Lessons from the Past Year
I’m not big on traditions, but I’m fond of rituals. Reflecting on what I learned is a year-end ritual that evolves and grows as I do.
Last week my friend Andy Grant and I closed out the 2016 season of Real Men Feel by talking about year-end rituals and New Year traditions. I admit that I don’t have many traditions I follow, but the ones I do I tend to follow for a time until they no longer serve me. That’s because I have a complicated relationship with the word “tradition.”
I think traditions can be both good and bad, keeping mind that I use those labels loosely. For example, I’ve experienced some wonderful family traditions that are fun and that never grow old; such as giving (and getting) new pajamas on Christmas. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed and experienced cultural traditions that hold back an entire society; traditions like discounting the contributions of individuals because of their gender or other differentiators.
By contrast, I’m rather fond of rituals. Rituals are deeply personal, and unlike traditions, which tend to become inflexible over time, rituals evolve and grow with the person. I have a year-end ritual I started a number of years ago that I continue to this day. I borrowed it from someone else, but it is now very much an echo of me and where I am in my life. The ritual I speak of is one of reflection.
If I don’t engage in the ritual by the end of the year, I make sure I do it within the first few days of the new year. This is the one time every 12 months when I take a serious look at where I’ve been so I can celebrate where I am now. As I celebrate, I think about the running themes of the year and then I write down the lessons I learned. Sometimes I share those lessons (like I’m about to do), but sometimes I keep those lessons to myself.
One of the biggest surprises from my reflections was I felt overwhelmed and disconnected for much of 2016. The reasons were unimportant, but I did learn some valuable lessons, which I went on to document. Those lessons allowed me to reconnect to the totality of who I am, and now I’m using them to live the most joyful life I can right now. Here’s what I learned and what I did:
I slowed down. The biggest lesson I learned was that I was doing (or trying to do) too much. This was especially true around late summer and early fall when I went through several major life changes, including starting a new job and moving into a new apartment. I speak often of the need to allow ourselves time to be playful and have fun, but I got so caught up in what I was doing I neglected to follow my own advice. The result was a slide into a depression the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in years. When I realized what I was doing to myself, I temporarily said NO to everything so I could slow down. I then took a step back, looked at what I was doing, and proceeded to say YES to the three things that were most important to me right now. The funny thing is that I continue to say YES to every opportunity that interests me, but I’ve learned to say, “Yes, but not yet.” I’m now committed to moving onto the next project only after another project is done.
I gave myself permission to be responsibly playful. Saying “no” now so I could say “yes” later gave me the space I needed to be responsibly playful. I define “responsibly playful” as making sure I set aside a little bit of time every day to do something that has nothing to do with my other “responsibilities.” My something can be anything from watching a show I recorded on my DVR to reading a chapter from a favorite book or building a new Lego® toy.
I stopped trying to multitask. This ties directly into me slowing down. By taking on only three active projects, and by only focusing on one project at a time, I’ve discovered that I get more done. There is an increasing body of evidence that shows our brains simply aren’t wired to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, so why fight nature? Instead, I’ve accepted that it’s easier to work WITH my brain than against it… and if you want to read a great article on the pitfalls of multitasking, go here.
I’m honoring my needs and doing what’s important to me. I’ve spent a lifetime ignoring my own needs and sacrificing things that were important to me just to make other people happy… and you know what? They still wanted more. Even though I instinctively knew that I was violating the First Principle of Joy, I felt like I couldn’t help myself. The happiness of those around me was more important than my own joy. It was only after I understood that I was approaching the subject of joy backwards that I started to take responsibility for my own happiness. In the process, I discovered the freedom to do my greatest good and the people around me wound up being happier too.
I remind myself that negative reactions are about the other person and not about me. This is an extension of #4. Have you ever dealt with a customer who, no matter what you do to make them happy, refuses be satisfied? Or perhaps you’ve dealt with a family member or a friend who has done the same thing. If you have, it helps to understand that they have their own issues they’re going through. I found that it’s easier to deal with unhappy people when I accept that I can’t think for them, nor can I live their lives for them. That’s something they have to do on their own. Once I accept that simple fact, it’s easier to remind myself that their reactions are a reflection of their thoughts and whatever it is they’re going through.
This list is by no means a complete one, but it does reflect the most important lessons from the past year. I share it with the intent of making 2017 an even better year than the last one. I also want to hold myself accountable for my continued growth and evolution. If the things I learned happen to help others, then great. But if they don’t, then that’s fine too. I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing no matter what.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and a guy dedicated to raising our collective EQ. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, awareness, and the experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.