A 2015 Resolution: Living a Life of Reflection & Gratitude
I need an intervention.
I can’t stop thinking I need to do more. Do more learning. Do more creating. Do more work.
Seriously, my girlfriend can attest to how obsessive I can be about it at 6AM on a Saturday morning.
A lot of it is curiosity driven by a sense of urgency. One is innate, but the other wasn’t. I haven’t always had a sense of urgency. I learned to carry that characteristic from key mentors along my way, who I still look up to (thanks!).
Those two attributes can be the greatest ammo you’ll ever have. They can also be your greatest downfall. The key is which direction you point the gun.
At any one moment in time, I have so many personal & professional projects open, yet still feel like I need to take on more. Don’t get me wrong – it’s worked mostly to my benefit. I’ve accomplished a lot over the past 5 years over a wide variety of subject matters.
The problem is, I haven’t really taken the time to appreciate and celebrate those wins. I sometimes let urgency slip into self-delusion. Most of it was meaningful to me (and hopefully others too), but some of it was self-generated busy work to feed my personality, to challenge myself, and to give me an artificial sense of self-importance.
I mean, I spent HOURS fixing small visual issues on a personal website that only I would ever see.
Who’s life was improved by that effort? No one’s. That was a case of curiosity intersecting artificially-generated urgency to complete a task with a trivial outcome. (Ok, I learned a little bit, but it was on a very niche issue that satisfied nothing other than my own perfectionism).
Obsessing over small details can be beneficial but only as long as it is in the roadmap of some greater objective you’ve deemed worthy ahead of time.
Keeping the “objectives” clear in mind is difficult.
To attempt at solving this and clarifying my “objectives”, I’ve begun a conscience effort to spend more time slowing life down to reflect on what I’ve done, what I’ve learned from it, and what I’d do differently the next time around.
This will help me learn more about what I derive the most value from, what has created the most value for others, and what makes me happiest. With those answers, I think I can improve in all aspects of life and make sure I am focusing on the right things.
How? I have a few “routines” I do, or am starting to do, that are helping me along the way.
Gratitude Journaling: Over the past 3 weeks, the first thing I’ve done, upon waking, is hopping on Evernote or grabbing a piece of paper and filling out the following prompt:
My success rate on implementing this is about 50% right now, but I’m working on getting daily gratitude journaling engrained in my morning routine. I’ve found (like a ton of others have), that this sets me in a good mood for the rest of the day and reminds me of how great the little (or big) things in life really are. Plus, it only takes about 2 minutes of my time.
Disconnecting in the morning: I’ve been trying to avoid immediately opening my phone and/or computer in the morning. For about the past three years, I’ve made it a habit to get up early enough to make eggs and coffee for breakfast. Until recently, I filled the time doing so with checking Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Email and thinking “oh shit, I need to do this and that!”.
That really starts me off in a bad mindset of rushing to all of the things I think I need to get done, instead of taking the time to slowly ramp up my brain and consider what will have the biggest impact that day.
So recently, I’ve taken away my morning social media fix and replaced it with soft music while I cook and then a book while I eat. This gives me enough quiet time to think about the day and satisfy some curiosity in pre-planned reading on a subject I am interested in, rather than opening up a random Facebook/Twitter article and getting sucked in.
General journaling: I’ve also started journaling about “life” (i.e anything I feel like) at any point when I have the urge to make a decision or just feel overwhelmed about something. I’ve done this four times in the past two weeks and can already feel the benefit of brain dumping thoughts out of my head.
This seems to be a general theme. I asked someone close to me why they journaled regularly, and if it makes them a happier person:
No deep analysis of it is needed, just the mere act of it provides the therapeutic reflection needed.
Stop generating feelings of self-importance: This goes back to spending hours on minutia that won’t affect anyone’s life (not even my own). I’m working on doing things less to create feelings of self-importance (trying too hard on Twitter, for example), and making sure to answer the following questions before starting work on something:
Will this make someone else’s life easier/better?
Will this make my life easier/better?
Is this crucial for my job?
Is this crucial for someone else to do their job?
Does this make me happy?
Do I have time for this?
If I can’t answer any of these, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.
Realizing gratitude doesn’t just “happen”: Gratitude is never the result of a success. Gratitude is purposeful and you must intentionally attach it to a success after the fact.
Doing so has helped me clarify the cause & effect correlation between effort and outcome. Spending time in reflection of accomplishments has allowed me to realize which of my efforts are truly contributing to the outcomes, and which are wastes of time and effort.
I’m hoping that through these exercises, I’ll be able to regain the focus of my sense of urgency and kick some ass in 2015. Remember, reflection doesn’t have to be a complete stoppage of all momentum, but rather a moment of pause where you gain clarity in the things you’re working on and accelerate forward.
I hope you join me in making this a year of reflection, gratitude, and general ass-kicking. Let me know what you have up your sleeve in 2015 on Twitter at @_jakebowles (ironic after I just complained about using Twitter..)