Three small, structural changes may be all you need to make 2017 the best year so far
The New Year in sight is an excellent time to reflect and learn the lessons of the past year. Then, after some deep thought, you can look forward, set new intentions and goals, and start the year off with great optimism.
I recently spent an afternoon contemplating my 2016. This made me aware of what really worked, and what didn’t. I realized I made three changes that were essential to helping me shift to a higher level of well-being.
The wonderful thing is, these little changes are relatively simple, don’t cost much time, and yet can yield great results. Consistency is key.
So, if you are looking for some inspiration for how to make 2017 a fantastic year for you, consider these:
1) Create a morning routine that sets every day up for success and fulfillment;
2) Foster a deep, ongoing dialogue with your ‘wiser’ self through daily journaling;
3) Use the support of technology to ‘tune the mind’ ~ cultivating relaxation, meditation, and more.
A morning routine sets your day up for success
Mornings have this wondrous quality of new beginnings. With that virgin-like feeling of ‘a new day and a new chance,’ they tend to set the tone and direction of the day to come.
Therefore, we should be careful to set that tone and direction consciously, according to our deepest desires and highest goals, rather than by the slumber of our old habits. It is also important that we set that tone and direction ourselves, rather than handing that great power to the agenda’s of others (including of friends on Facebook, contacts in our emails etc).
That is, while we can engage with all that the world asks of us later, we only get to optimize that new beginning and freshly set the direction of our day on our own terms, first thing in the morning.
It’s a wonderful window of opportunity we are gifted with every day anew.
And though we may be tempted to think that “we don’t have time” for a morning routine, in my experience it actually ends up saving us a lot of time, energy and frustration. This is because we will likely have more focus, clarity, and dedication to our highest aspirations (instead of us getting sucked in by stuff that doesn’t serve us ~ which is so easy, isn’t?!).
A good way to implement a morning routine is to cut some time out to design a morning flow, by thinking through every step, and printing out a list or plan that spells out exactly what to do and when. Once your plan is clear, you don’t need to think about it, allowing you to flow in the morning.
This list or plan is designed to create the optimal setup for your day, within your given time and other constraints, and should contain the activities that will make you feel best, while leaving out activities that tend to lead to distraction and energy-drain (social media may be a big one here!).
Activities may include movement (a wonderful way to wake up your whole system and lift yourself into a better state of being); meditation (starting your day by ‘tuning in’); and reflection or intention-setting. Or, as my partner does, a walk in the park combining all of these activities. Other people swear by cold showers, or a breakfast with lots of proteins.
That is, morning routines are unique, as we all work best in different ways. So it may take some time to figure out what works best for you ~ but it will be worth it! Hands down, my days are much more fulfilling when I diligently work my way through my list. And I tend to regret it, when I don’t.
I have also gone back and forth between different designs. Currently, I drink a big glass of water with a squeezed lemon in it, do half an hour yoga, 15 minutes of meditation, and then a short journaling session. A cup of good coffee and a nutritious breakfast are also important to me.
If I really don’t have the time, I’ll skip my yoga, but I try to be rock-solid with my meditation and journaling. This time of sitting quietly by myself, getting in touch with my deeper feelings, and having some time to look ahead at the coming day, has become my minimum morning routine.
After these practices, I dedicate myself to what is often referred to as deep work. This is a (2–4 hour) session of undistracted, highly focused work, in which I try to accomplish the most difficult and demanding tasks of my day. This way I optimally use the clear morning energy for doing my deep writing, thinking, and strategizing, while saving more practical tasks (e.g., responding to emails or running errands) for later.
If you want more ideas about how to set up a kick-ass morning routine that transforms your life, consider checking out Benjamin Hardy’s writing on the subject. His words will likely leave you feeling uplifted and ready to go for it!
Daily journaling supports deep dialogue with your wiser self
Journaling was another big discovery for me last year, even though I have written diaries since I was twelve years old! However, despite my extensive journaling practice, I had never done it structurally, at a more or less fixed moment in the day, and whether I felt I had something to say or not.
That appeared to be the magic formula though!
In my experience, something truly wonderful happens when we engage in an ongoing dialogue with the wiser, more reflective parts of ourselves.
One of the first changes I noticed was that insights about my thoughts and behaviors started to ‘stick’ more. Before, though I often had great insights into my patterns, there was still a (quite frustrating) tendency to keep repeating them. As many people have observed, even the most illuminating insights do not necessarily ‘set one free’! However, as soon as I started an ongoing dialogue with my ‘wiser’ self, insights integrated better, and actual transformation was the result. This, of course, is nothing less than life changing.
Also, insights started to come more easily and frequently. When we sit with a journal opened on our lap and a pen in our hand, it is as if we are saying to both our subconscious and our higher consciousness, “come on in with these insights!” We actively open ourselves to hear parts of ourselves speak that we normally don’t pay much attention to ~ just by the simple act of making a little space and time for them, every day again.
Research has found journaling to have the following benefits, among others:
- Clarify your thoughts and feelings;
- Know yourself better;
- Reduce stress;
- Solve problems more effectively;
- Resolve disagreements with others.
Although researchers are only starting to get why writing is so beneficial, there is emerging agreement that the key to writing’s effectiveness is in how people interpret their experiences. This means just venting emotions is not enough! To tap writing’s power, you should use it to learn from your emotions, and intentionally look for meaning in your experiences.
Another key is to write “stream of consciousness” style. That is, don’t try to say it well, or pretty, but just write down what pops into your mind, without restraint or inhibition, and without thinking too much about it. If nothing pops in your mind, then write that. Write about whatever thoughts have been floating in your mind this morning, the dream you woke up with, an unsolved problem of yesterday, your challenge for today, or even what you had for breakfast. It doesn’t matter! Just write without restriction, and at some point more insightful stuff will be flowing out of your pen. Just keep going ~ without stopping, reading back, or editing yourself.
After a bit of this kind of free flow, I will often read back what I wrote the day before. I’ve noticed this helps me to weave the thread of my life, better recognize the larger process I’m in, and more clearly see the themes occupying me at this period in my life.
Another thing I do is reflecting on the day ahead, and setting an intention for my day. Often I will quickly look at my agenda and to-do-list, and tune in about how I want to go about my day.
What am I holding as my highest possibility for myself, on this day?
What is the kind of mood or spirit I would like to engage this day with?
What is my specific aim for this day? Something I want to accomplish or embody? Something I want to remind myself of? Something I’m hoping for?
Write it all down, and see how your days will likely start to unfold differently. It’s a powerful practice!
If you want to read more about journaling, consider the excellent book ‘Writing down your soul’.
Technology can support you with ‘tuning your mind’ ~ cultivating relaxation, meditation, and more
“The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind” ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
The world of technology is full of wonders, but the simplicity and profundity of a meditation app can change one’s life. It’s like having your favorite coach, wise perspective, or soothing voice unlimitedly available, 24/7, and often for free.
I personally use Insight Timer, but I’m sure there are other great options. The main way I use it is when I can’t sleep. A soothing voice talking me through a calming body scan and breath exercise is often enough to get me there. As a sensitive sleeper, discovering this possibility was enough to create a positive shift in my life!
However, the guided sessions on these apps can also help you with countless other issues, from how to relate to your children to how to cultivate acceptance and self-love ~ and everything in between.
And the wonderful thing is, you can be as critical as you wish, as these apps offer literally thousands of different sessions, so if you don’t like the voice, style, wording, or atmosphere, you just try another one.
A meditation app can also be a great support in starting a meditation practice. Most people find that their minds are full of unrest as soon as they sit still and start paying attention to what is going on inside. (Yup, this is the famous monkey-mind. Indeed, you’ve got one too…). In that sense, meditation can be quite confronting and even upsetting.
Therefore, it can be very useful to have somebody guide you through your inner labyrinth of thoughts and sensations. With some simple techniques or suggestions you may experience a shift of mind state, leaving you feeling more peaceful, relaxed, and joyful.
And the benefits are so worth it, as science is starting to show with increasing clarity. A number of studies now show that meditation boosts:
- Happiness (increasing positive emotions, decreasing anxiety, depression);
- Your social life and your sense of connection to others;
- Your sense of self-control and ability to introspect/reflect;
- Positive brain-changes;
- Productivity (through increasing focus and attention, creativity);
- The cultivation of wisdom (e.g., the capacity to take perspective).
Meditating is one of those things I think every human being in the world should have the privilege to learn. It’s a wonderful upgrade to one’s life, and potentially essential for cultivating long-term inner peace and happiness.
I’m also convinced it would make our world a more peaceful, loving, and happy place, if we would all regularly take some time to ‘sit with ourselves.’
Call to action!
Schedule some time to reflect on your 2016, and the changes you would like to make in 2017. Even seemingly small changes, when repeated over time, can become a powerful force for positive change in your life!
Please share below how you are hoping to make 2017 your best year so far. I’m curious to know!
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If you want to, you can learn more about me on my personal website.