I took December off. Not really-you can’t take a vacation from your life, but I did take the month off in terms of homeschooling and planning ahead for my class in January, and even from holiday preparations. Some of this was due to illness in the house; between colds and a nasty stomach flu I lost about 2 weeks. Part of it was due to an internal need I had been feeling to reassess our family routines. I don’t feel badly about it-I think it was necessary and I am grateful for the time of self reflection. I do wish I had done a little more homeschooling with my daughter, but I also figure we did a lot more crafts, baking, play, visiting than we normally do and those all can relate to life skills. But back to the self reflection-I’ve learned a few things and they relate to this time of year. I’ve decided not to create any resolutions, but focus on a few habits I wish to integrate into my life. This idea is not mine- it actually came from mega-blogger Leo Babauta and his blog Zen Habits. I’ve been a fan of this blog for about a year, but my husband and I just took the time to read his book The Power of Less. Although repetitive at times, the book did offer this reoccuring theme- Focus on one small goal at a time, make it a habit, and move on to your next one. Mr. Babuata recently had a powerful post on the topic of “Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge.” I’ve included an excerpt below, but the short of it is that everyone is always trying to become better…something more. The fact of the matter is that we are already perfect-we only need to realize it in ourselves. The way to get there is through life-sustaining habits.
Last night my husband and I had a really good conversation about our short and long term goals, family house projects, and places we want to travel to with our kids. The outcome of that conversation was a realization of a few habits that had been mulling around in my head that I really wish to work on this year:
- Running 3 times per week and work up to 5-6 miles per run. Maybe even do a half marathon in the fall.
- Be more aware of our finances by truly mastering our Quicken program-I’m a casual user, but I think I could serve our family better if I understood the ins & outs of our budget as well as my husband.
- Make time for a weekly bible study and/or parent meeting with my husband- I find when we do get together and think outside of the daily needs we are closer.
- Institute a family meeting with the kids along with more game nights & movie nights; let the kids pick dinner sometimes.
- Find a way to still grow as a person professionally. I’ve been working in the non-profit world and would like to do a little more research in that area.
- Plan my homeschooling a little better!
The first two or three are my big priorities-the ones I would like to really focus on. Mr. Babauta continually reminds us in his book that to truly succeed at a task or in creating a new habit you need absolute focus on it. Make it a priority and the only one that you do until it becomes natural. Then you can move on to the next one. I’m starting with the running. I already run about twice a week, but I’d like to make it three and I’d like to not excuse myself from it so much. I feel better when I run and I know I’m a nicer person to be around when I’ve had that kind of athletic outlet. We’ll see how the next of those goals progress as well. For now, Happy New Year & best of luck as you form new habits.
From “Quashing the Self Improvement Urge” by Leo Babauta:
One of the driving forces of my life for many years was the need to improve myself. It’s one of the driving forces for people who read my work as well. It’s an incredibly pervasive urge: we are always trying to improve, and if we’re not, that’s something we should improve. So what’s the problem? You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.
This is true no matter how much you’ve accomplished. You might have achieved a thousand goals, but do you have defined abs? Are your boobs big and bouncy? Do you have perfect skin? Have you read every classic in literature? Do you know fine wines, fine art, and every great musician from classical to jazz to punk to rock? Do you have success as an entrepreneur, as a writer? Can you speak several languages, and have you traveled the world? Do you own fewer than 100 things, or a small house? Are you a fast runner, and have you run a 100 miler? Can you Crossfit, or lift 1,000 pounds in the Big Three lifts? Do you have the perfect home, and can you cook gourmet meals? Are you the perfect parent, or have perfect work-life balance? Can you do yoga, meditate, juggle and do magic? Do you brew the perfect cup of coffee, or tea, or beer? Can you recite Shelly, Shakespeare, Homer? Are you good at picking up women, are you the perfect friend, the perfect lover, a romantic husband, a wife who meets her husband’s needs, a master craftsman, a hacker and a programmer, a knitter or sewer, a home-repair expert, knowledgeable in investing and real estate, do you know the perfect system for goals and use the perfect to-do software, is your phone as nice as his, or your bag as nice as hers, do you have cute boots or a manly shave? Are you debt free, or car free or gluten free? Do you give to charity or volunteer at shelters or build schools for Africa? Is your TV as large as mine, or your penis?
Are you adequate? Are you confident of that?
We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.
And it becomes the reason we buy self-help products, fitness products, gadgets to make us cooler, nicer clothes, nicer cars and homes, nicer bags and boots, plastic surgery and drugs, courses and classes and coaches and retreats. It will never stop, because we will never be good enough.
We must improve. We must read every self-improvement book. When we read a blog, we must try that method, because it will make us better. When we read someone else’s account of his achievements, his goal system, his entrepreneurial lifestyle, her yoga routine, her journaling method, her reading list, we must try it. We will always read what others are doing, in case it will help us get better. We will always try what others are doing, try every diet and every system, because it helped them get better, so maybe it will help us too. Soon, we will find the ultimate solutions, soon we will get there. No, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe this year will be the year.
Maybe 2012 will be the year we reach perfection.
Or maybe it will never stop, until we die, and that’s a part of life — life is a constant striving for improvement, and we’d hate to ever stop wanting to improve, because that means we’re dead, right? Even if that means that as we die, we wonder if we could have been better, and our last thought is, “Am I adequate as a person?” Even if that means we are never happy with ourselves, at least we are striving to be happy with ourselves, right?
What if instead, we learned to be happy with ourselves?
What would happen?
Would we stop striving to improve? Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better? And in being happy, perhaps we would show others how to be happy? And crazy as it might sound, maybe we’d start a little mini-revolution of happiness, so that people wouldn’t feel so inadequate, or need to spend every dime on products, or spend all their time on self-improvement.
A revolution of contentment.
Think of how this might simplify your life. Think of how many self-improvement books you read, or listen to in the car. Think of how many products you buy to make yourself better. Think of how many things you read online, in the hopes of being better. Think of how many things you do because you feel inadequate. Think of how much time this would free up, how much mental energy.
Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.
The urge to improve yourself will come up again. Watch it, like a funny little clown trying to tease your soul, but don’t let your soul feel worse for the teasing. Don’t let yourself react to this little clown, nor feel the pain of his attack. Let him do his dance, say his funny things, and then go away.
Quash the urge to improve, to be better. It only makes you feel inadequate.
And then explore the world of contentment. It’s a place of wonderment.
‘Contentment is the greatest treasure.’ ~Lao Tzu