Several things came together in a short period of time that felt like synchronicity:
Twice in one day I came across the familiar quote by Rilke encouraging me to “live the questions now,” which got me thinking about the questions that have arisen during this ongoing odd time of life.
In the practice of choosing a word/phrase to guide my reflections during each new year, I recognized that time was drawing near to make a choice if one was to be made. While reading I came across the line, “I will not die an unlived life” (Dawna Markova). The phrase PAY ATTENTION jangled my nerves, “my phrase” loudly announcing itself.
While addressing holiday cards, I listened to the next episode of Laura Tremaine’s podcast, Ten Things to Tell You. Episode 148 offered Ten Questions for the end of the year. More questions, and several of them requested my attention.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, encourages her followers to create a list of goals for each new year: 22 for 2022. I tried in 2020, imperfectly aiming at my Not 20 for 2020, and made more progress in some areas than others. I learned a few things about goal setting, for example, and simplified things for 2021. Still, some of those practices became an important foundation for current practices.
And then, in my perpetual game of Library Kindle Roulette, two books became available: Atomic Habits by James Clear and How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera. Two entirely different books, one from social science and the other from psychological/biological sciences, singing in harmony—our daily choices become our habits become our lives, and the choices we make for mind, body, or soul affect mind, body, and soul.
I began to pay attention to the weaving strands, to listen for and reflect on and live the questions, and of course I kept reading. And my 22 for 2022 list began to take shape:
My 22 for 2022
My Word/Phrase for 2022: Pay Attention
1 Wake up in clean sheets on New Year’s Day
I am someone who pursues holistic health…
2 Drink 96oz of water/day.
3 Walk/run 22+ miles/week.
4 Practice yoga for 22 mins 2x/week.
5 Eat plants during daylight.
6 Meal plan on weekends for the coming week.
7 Create & implement a weekly writing plan.
8 Declutter one area for 22 minutes once a week.
9 Read 6 books/month.
10 Submit 1 article/month.
11 Prepare & teach a course.
12 Weekly Friday dates
13 Use the gift cards.
14 Write notes on Sundays.
15 One social occasion and/or family fun day per month & make 5th Fridays special: April 29, July 29, Sept 30, Dec 30
16 Organize photos monthly.
17 Read the Gospels in 3 months.
18 Practice lectio divina 5x/week.
19 Play/laugh during work breaks.
20 Practice Sabbath weekly.
21 Writing/social media fast 1 weekend/month
22 Permission to amend, swap, or delete anything on this list!
It looks like a lot, because it is. Twenty-two goals and/or habits, most requiring conscious thought to create supporting systems. Yet I didn’t pick these practices out of thin air; most have been in process for some time. In Atomic Habits, Clear recommends making small incremental changes. We maintain motivation and keep things interesting by working on challenges of “just manageable difficulty,” pushing yourself just a little harder than feels easy. Alternatively, you could start with something that feels almost too easy, like doing one minute of stretches or drinking one glass of water at the start of each day.
Let’s stick with the water example. I’ve been working on increasing my hydration for at least two years. I used to dislike the taste of water; I could only tolerate flat water with ice and a splash of citrus and much preferred sparkling water. With practice, however, I’ve learned to enjoy water.
Clear says that the key to building good habits is to make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. I have two 32oz Nalgene bottles in bright colors that I decorated with stickers that make me smile. One is always clean and full and nearby. In the beginning, especially, I jazzed up the taste to make it satisfying.
Currently, I easily drink between 64 and 96 ounces a day, more if you include my morning black coffee and evening herbal tea. And this year I want to solidify my hydration habit, so it stays on the list. I’ve started putting three rubber bands on my water bottle when I fill it in the morning; I remove a rubber band when I refill it, a visual reminder of my progress.
Also, I’ve rooted 20 of these practices in my identity, or truly, the me I would like to be. “…your habits are how you embody your identity…” Clear writes. “The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your ‘repeated beingness’” (p36).
He also cautions against defining your identity too narrowly. For example, my first draft of this list began with “I am a healthy human.” Except that could cause an identity crisis if I became ill or injured. So instead I rewrote that intention – “I am someone who pursues holistic health” – which allows for flexibility while supporting the same habits.
As we approach two years of pandemic pause, and as I have walked my way out of a long season of grief, I am ready to pay attention to my health. You may not be there, and that’s fine. Maybe you’re exhausted, or you have a new and tender grief, or one glass of water looks like more than you can swallow. No judgment, friend, as I’ve been there. Be gentle with yourself, acknowledge your season of life, and make small, good choices as often as you can. Your future self will thank you.
Or perhaps, like me, you’re reflecting on where you’ve been and where you’d like to go. Who you’ve been and who you’d like to become. Do you choose a word to guide your year, or make a list of goals, or pick a habit to stack on top of other habits you’ve already developed? I’d love to hear your approach.
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