Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time recently considering the past year, and thinking about the potential that 2016 holds. I love the sense of possibility that turning the page on a new year provides, yet I also feel a sense of anxiety: Will I meet the goals I set for myself? Will I be as productive as I think I should? At the close of this year, will I feel as accomplished as I had hoped to be at the outset?
So many of us are our own worst critics, and hold ourselves to a never-ending task list. Each day and week, we create tick-boxes for what we need to accomplish, and end up dissatisfied when we cannot check them all off. Our To Do lists become a proxy for our sense of productivity, driving us to focus on the end product rather than the process.
Don’t get me wrong: productivity is important, and outcomes and results matter. But they aren’t the only things that matter, and they don’t matter most in all contexts. The “doing” of our lives cannot—and should not—be the ultimate gauge of our self-worth.
Which is why this year, I’m trying something different. In 2016, I want to focus on developing as a human “being,” not just a human “doing.” What do I mean by that? I’ve decided to make process just as important in my life as results. In both my professional and personal life, I want to strive to sharpen my “being” in five ways:
Being Present: Studies show that for nearly half our waking hours, we are thinking about things other than what we are actually doing. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m often preoccupied with the next thing I need to do, or worried about an upcoming deadline, or distracted by the siren song of social media and devices. But I find when I’m fully engaged in an activity—whether it’s having a conversation with a colleague, meeting with a client, or simply enjoying a walk outdoors—I get so much more out of that time. My connection with others and understanding of myself are made easier and more meaningful when I’m in the moment, appreciating “now” rather than thinking about “next.
Being Reflective: I’ve found I’m at my best when I carve out time to reflect on my interactions with others and the events of each week. Reflection time allows me to deeply process new information and experiences, build new learning onto the scaffolding of existing knowledge, and connect lessons from the past to anticipated challenges ahead. Rather than just squishing in reflection time where I can manage to fit it—while driving in the car, brushing my teeth, or dropping off to sleep—I’ve begun scheduling regular time for reflection in my calendar, as a way of holding space for a process that I know energizes me.
Being Creative: As a kid, I had lots of creative outlets: I loved to draw, I took dance and piano lessons, and I wrote poems and short stories for fun. As an adult, however, such creative pursuits often fall to the wayside, as our “real” jobs and commitments crowd out time for creativity. But recently, my brain has been shouting out for a way to scratch these creative itches. So I’ll be looking for ways to make that happen, such as sitting down at the piano to awaken dormant music in my fingers, or returning to story and poetry writing to nurture my creative life.
Being Self-Caring: It’s often easier to take care of others’ needs rather than focusing on our own. But I know from experience that when I fail to take care of myself, I’m ultimately less able to care for those around me as well. I’ve found that adequate rest and mental downtime are vital to me, so I’ve begun reshaping my end-of-day routines to make those things priorities. I’m giving myself a lights-out time just as I do for my kids, and I wind-down before bed by immersing myself in a book rather than my phone.
Being Grateful: It’s often said that gratitude is a gateway to other emotions, and maybe that’s the reason I’m feeling especially committed to incorporating gratitude in my life this year. Feeling grateful for what I have makes it easier to find joy in the every day. I’ve begun keeping a gratitude journal—just a sentence or two, a few times a week, to record someone or something that I'm grateful for—and that simple practice is already helping me notice and find pleasure in little things. I’ve also begun sending notes of appreciation to family, friends, and colleagues to thank them for the ways that they have provided support in the past, and the ways they continue to make my life richer and my work more satisfying.
At this time next year, rather than crossing off items from a year-end checklist, I hope instead to see myself as a continuing work in progress: more continuum than endpoint, more journey than destination, and ultimately, a more developed “being” rather than a person successfully “doing.”
What or how do you hope to “be” in 2016? What qualities or mindset do you seek to cultivate in yourself in the coming months?