Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, and like last year, I want to use it to talk about what's happening in my own head and help prepare myself for what is to come this year. I have been doing that by selecting a theme, a framework to help me understand the choices I am going to make and help build healthy habits. CGP Grey helped define the concept of a theme in his YouTube video about yearly themes and provided some helpful guidelines.
A theme should be:
Last year, I wrote about Getting Back in the Box to help me regroup from a depressive time in 2022. I zeroed in on four different areas: read more, move more, write more, and learn more. I haven't spent much time reflecting on how successful those areas have been, but in short: I could do better.
I did read more than I had in some of the previous years. My problem was more what I was reading, not how much I was reading. I was, and still am, consuming quite a lot online with newsletters, blogs, and then articles shared on social media. Generally, this has been fine for staying up to date on current events and trends, but it hasn't been as deep and meaningful as I would like.
Moving more was a challenge for me. I was spending far too much time with work, tiring myself out, and then not having the energy to do anything besides a short walk. I started to find a better balance with the work and my life, just in time for the weather to cool off and the daylight to disappear earlier. This winter has been quite mild, however, and I was able to get out for hour long walks 2-3 times a day despite the temperatures being around freezing. Having bare sidewalks made it so much easier to get outside in the cold temperatures. When it dropped to -20 C a few weeks ago, I was still able to get out there because the sidewalks were fairly clear. It wasn't until recently when the areas I was walking to were getting a little slick, or more difficult to move around in.
Both writing more and learning more didn't work out as well as I had hoped. I never did get through the course from Seth Godin that I had mentioned. The course did start get me thinking more about how to build the business and what else I could be changing in that part of my life. The writing more never happened. Largely due to the same issue with the exercise. Too much time spent in front of a computer working discouraged me from spending even more time sitting there to write.
For 2024, I need to find a better balance between work and my life in order for me to make these changes. I touched on some of these themes in my post about my birthday, 44, and have spent more time this winter reading and thinking about what needs to happen.
The starting point: more discipline.
The last few months, I have been working on creating some small habits to start providing myself some more space to do the things that matter most to me. I am finding the most important part of my day is the morning. I have been fairly successful by starting the day with reading, but need to do better at avoiding the phone before I start that. I quick glance to make sure there is nothing urgent from family or friends is all I need to do. There is no reason for me to start my day scrolling social media or getting sucked into work emails before I have had a cup of coffee. I have been reading books more than newsletters/articles in the mornings now. Trying to be more careful about which longer articles I choose to consume. I find a lot of the articles are throw-aways now. You read it today, and then it doesn't matter an hour later.
I have also started to do better at creating a buffer between the work day and the evening. I think of it as a reset, to give myself time to put the work stuff away and try to clear my head so I can fully relax. The main way I have been doing this is by going for a walk. It's been challenging in the winter months to do this at the end of the day with the skies getting fairly dark at 4:00pm for a month or so. I would stop, or at least pause, the work around 3pm, go for the walk, shower, and then finish up before settling to relax. I am sure this will be far easier in the summer months when the sun doesn't set until after 8:00pm from May to September.
What I have found by bookending my day with these two activities is it allows me to put more focus on the work day. I don't find myself worrying about making time to go for the walk. I just know around 3:00pm, I'm going. And I don't find myself concerned about not finding time to read, because it's already happened.
The bigger challenge is going to be making the time to write and starting working out again. In order to do that, time spent doing something else will have to be cut back. The easiest activity to cut back on is the time consuming media, whether it's on social media, television, or listening to podcasts. Cutting back on the podcasts may be the most difficult area to cut down on, surprisingly. There is something about that medium that I find both relaxing and informative compared to watching something. Having it be released on a consistent schedule is something I have come to count on as well.
The path towards becoming more disciplined with my personal health is clearer now that I have established some small habits to correct things. The more difficult area is going to be with the aspects that affect the work life.
Being self-employed, there is always going to be an emphasis put on the client work ahead of anything I should/need to be doing to help grow my business. In 2023, there was a lot of starting and stopping with new initiatives to try and grow. It's an area that I definitely need to change, because without putting in the work to grow, I'll never be able to achieve the goals I want to hit. In order to do that, I need to carve out time during the work day to work on my business, not someone else's. I haven't made any concrete rules about this, but I am thinking either Wednesday or Friday afternoons (maybe both) should be dedicated to improving the business side of my life. That will let me have the weekends free to stay away from work and focus on relaxing.
By setting the boundaries with my time to work, I think I can avoid what happened to me during the six years of property management and the consulting work in 2023. I was finding my time being interrupted too much, and there wasn't any compensation or satisfaction with doing the extra work. It bothered me in the moments when I had to stop what I was doing and change focus. I didn't realize how much it bothered me until those disruptions subsided and my time was back in my control completely this winter. Establishing those boundaries around my work hours will help me avoid getting burnt out.
A lot of the above has been a common theme in my writing over the years. Each year, I think I should do better in these areas, but I never do. Resistance is the term used by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art to describe the blocks to creativity. I have it in the back of my mind constantly when thinking about why I haven't pushed forward with any of the changes.
It never really clicked for me with life, until I read this passage:
Making life changes requires overcoming the discomfort of not knowing what will happen. Facing uncertainty, we make long mental lists of things that might go wrong and use these as the reasons why we must stay on our current path. Learning to have a healthy distrust of this impulse and knowing that even if things go wrong, we might discover things worth finding can help us open ourselves up to the potential for wonderful things to happen.
That's from Paul Millerd's book The Pathless Path, a book about imagining a life with a different direction than the norm (i.e. career, marriage, family, retirement). It struck me because it pinpoints some of the issues that may be stopping me from progressing. I am not feeling lazy and not wanting to do the work for myself, but I am not prepared to fail. I have that internal expectation to have success almost immediately with everything I do. When things don't work out within a few weeks, I'm prone to giving up and sticking with what I already know works.
I want to take a more disciplined approach to this year to prevent me from stopping too soon, and instead stop too late so I can learn from mistakes. Trust myself that I am making the right choice and seeing it through to set myself up for success with my mental health, physical health, and being more successful with work.
Some other related writing on my site around these ideas, and an introductory video about themes from CGP Grey.