Like a lot of people, I find this time of year a good spot to stop and think about what I’ve accomplished and what I want to achieve in the coming year. I stopped making resolutions a long time ago, but I do like to pause and reflect about the things that are important to me, identify areas that I want to focus on, and outline baby steps I can take to move myself forward. And when I say “baby steps”, I mean exactly that – for example, in 2008 I set the goal for myself of simply submitting one essay for publication, which I did just under the wire in late December. The point was simply to put something I had written in the mail. I had utterly no expectations; in fact, I took consolation in the fact that the essay would never see the light of day. I was simply forcing myself to confront my fear of sending my work out.
(I recognize how weird this may sound for someone who blogs, but the thing about blogging is that unless you are, say, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, it’s very easy to assume nobody is reading the thing, and so it feels private…even when it’s not.)
Imagine my surprise when, six months later, I found out the essay was going to be published. When they asked me if the work “was still available for publication” (meaning, nobody else had bought it) I almost fell off my chair from laughing. Nobody else had SEEN the thing.
(While I had been published before, during college, it was a fluke of grand proportions involving my roommate’s brother desperately needing copy for a new magazine he was art directing, and him grabbing my first journalism class assignment off the kitchen table. I was so blasé about the whole thing that I was truly startled when I showed up at class and my professor was stunned that one of his students had been published. At the age of 21 I had no idea this was actually a big deal.)
At any rate, having this latest essay published was proof positive for me that in fact, baby steps can work, and so I set about to figure out other parts of my life that might benefit from them. In 2009 I had this vague notion that I wanted to figure out what makes me happy, after realizing that a succession of things (boyfriends, jobs, apartments) were not making me happy (shocking, I know). This wasn’t a goal that could necessarily be quantified, but through a series of baby steps I started noticing improvements in my mood. Eventually I stumbled upon Gretchen Rubin’s blog and officially christened my explorations as a Happiness Project. In 2010, as I continue exploring happiness, I’m going to follow Rubin’s monthly happiness challenge, where every month I will focus on a particular area of my life. I am not 100% sure how I will deal will all of her topics , so I may change things up a bit if something more relevant comes up. But there’s something appealing about this approach; I like the idea of devoting one month to something. It seems like it will be long enough to investigate and make some changes, but short enough so that I won’t get sick of it.
January’s topic is Energy, and while I’m not yet sure what Rubin has in mind, I am going to define this in three specific ways: physical, emotional, and consumption (as in, electricity). There are some basic things that I already know affect my energy levels …but I’m interested in exploring this further. Like, for example, every few months I think to myself, I really should take a basic multi-vitamin, because my idea of good nutrition is a grilled-cheese and tomato sandwich. I run out and buy vitamins, take one, and then promptly forget about them for another few months. What would happen if I actually took one every single day? Totally a baby step. And maybe I won’t feel any differently, but it’s possible that it might just boost my energy a bit. If not, no harm/no foul. Likewise, I know that there are a number of small things I can do to reduce my energy consumption, including unplugging my rarely-used toaster, DVD player, and printer. Small things, but still valuable.
If you’d like to play along, visit Rubin’s blog or check out her upcoming book (I have no relationship, business or otherwise, with her; I just like her blog). Also, another good source I've found for “annual life planning”, for lack of a better term, is Chris Guillebeau’s blog.