I've mentioned it before, and I'm sure I'll mention it again, I am a big fan of Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project. Last year after reading her new book, Happier at Home, and then rereading The Happiness Project, I decided to take on my own Happiness Project.
If you are not familiar with The Happiness Project, put very simply, as part of Gretchen Rubin's first Happiness Project she came up with a number of resolutions for things that she felt would increase her happiness if she were able to make those changes in her life. She focused on a different area each month and checked her resolutions off every day. If this methodical approach appeals to you, then I strongly encourage you to go to her site and read her books.
I liked the idea of tracking my resolutions on a daily basis, as I know that despite good intentions my regular New Years resolutions are usually quickly forgotten.
I happened to finish reading her second book, Happier at Home, on my birthday last year. This seemed like a good time to start planning my own happiness project. For the first month after my birthday I reread the original book and then I followed her suggestions for thinking about what contributes to my happiness, what reduces my happiness, and then used this information to come up with resolutions and commandments of my own (for more information on Gretchen Rubin's commandments, go here).
I am now at the end of the year of my first happiness project and you might be wondering what do I have to show for it, other than a bunch of marked up papers? Well, despite the fact that my house is not as organized as I would have liked, I can say that I have learned a lot and have had some very positive results.
One thing I quickly learned is that decision-based resolutions are much easier to keep than time-based resolutions. Decision-based resolutions are those that involve making better decisions in the moment. Some examples of my decision-based resolutions that, because of their nature, were generally quite easy to keep are:
- Drink more water. I achieved this by carrying water with me most places and ordering (and drinking) water whenever I was dining out. Getting a well-designed water bottle is also helpful. I found this bottle to be easy to operate one handed and I felt confident that it would not leak in my bag. I found the collapsible water bottles worked well for traveling, as I could empty them for flights, refill them after going through security, and once I was finished my water, the empty bottle didn't take up much space in my bag.
- Buy only what I need. Simply by thinking about this every day I found myself more likely to stop before buying something to consider whether or not I really needed it or if I might regret my decision later.
- One in and one (or more) out. This goes along with my previous resolution. If I was about to buy something new, and I already owned something similar, then I would get rid of at least one similar thing. For example, if I bought a new t-shirt, then I had to get rid of at least one old t-shirt (usually by donating to a thrift store if the shirt was in good condition).
- Enjoy (don't waste) time. If I caught myself on Facebook (or similar time-wasting sites) I would stop myself to ask, “am I really enjoying the way I am spending this time?”. If the answer was “yes”, then I would keep on perusing Facebook, if not, I would go find something different to do. Setting a timer when I opened Google Chrome also helped me to keep from getting ‘sucked into the internets’ and worked well as the reminder to stop and check if I was enjoying my time or doing what it was that I meant to do when I sat down at my computer.
- Make the positive argument. If someone said or did something that I was inclined to take the wrong way, I would stop and try to think of how they may have intended it differently. Or, if they are known to be a miserable person, I would think about how unhappy their life must be since manner probably makes things more difficult for them in the long run. I have found that when someone is venting it may be best to refrain from bringing up a different perspective as it can seem unsupportive - sometimes people just want to vent.
- Dig deep. I reminded myself of this resolution whenever I found that I didn't want to do something simply because I was feeling lazy.
- Don't overbook. Due to high caseloads I had started to squeeze in back-to-back appointments with no time for a washroom break, to return phone calls, or to keep up with reports and notes. I couldn't figure out why I was struggling so much to keep up until I sat down one day and identified the problem. I realized that I was trying to see the same number of people each day as a part-time Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) as I had been seeing when I worked full-time. The end result is that I would stay after work (sometimes for several hours) trying to finish up all the things that I had not been able to do during the day. While this was a work-specific resolution, while reflecting upon it here I realized that I should apply this to my personal life too.
Time-based resolutions are those that, as the name implies, require some sort of time commitment. I initially had made a lot of time-based resolutions to do several different things for a few minutes a day and I quickly realized that I often just don’t have that time and had to modify them. Here are some of my time-based resolutions and what I learned from them:
- Keep on top of paperwork. Once a week I would go through mail, pay bills, and either shred or file paperwork as appropriate. At work this has been much easier to do since I resolved to not overbook myself. There are still some days when appointments go long or an unscheduled phone conversation takes time away from report-writing and I find myself staying late, but it happens FAR less than it did in the past. Which provides me with more time to myself to make some of my other time-based resolutions happen, such as…
- Take 10,000 steps a day. This was another resolution that involved identifying the problem. I had got a Fitbit step tracker in the summer of 2012, but once the days got shorter I found it much more difficult to get my 10K steps a day. While staying with my dad for a few weeks in December, while he recovered from surgery, I realized it was much easier to get my steps in walking around his neighbourhood. I thought about what was different and realized that his neighbourhood is better lit than mine. When I returned home I bought several wearable lights and reflective items. Just knowing that I am more visible to drivers has made a big difference to my desire to walk when the days are short and dark. Some days it was impossible to get 10K steps a day, such as when I was in bed sick or if I had been in meetings or travelling all day. Most days, if I reminded myself to ‘dig deep’, I could reach my target.
- Go to bed on time, Sleep for 8 hours a night, and Don't press the snooze button. I found going to bed on time difficult, almost as if I was fighting with myself about my bed-time. I frequently found myself saying, ‘just one more chapter/episode’. I thought that if I got the new Fitbit Ultra, with a silent alarm set to remind me when to get ready for bed, that I might do better – but I haven’t. Of course, if I am going to bed too late it is hard to get 8 hours of sleep. I actually did quite well with the no snooze button resolution for several months, until the spring ahead time change from which I never fully recovered (maybe I will get back into it with the fall behind time change coming up). I started by setting my alarm with the minimum time I needed to get ready and get to work on time. Each week I set it 5 minutes earlier until I was getting up with enough time to take Dottie for a walk, eat a leisurely breakfast, and read the news. Since I was not as successful with the bedtime resolution, this may have been doomed to failure. I suppose at the core of it I must not WANT to change this behaviour, but I sure wish that I did.
- Spend 15 minutes a day organizing digital photos. I had high-hopes that by the end of the year all of my photos would be organized, photo CDs sent to the people in the pictures, and that I would be regularly syncing and sorting the photos from my camera and iPhone. The regularity of this resolution went in fits and spurts, depending on how much else I had going on at the time. Even though I did not manage to do this every day, I did manage to organize two large photo collections from vacations in 2008 and 2009 (plus all the other photos from those two years). That alone was a pretty big accomplishment.
- Read one SLP (or related) journal article per week. This resolution reinforced that I do best with a deadline. It was also part of my inspiration for starting a Meetup group for SLPs in Victoria. As part of the group I have been organizing two Meetups per month to discuss journal articles. I get far more out of discussing the articles with other people than I do from reading them by myself. While I am not yet reading them if I am not committed to do so for the group, it is a step in the right direction.
- Check calendar and to-do list every morning. This one doesn't take much time to complete, so it has been easy to maintain. Since my calendar and to-do list are both online, I have “pinned” those tabs permanently open on Google Chrome so I see them every morning when I check my email. I'm usually pretty good about remembering what I've scheduled, so the biggest benefit of doing this is that I don’t forget about appointments or deadlines that I scheduled several months earlier.
- Unload dishwasher every morning and Declutter for 5 minutes a day. Like the bedtime resolution, I found myself making excuses to put them off. Obviously I had to do these things at some point – but it was almost as if I didn't like being told to do them, even though I was the one telling myself to do them.
Believe it or not – that is not even HALF of the resolutions that I set for myself last year! In retrospect, I think one of my biggest downfalls was trying to do too much.
One resolution that I never got around to making was to call or Skype out of town friends and family more regularly. Just thinking about this resolution, however, made me suggest to my sister that we read a book together and arrange to Skype or call once a week to discuss it. Not only has it has been really great to talk to my sister more regularly, I have also found that, like the journal article discussions, I got much more out of what I had read by discussing the chapter with my sister. Also, the books that we read have tied in really nicely with my happiness project, through greater self-reflection and understanding.
Despite the fact that I have not been successful with all of my resolutions, I can say with confidence that some really positive changes have come out of this exercise. As I just mentioned, thinking about making changes has made me make changes. Increased self-awareness has made me push myself out of my comfort zone more. The benefit of this is that I've had experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise had, such as starting the Meetup group, starting this blog, and joining the BCASLPA advocacy committee. This has in turn resulted in an increased passion for my profession, which I hope to share here.
Another unexpected benefit was that paying more attention to my health, by going to yoga and water aerobics regularly, made me realize how uncomfortable it was for me to sit in the little chair at work. It took a while but I eventually identified the problem. I realized that I didn't need to wait for my employer to purchase a new chair and that I could buy one myself. I got a saddle stool from a local beauty supply store (though I see the same stool, in the link, is marketed to clinicians). It goes low enough for me to use it at the child table (a little lower would be even better) and it can be raised to the height that I need for working at my desk. It is ergonomically designed and much more comfortable than both the child chair, and the office chair, that I had been using up to that point.
As I mentioned, I think I tried to do too much last year, so this year I am going to try something different. Since I have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, starting today I plan on introducing one new resolution at a time for 21 days before adding a new one. If I have done the calculations correctly, the 16th resolution should be complete on my next birthday. The first 5 resolutions that I plan to tackle were recommended in an interview with Shawn Achor, a positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage; another book that I would recommend reading.
I probably won’t blog about every resolution, but I will blog on any that relate to the SLP profession. I suspect that, as with my happiness project, some resolutions that are not intended to be work-specific will have positive impacts on my professional life and, if that happens, I will be sure to share it here.