Reward Yourself with Time and Creativity in the New Year
It’s that time of year! A lot of people can’t stand New Year’s resolutions, but I enjoy thinking about all the possibilities when a fresh year lies ahead. Nothing has been delayed, tarnished, or spoiled, and it’s a time to reflect, dream, and plan. Below are my ideas for indulging myself with both time and creativity in the new year:
Quieting the mind
My father used to spend months at a time in silent meditative retreat. Yes, that’s correct—months at a time. So you’d think I might be able to meditate for a mere 15 minutes a few mornings a week. But so far, this has been an elusive goal for me, which is why it’s back on my list this year. After all, meditation changes your brain, and I think it’s important to press "pause" on the busyness of our minds.
The idea of contemplation or reflection (how can you not like those words?) seems like such an important part of being truly conscious in your day-to-day life. But it’s not easy to meditate—at least for me! Yet I’ve also come to realize that I find meditative peace in other ways than just sitting still. Running for long periods or finding uninterrupted time to draw can take me to a space that truly quiets the mind. Perhaps social support would help me if I joined a weekly meditation group.
Embracing the local
I find that a great way to newly appreciate where you live is by putting on a visitor’s hat with full gusto and doing the activities you’d do if your best friend was in town for a week—like going to that art museum you’ve been meaning to visit, taking that buggy ride around town, or using the new outdoor skating rink. Then, put on your “insider’s” hat and go do the things that might seem slightly intimidating but have always intrigued you, such as exploring your local art and musical talents.
I just went to a $15 one-woman show by Denise Stewart, Dirty Barbie and Other Childhood Tales, at our local theater in Charlottesville, VA. It was wonderful and inspired me to commit to seeing more live shows in 2012. Why not go to the open mike night you’ve always heard about? Or see what the city is offering. We recently stumbled across free rollerskating every weekend afternoon and became regulars for a few months—our kids loved it!
We talk about time a lot at New Dream, especially about the importance of getting off the overwork-overspend-overconsume treadmill (as well as advocating for a shorter work week, flexible schedules, and more vacation and paid leave). It’s a topic I’m constantly drawn to because it’s something that everyone can relate to and that can dramatically affect your quality of life. Recently, I found more inspiration on this issue from an unusual source.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I picked up the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (it seemed like such a marketing ploy, which it is), but there were plenty of useful tips in the book. And I found a lot of common ground with the themes of New Dream. For example, Ferriss is all about ways to live more, work less, and follow your passion. I appreciated this quote in particular: “One cannot be free from the stresses of a speed-and-size obsessed culture until you are free from the materialistic addictions, time-famine mindset and comparative impulses that created it in the first place.“
Ferriss talks about the need to replace the perception of time famine with an appreciation of time abundance. He observes that a lack of time is often actually a lack of priorities, and that doing less (i.e., being selective) is the path to more productivity and enjoyment. Two recommendations that I’ll be spending more time on next year are reducing the time I spend on e-mail, checking it only at certain times of the day to reduce distraction and enable longer periods of focus, and going on periodic “media fasts” to recognize and limit how much time I’m spending consuming TV, Internet, and other media.
Sometimes there are little things that just feel like a triumph and tiny protest against cheap mass production, like learning how to make bread, knit a hat, or darn a sock. It’s almost a daily occurrence in our house that my daughter and I search in vain for a sock without a hole (not to mention one with a match, but luckily she still doesn’t mind wearing mismatched socks). My first thought usually is, my daughter needs new socks, but really, she just needs mended socks!
Yes, it’s a teeny tiny step but it will feel so good! So in the new year, I’m going to set aside one night or so a month to do these small things. It’ll be the night when, instead of seeking out my book for relaxation, I’ll take out that box of holey socks and put on a podcast of David Sedaris or Terri Gross or This American Life and darn a sock for the first time in my life.
I like the idea of getting outside your comfort zone and experimenting with new things that may be wildly impractical to your daily life. Think of Steve Jobs’s experience of taking a calligraphy class at Reed College—at first glance, not a lot of real-life application, but what he learned in that class ended up having a huge impact on how the Mac was developed. A new class or workshop, especially if it’s outside your normal realm, can make you see things differently and may tap into excitement to learn again, or open your eyes to entire mini-systems orbiting in your backyard that you knew nothing about. Maybe it’s a huge DIY community of homebrewers, or perhaps an improv class or even a trapeze class (yes, in a few big cities you can do this). Just find something that tickles your fancy or scares the hell out of you! Hmm…what am I going to sign up for? Still thinking about it!
Taking a stand
Tired of politics, corporate dominance, awful school food, bottled water, littering, mountaintop removal—or whatever really irks you? Then do something about it! Take a small step, but do something that matters. Do more than just write an e-mail—go to your next city council meeting, go to a creek cleanup, organize a trash pickup, give a screening on mountaintop removal, join or create a city food council, join an Occupy protest, create a buy-local campaign, start an energy savings club. Get together with your neighbors and talk about what’s possible. (See our Collaborative Communities program for ideas and keep a look out for our new toolkit on Sharing Resources—the first chapter of our Community Action Kit coming out in early spring.)
Reconnecting to nature
You know how good it feels when you’re out on a walk or hike and the sun is streaming through the leaves, and the air is clear and sharp and you’re just so glad to be outside—and you think, why don’t I do this more often? Indeed, why not? I want to take more frequent walks at parks closer to home, but then also plan for longer hikes. Schedule that time—a day a month where you go on a longer hike and get farther away from the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Go with friends, take a family hike—put it on the calendar now before it gets too busy. Nature reawakens your spirit like nothing else can. And it’s only when we step outside our everyday lives that we can see what’s really important and what’s not.
There are three strategies I employ when I feel like I want to buy things that I don’t need but just really want. First, I tell myself I can’t buy anything new until I clean out/re-organize my closet—well, that usually kills the desire right there, since I don’t often have the time or energy to do this. But then when I do clean out or organize my closet, I realize I have plenty of clothing, and I’m so happy I’ve cleaned my closet that I no longer feel a desire to buy new items.
My second strategy is to get off as many catalog lists as possible so they don’t pile up by the door (we use Catalog Choice, but there are other ways to take action). But when I do get a catalog that I like, I look through it and rip out whatever it is I want to buy and put the ripped pages in a folder in my office marked “Shopping.” For some reason, this is satisfying in-and-of-itself. Then, if I still really want the items weeks or months later, I can look in the folder and reassess—although at that point I usually don’t want them. And if I do, then I tell myself I can’t order those things until I clean out my closet...and so it goes!
My third strategy is to organize a swap, most often a book swap. I really like to buy books—there’s nothing I like better than a stack of new books. So when I’m feeling drawn to the bookstore, I e-mail a bunch of friends that I’m having a book swap the following week, and to come on over. Everyone brings books and leaves with books, without a penny dropped. I also realized recently that I can check out magazines at my local library. I’m a magazine junkie, so this was a big discovery for me! Now, I can get a huge pile of magazines—from Harpers and The New Yorker to People and Vanity Fair (no guilt—they’re free!)—so I can sit with my cup of tea and bowl of popcorn and feel incredibly indulgent with my comforting stack of new reads next to me.
All in all, not a bad way to start off the new year.
Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.