priorities have a tendency of flying out the window of my car as I race around tackling the various tasks in my life. I do not treat these priorities – maintaining a healthy diet, spending money wisely, being fully present during family time – like a broken water heater. I treat them like a Habitat For Humanity build I’m going to attend on a Saturday morning if I don’t oversleep or make a better plan.
It’s a project all by itself to decide what your priorities actually are. For this, Vanderdam recommends an exercise: imagining that you are sending a holiday letter out on December 31, 2017. The letter describes everything you’ve done throughout the year. “I want you to pretend it’s the end of next year, and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you and the people you care about,” Vanderdam says. “What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing?”
I, of course, wrote my list immediately. These are the things I want my 2017 letter to say:
- I wrote a lot. (And did other writing-related stuff that I won’t note here.)
- I kept in regular contact with friends and family.
- I took good care of my body – exercise and good food.
- I was intentional and purposeful with my moments.
- I attempted cooking regularly. NOTHING FANCY PEOPLE.
- I celebrated at every opportunity, taking advantage of occasions for routine, ritual, and festivity.
Vanderkam suggested taking Friday afternoons as a time to consider your priorities in the areas of career, relationship, and self, figuring out what time you can spend in these areas in the coming week.
The bottom line is that it’s all about priorities. My health is a priority. My family is a priority. My peacefulness is a priority. That’s how true balance is achieved.