I know 2016 was pretty terrible for the world in general, but it was okay for me. No-one died (well, no-one I'm related to), I managed to leave the country without any hassles and come back, I worked, I played. It was a straightforward year.
Habits are a powerful tool for success, whatever that means to you. Through habits you can manage how you spend your time, how you eat, when you exercise, whether you floss, and myriad other little things which add up to bring you closer to being the person you want to be.
I stopped using a paper day planner quite a few years, but in 2016 I used a different kind of planner, not to keep track of day to day events, but to keep track of my goals.
The Ink+Volt Volt planner, designed by Kate Matsudaira (who wrote one of the chapters in The Architecture of Open Source Applications) includes pages to track yearly, montly, and weekly goals. But what I'm going to write about here is the Monthly Challenge page, which allows you to set yourself a new daily challenge each month, write down why you want to do the thing, plan to do it, and track your success.
These are the challenges I set myself for 2016, and what I learned from them.
In December 2015, I stopped reading Twitter. It was the school Christmas break, the girls were home and I wasn't working so I wasn't on my computer much, and I was too busy to read Twitter on my phone.
Then I just... didn't get back on again.
I work out every day. Hah, no I don't. I do work out most days, though. I didn't used to be a workout-every-day person. I got to this point through years of incremental changes and adjustments in my habits and attitudes.
People are impressed that I work out. They say, "I'm so impressed that you work out so often!" They say, "That's great, that you go to the gym every day!" It's one of the few things that I get randomly acclaimed for. (Of course, that says less about the magnitude of the accomplishment and more about what we value as a society.)
But valued or not, exercise is profoundly important. If there is such a thing as a panacea, it's not aspirin or vitamin D or fish oil, it's exercise. It's good for your body, it's good for your brain, and it's good for your mood. Apart from the actual doing of it, there is no downside to exercise.
That's the trick, though, isn't it? The actual doing. The taking time out of your day, the sweating, the special clothes. It's a bit of a drag.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of exercise, you need to minimize the drag. This is how I manage it.
This Monday I turned 41 years old. It came as a bit of a surprise. All my life I've felt a particular age, usually not my actual age, and it's always been younger, as if I got stuck. For example, I felt 34 for at least three years after I stopped being 34, and I think the one before that was 27. This is the first time I've gotten ahead of myself: I feel like I'm about 44, and I keep being surprised that I'm only 41.
It has been a rocky year. My last birthday was marked by picking up my family from the airport in Saskatoon, and picking up my mother's ashes from the crematorium on the way out of town. Then we stopped for burgers at A&W.
This birthday was marked by sharing a traditional memorial feast for (and with) our ancestors with good friends who also lost a grandparent on July 31. We had burgers.
I'm going to go out on a sturdy limb and say 2015 wasn't one of my best years. It wasn't an unqualified disaster, though. Let's start at the beginning.
The year started off phone-free, because I dropped my phone down a drain in December 2013. I stubbornly tried to manage without buying a new iPhone, but I finally gave up and blew the $600 or whatever on an unlocked replacement. I'm much more careful with my phone outside, now, so I guess I grew as a person.
Today would have been your birthday. It’s been three and a half months since you died, and I thought you might like an update.
I know that of all the places you’re likely to be (and I expect you’re probably not actually anywhere, although Shirley thinks you’re in the blue jays) the Internet is the least likely, so I’m not sure why I’m posting this online. Maybe, like everything else post-mortem, it’s for me, not for you --- on account of you’re dead.
I hope being dead is working out for you. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were really a heaven, and you could be with your dad and your sister again? Maybe even your handsome first husband, who you loved so much. (I didn’t find any pictures of him in your stuff --- but there were pictures of Dad’s first wife. You were way prettier.)
I can’t say 2014 was one of my best years ever. I tried to travel, and failed; the house ate all our money; my mom got sick. On the other hand, my mom got better (and we discovered how much fun it is when I visit her without the kids), and we got kittens.
We don’t get a fog a lot in Toronto, and on a foggy night about a month ago the Christmas lights were particularly lovely -- dreamy and soft. I was on the way home from a meeting and thought the lights on house on a corner were so pretty, I wanted to take a picture to show the girls. I paused at the curb opposite the house, and took my phone out of my pocket. I still had my mittens on, but I needed my fingers to use the phone, so I wedged the phone in my left hand, wedged between my fingers and the fleshy base of my thumb. I used my fingertips and thumb to remove the mitten from my right hand, and as I did so the phone slipped, or my grip relaxed. For the longest second ever recorded, my phone fell toward the storm drain I had just realized I was standing above.
I know. It’s a bit late. I meant to post this earlier, but then life…
(And I realized that the reason you post your New Year’s Resolutions as soon as you can is that it’s embarrassing to post them after you’ve already broken them.)
Here they are:
1. Increase my machine time at the gym from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
My gym routine is almost literally the least I can do: twenty minutes on a machine, usually the elliptical, and then fifteen minutes or more of stretching. I’m really there for the stretching, because if I don’t do it regularly sooner or later my back goes into spasm.
But I figured another ten minutes can’t be too hard to come by, and a bit more cardio three or four times a week can’t be a bad idea.
Another simple one: whenever I have fruit or vegetables, have twice as much. I like fruit and vegetables, and it’s really only habit which stops me from eating more of them.
3. Write more.
This is your classic poorly-planned, doomed-to-fail resolution. There is no plan here, no list of steps, no schedule, just a vague intention to “write more”.
Nothing specific, not a novel or poems or a book on the history of quick breads, but more little things: more book reviews on Goodreads, more blog posts, more letters to family, more entries in my journal.
Needless to say, this one needs more work. I don’t want to give it up, though.