Last year I chose ‘intention’ as my word for the year but that never felt quite right (to be honest, I kept forgetting what my chosen word was) and in 2014 I chose ‘equanimity’ mainly because I thought it sounded fancy and it was fun to say. But this year is different.
My one little word for 2016 is ‘better.’ It came to me quickly and suddenly and I knew it was the perfect word for me once it appeared in my brain. It stuck. Like melted gum on the bottom of my flip-flop. Stuuuuuuck.
To me, ‘better’ simply means that I want to make each day, each moment, each breath, just a teeny tiny wee bit better than the one before it or the one in 2015 or 2014 or 1994. Just a smidge bit better. Not the best—no one needs that kind of pressure. But also not the same either—because while my life is good—damn good in so many ways—I also believe that it/I can work to continually improve things even if that improvement measures only a millimeter. It’s still better.
I was thrown off for a minute when I read some of my favorite bloggers talk about how we should give up the idea of ‘better’ and instead focus on all that we already have. True. So very true. And yet, I also don’t want to wake up on January 1 of 2017 feeling like my life is at the exact same spot as it was on January 1 of 2016. No, I want to wake up on January 1 of 2017 and say, “Damn. That was a good year. My life shifted in subtle—and not so subtle—ways for the better. And I’m grateful.”
As an educational consultant, I’m constantly sharing research around the concept of expertise from Dr. Ericsson and the notion that it takes a minimum of ten years of deliberate practice to get good at something difficult. And that got me thinking. About my own life. And if I’m truly an expert in my own life… hmmmmm.
I’ve got the ten years part down (ahem…). It’s the deliberate practice part that has me pushing my own thinking. In education, we talk about deliberate practice as choosing one or two things to get better at each year. One or two things. Not 500. (Because in education, like other vocations, I’m sure, we tend to throw 500 new ideas at our teachers and announce that they need to do these things. Now. But for us veterans, we know that if we don’t get to them, we don’t worry, because we’ll throw 450 of those things out next year and bring in 475 more. Which sometimes leads to complacency and a feeling of ‘I’ll just shut my door and keep on doing what I’m doing because no one outside of my door seems to know what they’re doing anyway.’ And I want more than that for my own life--and for the educators that I work with.)
And so, as consultants in the world of education, we advocate for not doing that—not closing our door and doing what we’ve always done. We advocate for better. Because we know that if teachers can improve just a smidge each year, the impact on student achievement is astounding.
Which circles me back to my intention for myself this year: If I can improve my life just a smidge this year, the impact just might be astounding. And I like to be astounded.
So I started writing. As I do. And reading. As I do. Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before revolutionized my thinking and helped me to hone in on who I am and what small steps I can take to know myself better in order to shape my habits rather than trying on someone else’s habits as though swallowing a magic pill that would finally change my life immediately and forever (as I’ve been doing for years).
And so for the start of 2016, I’ve implemented my own ‘Daily 5.’ Educators might be familiar with this framework from the world of elementary school literacy (and now math) and how this framework helps to foster independence and fully engage students in reading and writing. The daily five in literacy are (1) read to self, (2) read to someone, (3) work on writing, (4) listen to reading, and (5) word work.
My daily five? My small steps that I am going to engage in action research around to see if they do indeed make me feel better are as follows: (1) take one photo each day (2) meditate (3) write (4) move (5) choose food (and drinks) mindfully.
For the last six days I’ve been using my Streaks app (through Rubin’s book I’ve learned that I work well with monitoring and Streaks allows me to keep track of my daily five in a tangible way) to monitor my progress. And so far? So good. Soooooo good.
I wake up in the morning, check my Bethadilly Challenge (https://bethadilly.com/the-bethadilly-challenge/) prompt and snap a photo. With intention. I love photography and starting my day with a visual image of beauty from my immediate surroundings feels like an indulgence.
And then I check my email, plan my day accordingly, take a few deep breaths, and open my journal. And I write two pages. Just two. Privately. For my eyes only. No pressure whatsoever; just putting pen to actual paper and seeing what unfolds. And what’s unfolding feels like magic.
And then I eat my healthy breakfast, with no distractions.
And then I meditate. I’m up to 25 minutes and while the first five minutes are still incredibly painful and scattered, I do eventually settle into my seat and my mind and when the chime goes off, I feel light and airy and… settled. Calm.
And then I get to work. Because I’m entering my work world in a state of calm. And that’s so much better than entering my work world feeling scattered and pressured and frantic. This week I’ve been at home, working on presentations and handouts and my book for beginning teachers and that sense of calm has led to improved presentations, handouts, and a few more words on the page.
And then I move. This week my movement has been in the form of yoga on a mat in the middle of my living room with Lucy (my dog) staring at me from the couch or from directly above. We also walk, Lucy and I, without my phone and usually without a shower, around the park, taking in all the smells, the puppies, the sunshine, and being careful of the icy spots. I’m not pushing myself to start running again as I usually do in January. My body doesn’t want to run (my knee in particular) and I’m listening to her. She craves yoga and walks right now and I’m obliging.
And then I work some more and eventually welcome Eric (my husband) home by putting down the work and looking him in the eye when I ask how his day was.
And then I cook. For real. (This is a relatively new skill for me.) I use my fabulous Vegetti to make myself zucchini ‘pasta’ and I eat it mindfully.
And I check off my five boxes on my Streaks app and give myself a pat on the back for another day spent feeling better.
It’s only the first full week of January and I know that when my travel schedule kicks back into high gear starting next week I may need to ease up on myself a bit. And I will. Because as I engage in deliberate practice around myself and my life, I know that getting five checkmarks might be too much and so some days I’ll only get one. And that’s ok, too, because each teeny tiny wee bit of forward progress is acknowledged and appreciated.
And today, through my morning journaling, I got to thinking that maybe you are interested in creating a life—or a moment or a breath—that’s just a wee bit better for yourself as well. Because perhaps you’re a mom who puts your kids and your spouse and your dog and the gerbil and the ironing before yourself. Or maybe you’re an executive who travels every week and while you’re raking in loads of money, you know that life could be better than sitting in a lonely hotel room ordering room service and trying not to let the duvet cover touch your face. Or you’re one of my people—an educator—who knows that balance is essential and yet you’re trapped under a pile of papers to be graded and an alarm clock that goes off at a despicable hour in the morning. And you’re thinking: There’s got to be a better way. Surely.
And so let’s do this together. Let’s take this journey to becoming better versions of our already kick-ass selves. Let’s choose one or two things to engage with deliberately. Maybe you start with your breath and reminding yourself to pause and take five deep breaths before you check your email or before your feet hit the floor from your bed or before you enter the office or the classroom in the morning or your home at the end of the day. Or maybe you start by moving your body in a way that feels good. Without the pressure of a ‘resolution’ screaming in your ear. Or maybe you decide to set an alarm to go to bed so you actually get seven hours of sleep and not two. Maybe you decide to buy that silly Vegetti and make yourself some crazy-ass non-pasta. Or you pick up that book that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand and you read two pages before you go to bed instead of checking Facebook one more time. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You know yourself better than I do—better than anyone.
In education we often talk about adding instructional strategies to our tool-belts so that we have multiple resources to utilize with our students and I’m proposing a similar idea here but instead of adding instructional strategies to our tool-belt of educational resources, I’m advocating for strapping on a self-care tool-belt so that while we’re taking care of our students, we’re also taking care of ourselves. So that we can feel better this year. Just a wee bit better. And I’m proposing that if we do that, we just might astound ourselves.
Care to jump in the water with me?