What was a yearlong project without a framework? And why a year?
Well, I chose a year for two reasons:
#1: I recently read The Happiness Project, written by author Gretchen Rubin. The book details Rubin’s yearlong endeavour to explore areas where she could significantly improve her happiness with small everyday changes. I loved the book, and the year time frame struck me as an ideal period to explore many areas of my life. Additionally, I connected with many of Rubin’s view points, from her love of frameworks and categorizing people’s tendency, right down to her deep disdain of checking voice mails. These similarities allowed me to deeply relate too much of what Rubin had to say and I gained a lot of perspective and inspiration reading her books. Rubin even lays out a framework for people’s tendencies, which she breaks into four categories. Like Rubin herself, I am firmly situated in what she classifies as the Upholder category. Someone who has no trouble meeting both outer and inner expectations, but who can become burned out as a result.
#2: The simple reason for a year, it made sense to me. It was a long enough period of time that I could deeply evaluate the areas that needed the most TLC, without rushing the process. I would be able to set achievable goals, have sufficient time to research the area’s I wanted to learn more about, try new things, and figure out what did and didn’t work for me. More than anything I wanted this year to form a foundation for contentment on which I would build the rest of my life, and also a basis I could return to in any down times that life would inevitably bring. The foundation needed to be strong, and I knew my end product would only be as good as the quality time I put into it.
So what about the framework? From everything I had read preparing for this endeavour I would need clearly defined objectives and methods of accountability in order to succeed. This blog would provide a huge source of accountability. I wouldn’t be able to just flounder with indecision about where to go or what to try, nor would I be able to procrastinate and just put things off. I would feel an obligation to write about what I was doing, and what was or wasn’t working. So I committed to myself that I would post on the blog twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Initially I wanted to be more ambitious and strive for four posts a week, but with a new baby soon to arrive, combined with my Upholder personality, I knew I would soon be operating on even less sleep and yet feel compelled to keep up with my initial commitment. I wanted to find the balance of setting the bar high, but also keeping my goals achievable.
Now I needed to come up with a framework that would guide me along my path towards contentment. So I came up with my seven guiding principles:
#1: Know Myself.
Who was I? This was one of my biggest unanswered questions and something I definitely needed to figure out if I stood any chance of finding contentment. I was always so busy being what and who I thought everyone else expected me to be. I had lost my sense of self along the way, and it was definitely time to recapture me.
#2: Be Vulnerable.
I fall prey to consistently wearing my “social mask”. I portrayed the person I thought I needed to be, and layered myself in protective armour by keeping people at arm’s length. This meant I wasn’t always myself (see back to Principle 1 for how that worked out for me). In fact, my husband caught on to this habit a few months after we started dating. When he would call me at work he would tease me that I had my “work voice” on. Which was an apt observation on his part. To push myself out of my comfort zone and shed my restrictive armour I needed to go beyond just being open or forthright, I needed to be vulnerable. I would be forced to be myself and allow others to see me for who I was. It was the most uncomfortable principle by far, but I needed to be comfortable in my own skin, shortcomings and all.
#3: Enjoy the Journey.
Lately my life has had a recurring theme. I was forever saying I can’t wait until I’m done “insert anything here”. Can’t wait to be done a huge project at work, to finish a renovation at home, to achieve a financial goal. I was always looking towards the destination, telling myself I could relax when I got there and never enjoying the journey. When I would finally arrive at the destination I would experience momentary relief, a fleeting feeling of satisfaction and then inevitably I would set my sights on the next goal. My mantra became “I just want to get it done.” What I hadn’t recognized was that was my life I was talking about. Really? I just want to get it done? It was time I learned to slow things down and enjoy the process.
#4: Be Available.
In time and emotion. For years I had been systematically shutting people out of my life and it was time to let them back in. My ability to avoid social settings and events was a firmly established habit. I found chatting with people absolutely exhausting, they didn’t get me and I didn’t get them. But, I also knew that vast amounts of research had clearly demonstrated that the most content people are those with strongly rooted social networks and meaningful relationships. So as difficult as it was going to be, I urged myself to choose the social setting. I would push my boundaries, make myself more emotionally available to my family and friends, and be open to cultivating new friendships.
#5: Take the Time.
Take the time to be silly, to laugh, to play games with my family. I often took myself too seriously. Everything had a purpose and was a check mark on my to-do list. There was never enough time to get it all done. But, everyone gets 24 hours in a day, and it was time I chose more carefully where I was spending my hours. I would focus on taking the time to do things for no other reason than because I wanted too. I would also stop trying to multi-task. I’d been trying to do that for years, and yet all the research I’d read clearly told me that’s multi-tasking is quickly shifting your focus from one thing to another. You aren’t actually doing two things at once, you’re moving back and forth between the two (or more), which actually decreases efficiency.
#6: Optimize My Health.
Physical and mental. I had obstacles in both fields that were detracting from my overall wellbeing, and a long road ahead to resolve them completely. But, I knew by improving my health I would see benefits in all other areas of my life. It was an area well worth investing my time and effort.
#7: Try Something New.
My old habits hadn’t been working so well for me. It was time to open my mind to new experiences, new activities, new daily habits, and new people. I would try things that interested me and see how they fit into my life and contributed to my overall contentment.
Okay, I had my seven guiding principles. But these principles were also pretty broad in scope. Outside of my blog, how was I going to hold myself accountable on a daily or weekly basis? I decided that for each month of the project I would set two distinct intentions to focus on, one related to my mental wellbeing, and one related to my physical wellbeing. Each intention would directly support one of my seven guiding principles, and for each of the two intentions I would set three clear actions to take during the month. I would use the completion and outcome of these actions to hold myself accountable and measure my progress.
Looking over my guiding principles it all seemed a bit ambitious and a little overwhelming. Was I going to get to where I hoped to be, was I going to see improvements, was anybody else dealing with these same issues, or was this all a big waste of time? I guess I was about to find out. I took a deep breath and reminded myself of a phrase my mother in-law likes to say: “How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time”.