2020: The year of ‘Self’

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m a little late to my 2020 theme post. Actually, I’ve been later. Did you notice I didn’t post one last year? Neither did I. I don’t even know if I had a theme in 2019, and it sure did prove to be a tough year for me.

Not only are we welcoming a new year—we are also welcoming a new decade. As I reflect on my life the past 10 years, I see tremendous growth: I met my husband, graduated with an undergraduate degree, traveled to places around the world, had many rewarding jobs, got married, got a cat, went to graduate school, won an alumni award, and rediscovered different hobbies like theater and avid reading and writing. Life has been good to me!

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this past decade, and continue to relearn, is my self-worth. It’s something we all have (not to be confused with self-esteem) and I’ve worked hard to combat those negative thoughts.

What I have noticed throughout the past year is that I have been super negative. From looking in the mirror and picking at my face, my body, and overall image, to writing and calling myself incompetent or worthless, I’ve really pushed myself down this year. I feel as if I can never say a good thing about myself. I’d like for that to change in 2020.

Writing a master’s thesis and starting a new job at the same time is extremely stressful, but they are both very positive things. I’ve become so stressed that I’ve been sick since October. I haven’t been eating well, and I haven’t exercised as much. It’s taken a toll. It’s time I start to become more positive and erase those negative thoughts that constantly swirl in my head telling myself that I am “not enough.” As a perfectionist, these thoughts occur often, and it is affecting my overall health and happiness.

In 2015, I learned that there is a key difference between resolutions and habits. Resolutions just don’t work. If you say you want to eat healthy, you aren’t really creating something that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based). If you really want to succeed in your goals for the next year, try to form habits.

In 2016, I took it one step further (all inspired by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert) and declared a theme for my year, which was Health. In 2017, I created a theme of Improve, and in 2018, my themes were Perform and Travel. This year, my theme is “Self.”

Coffee, Food, Drink, Hottest, Leaves, Winter, Cold

I was trying to find the perfect word to describe what I wanted to achieve this year, and I found that one of my friends has the same goals for 2020, calling 2020 the year of “Self.” So, inspired by her, that will be my theme!

Now, along with a theme, you must create goals that correspond with that theme. Then, you create SMART habits that will help you achieve your goals.

Here are my goals for Self:

GOAL: Become more mindful: Do you every feel as if your mind doesn’t stop? My mind has raced constantly and I cannot concentrate and complete everything on my to-do list.

Habit: To achieve mindfulness I will use my Stop, Breathe, and Think app once a day and meditate throughout the year.

GOAL: Be organized: From my full-time job and writing my master’s thesis to side gigs and a social life, I have found that I have lost touch with my organizational side (a side I took pride in). I want to be able to juggle all my tasks—from my blog and bookstagram posts (follow me @keepitkassual on Instagram) to my work meetings and academic projects.

Habit: Purchase a monthly/daily planner and a bullet journal and regularly update both items once a week, on Sunday mornings. Sundays will be your day to be organized for the week and start the work week recharged and focused.

GOAL: Prioritize fitness: This one is pretty straightforward. When I exercise, I am not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I am energized, confident, and can concentrate and complete my other tasks with a positive attitude.

Habit: Go to the gym 2-3 times a week, incorporating regular strength training with cardio (spinning on Saturdays or using the bikes at the gym on weeknights). I also plan on putting the gym in my planner to hold myself accountable and not move it if other things were to arise.

I am hopeful that these goals will be achieved this year! If I am mentally and physically healthy (mindfulness and exercise), I will feel organized and energized to complete my other tasks. I also hope to prioritize writing not only for my thesis and other academic projects and read slowly, enjoying the books I want to read rather than rushing through them. With the help of achieving these goals, I will truly be able to focus on myself—mind, body, and soul.

What about you? What are your “themes” or goals for 2020? Share in the comments below, and wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

2016: Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions, Form Habits

Why habits are more effective than resolutions

The approach of 2016 has me thinking about resolutions. If you’re a frequent reader, then you know that I am a big fan of Gretchen Rubin, an expert on happiness and lifestyle. In all three of her books and on her blog, she talks about how she keeps resolutions. One of her most recent tips is to choose a “one-word theme” to help clarify an overarching goal. In her blog post, Gretchen explains:

“I love resolutions, and as I wrote about in my book Happier at Home, for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.”

I took Gretchen’s advice in 2015 and decided to make “Control” my theme for the year. It was time to take control of my anxiety and depression and work hard in fighting both. Since last January, I have been seeing someone who has helped me develop tools to curb my anxiety and fine-tune my ways of thinking. Now, when those depressing thoughts occur, I can control them. I am happy to say that I have grown tremendously and I am a much stronger and happier person than I was this time last year.

After some research, and looking into Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, I realized that I met my theme or resolution, simply due to the fact that it wasn’t a resolution, to begin with. Instead, I developed a habit.

Blog NYE

Habits vs. Resolutions

When I first discovered this, I asked: Aren’t habits and resolutions the same thing?

No, they’re not. Habits succeed where resolutions cannot. Studies show that in order to stick with your New Year’s Resolutions you need willpower. Truth be told, some resolutions aren’t “resolute” enough. They’re too abstract and lack a concrete declaration and goal to work towards. Because of their ambiguity, your brain can’t tackle them.

According to research, in order to achieve your goals, you need to make your resolutions or goals “instinctual.” This aspect is what is missing from 90 percent of all New Year’s Resolutions,  and ultimately, why they most likely fail. For example, the resolution to “eat healthily” isn’t very personalized. You need to take that extrinsic goal and internalize it. So, instead of just saying you want to “eat healthier,” you can make the goal to start substituting fruit instead of chips at lunch. Or, if you want to focus on exercise, you can make the goal to go to the gym two-to-three times a week. You need to break down that broad resolution and see what habit, or habits, you can form to achieve your goals.

In 2015, my goal was to “go to therapy once every two weeks and learn how to take control of my life” with the overarching theme of Control. Having that concrete goal made it easy to tackle, and soon enough, it became a routine. I was accustomed to seeing someone once every two weeks, and I also formed a habit of curbing my anxious thoughts and using tools to combat my depression. I found that I would depend on those appointments, and sometimes, I would perform those tools and exercises I learned without even noticing I did them.

That’s the extraordinary thing I learned about forming habits: sometimes you don’t realize when you’ve formed them.  Habits are automated responses that are learned through repetition. These “moment by moment” actions are performed by a region in your brain called the “prefrontal cortex.” As soon as the behavior becomes automatic, the prefrontal cortex goes into sleep mode.

Forming habits and breaking habits take a lot of work. The idea can be daunting, but it is not impossible.

“Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life,” Rubin writes in her book, Better Than Before. “We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

So this year take the challenge. Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, try to form a habit instead. After we ring in the New Year, I will share my theme for 2016, and what habits I hope to make, and break, this year.