The Smallest “Goals” In My World
It’s been popular ever since I can remember that human beings often reflect on the course of the year, as it draws to a close. In fact, it could be said that we are societally encouraged to do so. For instance, “top lists” are all over the place in the media: YouTube, Spotify, Rotten Tomatoes, Indigo, and even Instagrammers’ grid posts. And this is just scratching the surface, as there are countless sources that report on lists like these and hundreds of additional ‘top 10s’, ‘top 20s’ , ‘top 100s’ etc. I’m feeling it especially this year as we roll over into a new decade.
Turning ‘Best Of’ On Ourselves
And sometimes all of these messages, urging us to reflect, get on my nerves and this counsellor starts to get cranky. Sure, top lists can be interesting at times, but what happens when we turn ‘best of’ standards on ourselves?
It can be tempting to reflect on what we have accomplished over the course of a year, searching for notable moments that we feel reflect well on us or our character (and all the better if we can share those with others, particularly on social media).
And sometimes this ‘best of year’ reflection is a little more personal, such as, did we ask for a raise, run the half marathon that we’d set out to do, or visited a family member on a certain schedule?
And I’m not dissing goals like these, but what happens when we don’t accomplish them? We may find ourselves being down on ourselves, in subtle or not so subtle ways, coming in the forms of sadness, regret, guilt, self-recrimination or even self-abuse, all of which make us vulnerable to getting “back on track” come the New Year.
And as crabby as I am about all of this, resolutions and goals are not necessarily a bad thing, if handled with care.
The Smallest “Goals” In My World
But now I’m going to move on from this very long intro and talk about my personal reflections on 2019: taking stock in some simpler things. I call these the smallest “goals” in my world and “goals” is in quotes for a reason. I couldn’t find a word in the English language which reflected “moving towards something but allowing my focus to ebb and flow depending on circumstances and without regret.” If anyone has this word, please let me know. I would love to hear it.
I’m talking here about focus areas that will not get me acclaim, but rather moments, often unnoticeable to others, that hint to us that something worthwhile seems to be changing inside—something is shifting—and sometimes is so subtle that we ourselves may not even notice it.
There’s no formula for what I’m focusing on, nothing SMART, which I was so focused on in years past (and yes, still has much merit); I am reflecting here on some general areas that I’ve worked on over the course of the year plus those tiny internal ‘thumbs up’ that encourage me to keep going.
The ‘thumbs up feeling’ is also very inclusive, as it embraces process not end goal, which means I can be anywhere in my process and it’s all good. “Accomplishment” is not dependant on completion. And if completion happens, that’s all good too. ‘Thumbs up’ doesn’t rank, though.
And sometimes self-supportive actions happen, and sometimes they don’t, depending on memory, where I am and what I am doing at the time.
So with an anticlimactic drum roll, here are four things that I chose to work on in 2019 and remain ongoing:
Focus Area: Kindness to Myself
Finding ways to be gentler on myself for when I’ve messed up, or wish I had handled something differently.
- Letting go of self-critical thoughts whenever I think to do so (+ repeat, repeat).
- Talking things out or getting hugs from supportive people in my personal life.
- Sharing vulnerability with trusted friends who also share vulnerability with me too.
- Connecting with my therapist and clinical supervisor.
- Giving myself little realistic pep talks during moments of discouragement.
- Taking responsibility for mistakes made while also self-acknowledging my humanity.
- Allowing myself more time for fun, particularly making time to take photos.
- Letting go of negative thoughts/experiences and celebrating the effort of persisting with hobbies, like sourdough bread making that has results that can be deflating at times (sorry, bad pun); focusing more on process and less on end result.
- Giving occasional gifts to myself, such as a sweater I knit for myself this year.
Focus Area: Looking After Myself
Finding ways of looking after myself – typically engaging in boring acts of self care that put me on a better footing day to day.
- Going to bed when I feel tired.
- Making modifications in my routine when my body says “no”.
- Putting enough of a buffer between screen time and bed: this has improved greatly with regard to work but is still a problem when it comes to entertainment!
- Having nice books to read before bed and signing up for email renewal reminders so I have less library overdue fines.
- Using lovely soap and devising a simple system for not wasting soap so I am not relegating myself to using “slivers”.
- Incorporating a buffer time after coming home from the office to rest and recharge.
- Arriving extra-early for work so I am not rushed and can get my mind settled and calm before my first session.
- Trying a few simple exercises to get my body moving more but not so much that I get discouraged and don’t want to do it.
- Incorporating more activity to increase my amount of walking in a way that integrates well in my routine; adding an extra-cushy insole to my shoes to minimize shock to my bones and help prevent fractures.
- Reaching for more apples and oranges because I sometimes forget that fruit exists. Plus they’re thirst quenching and readily available in the store!
- Stopping the quick turnaround between evening and daytime appointments. Making a shift (in progress) to daytime counselling appointments only.
- Thrifting belongings when time allows, to increase mental peace and hopefully benefit (unknown) people who could use them.
- Drinking a strong cup of tea (hopefully not before bed!)
Focus Area: Being In The Moment
Finding ways to be present with what I am doing.
- Walking without distractions.
- Taking a moment or two, or longer when I can to just be on a bus or Skytrain without looking at my phone.
- Listening intently to stories.
- Staying focused in personal conversations by bringing my mind back to what is being said, particularly after the end of a day of counselling.
- Knitting without Netflix, podcasts or any other distractions.
- Taking a few minutes in the morning to meditate, even if I am still in my bathrobe!
- Cooking without CBC radio if I am feeling harried.
- Paying attention to external signs that gently tell me that I am not in the moment, and then self-correcting. “Did I put on my conditioner?” for example. If I can’t answer that, it’s time to bring myself back in the moment.
Focus Area: Disarming Anxiety
Finding practical and creative ways to work ongoingly with this life-long companion.
- Noticing and naming when I am anxious, which helps me to take a step back from it.
“On the spot” meditation if circumstances allow—just a few minutes can help me greatly.
- Taking moments to pause and notice what is going on internally if my anxiety levels are high.
In-the-moment journalling: useful to bring clarity when emotional intensity and complex situations are involved.
- Taking the time to breathe and making an effortful go of it. Five abdominal breaths is never enough. It’s usually at least 10 minutes of breathing to down-regulate my nervous system.
- Doing an absorbing activity that will activate my prefrontal cortex and diminish the fight or flight response. Lace knitting is a personal favourite.
- Getting my body active in simple ways such as scrubbing the shower stall, taking a walk, doing a silly dance.
- Doing tasks that lend a feeling of accomplishment, particularly when other things feel out of control. The highlight of this year was devising and completing a sustainable system for organizing my spices: something that had confounded me for years.
- Facing difficult things. Totally un-fun, but this antidote to avoidance can reduce anxiety dramatically.
- Being mindful of lifestyle and schedule, especially if circumstances are inadvertently setting me up for anxiety.
And, I admit, these “goals” will likely be similar next year, with some shifts along the way. The fact that I can continue to work on things brings me a sense of gratitude and relief. Pressure is reduced as the binary of ‘pass or fail’ is eliminated. As this year ends, I wish you peace in your self-reflections, which I hope include a dollop of kindness to yourself as well!
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