Welcome to 2017! How about that last year, huh? What a repeated kick in the teeth it was. I remember what I was like this time last year, all full of hopes and dreams and thinking that this was going to be a pretty great year of progress! If you were anything like me, then you probably drank as much as you possibly could to forget what happened over the previous twelve months — only it didn’t work. Donald Trump is still set to be inaugurated later this month; way too many luminaries shed their mortal coil; and the political discourse went beyond caustic into cartoonishly terrible. None of us were prepared for the parade of horrors that 2016 brought us, and the consequences of what went down last year will be with us for quite a long time.
The last year contained a few big wake-up calls. I learned that it’s not enough to only invest in something up to your comfort level and hope for the best — if you want something to change, you are going to have to stretch past your point of comfort to get it. I learned that changing the tone of our discourse is something that we will have to do ourselves; changing our government to work for us and uphold our American values is something we’re responsible for, not the politicians we elect; that in order to do anything I consider worthwhile, I am going to need to be uncomfortable, I will need to sacrifice, and I will need to put in the work.
My resolutions this year are centered around doing just that, putting in the work. It’s important to know what I want at a high level and build my life around what it will take to get there. If I’m going to be a writer, then I need to build my life around that. If I want to be a psychologist, then I need to make sure that the things I spend my time with get me closer to that goal. I will be 37 years old this year. It’s reasonable to assume I have fewer years ahead of me than I do behind. There is no more time to waste.
This year I have three fairly ambitious goals, and I’d like to think I have clear eyes on how difficult they will be. But while they’re ambitious, they’re also a solid foundation to build better habits with. Once I’m able to trust myself with the basics, I can move on to more complicated things.
Meditate every day. I practice sitting meditation fairly often, but I can get streaky with the process; I’ll have three weeks where I’m doing it every day, and then take a week where I’m just not doing it for whatever reason. The benefits are obvious, though. When I meditate, it’s easier for me to be resilient with interruptions and setbacks; I’m more attentive and compassionate with the people around me; I am able to handle and absorb stress better. Meditation not only helps my depression and anxiety, it helps my focus, productivity, creativity and understanding of the people around me.
In order to be able to do what I’d like to do this year, I need to make sure that I’m preparing myself properly. I intend to be more politically engaged. I will put myself and my writing out there a lot more. I will push myself to be better at my job by being more agile and collaborative, expand my knowledge about the underlying technologies I’m working with, and cultivate and nurture relationships with my coworkers. I will push myself to be more vocal about the things that actively hurt society, including willful ignorance and antisocial behavior. I expect that nearly every day this year, I will need to do something that makes me uncomfortable. In order to absorb the stress of that, meditation needs to be a cornerstone of my life. It will allow me to handle all of this, which means that it needs to happen every day.
Write every day. If you know me, you know that I have tremendous difficulty finishing the things I’ve started. There are a ton of short stories, snippets and other projects that I’ve started and restarted, only to have them flame out once the stress of continuing gets to be too much. That cannot continue. If I’m going to live up to my potential, I’m going to need to follow through. That means finishing the short stories and other projects I’ve started, no matter how terrible the first draft might be. In order to do that, I’ll need to shift my perspective on how writing is achieved.
For a while now I’ve operated like an “artist”, only writing when the inspiration strikes and cursing the dreaded writer’s block when it prevents me from putting anything good on paper. But a great craftsman doesn’t allow themselves to be tossed and turned by the whims of the muse; they are the center of the storm, putting in the work every day whether it’s good or not. It’s that time, that dedicated and focused practice, that allows us to make the work we put in on even the “bad” days just a little bit better. We also learn perspective, where we know that one bad day or one bad story isn’t going to break us; no matter what, we’ll be right back at it the next day. There’s always the time to get it right, but only if we make sure we put aside the time.
So that’s what I’ll need to do. Even if it’s just an uninterrupted 15 minutes, I will dedicate time to the project that I’ve designated as the primary one, every day. For the most part, I’m assuming that will be whatever I’m writing for the Jackalope Serial Company Patreon, but it could also be for MegaMorphics, the Furry Basketball Association, my Pathfinder game, or a short story for submission to a magazine or anthology. Whatever it is, if it’s my primary focus, it will get at least 15 minutes of dedicated effort every day.
Eliminate added sugars. Another one of the things I’d really like to do this year is be more discerning about the things I consume. There are too many great stories being told by too many great storytellers to waste time on careless fiction or time-wasting games and apps. The news media is in a legitimate shambles at the moment, and it will take time and training to learn what’s actual information and what’s been spun to advance an agenda or made up wholecloth. Even beyond that, there are so many things that might be good but lie outside of my range of tastes that I should stretch to see and talk about in service of pushing myself in general. But before all of that, let’s start with something basic and intimate.
I am a sugar addict. I can’t self-regulate when it comes to sweets; having candy, cookies and pastries doesn’t satisfy me, it just makes the desire that much more intense. Given that a whole lot of refined sugar in your diet can cause a lot of problems with your physical and mental health, it’s a great idea to cut them out whenever possible. This means leaving behind the Sugar Babies and chocolate bars, the fruit danishes and cakes that I love to have.
Just because something feels good to consume doesn’t mean it’s good for you to do it, and that lesson is no more simply learned than with the food I eat. I’ve taken big strides in 2016 with my diet, and I’m proud of the advances I’ve made. However, getting into the habit of watching for and abstaining from a lot of added sugar trains me to step back from the impulse of instant gratification to learn discipline and sacrifice in service to a higher ideal. It also trains me to look for the many different ways sugar can be hidden within food and reject the idea that something is healthy just because the box says it is. I know this sounds cynical, but I’m not trying to be — a company’s main goal is to get me to buy its product, and it will do whatever it can to make sure I do that. If Nabisco is worried about the health craze impacting its sales, it will bury the less healthy aspects of its products and promote the healthier ones to keep people buying. It doesn’t matter that a cookie or a sugary cereal is all-natural or certified organic — it will still promote all the problems that sugar does.
So for this month, I’ll keep close tabs on what I eat with the goal to lower my sugar intake to 40 grams or less a day. On special occasions I’ll indulge in a dessert or ice cream — when I’ve finished three short stories, meditated and wrote for 30 days straight, during birthdays or certain holidays. Otherwise, added or refined sugar is out of my diet.
For now, making sure that I meditate, write and abstain from added sugars every day will serve as a good foundation for me. Cultivating good habits that I consider fundamental to my experience and cutting out a bad habit that teaches me a few much-needed skills in the doing should put me in a good place to make the next leap towards the change I want to see in the world.
How about you lovely folks? What are your resolutions for the new year? If you’ve decided to forego resolutions this year, ain’t no shame in that; let me know why and how you plan to manage your own self-improvement in the comments.