AKA: The Two Daily (And One Weekly) Habits That Helped Me In 2016
It’s strange reaching the end of The Year So Awful It Became An Adjective knowing that on a personal level, it was possibly my happiest, most fulfilling year yet. It’s also strange to look back and realise that most of the lovely things which happened to me in 2016 were things I hadn’t seen coming in 2015: I got engaged, I got married and I went to Santorini (yes, these three things are connected); I got a place on a political mentoring scheme (with Jess Phillips MP as a kick-ass mentor); I performed an all-singing, all-dancing All That Jazz routine in front of an audience (although the less said about my rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ the better); I started using London’s bicycle hire scheme and now regularly zip around the capital on two wheels, grinning like a 10-year-old (although this could be because I’m high on traffic fumes).
Even if the only thing I’d done in 2016 was marry the kind, caring, supportive, loving, handsome man I did, I would call the year a success. Dammit, I’d call my life a success. And the fact that this year involved other happy achievements, too – plus the fact that I’m looking forward to 2017 as much as I am – is down to a few things, I think. Most notably: a shift in attitude to life, and most importantly, to myself. I’m going into next year feeling braver, more resilient, more confident, more me than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.
And the reason for this post is to share three habits I adopted in 2016– and which I’m taking into 2017– that I think have helped me make that shift in thinking (and feeling). They’re habits which have had brilliant knock-on effects: they’ve helped me to achieve certain goals – not least because they’ve helped keep me on track throughout the year – and they’ve helped me to deal with life, and all its challenges, better.
In short, they’re habits which I’ve found hugely helpful – and I hope you’ll find helpful, too. And they are… *drumroll*…
1. Writing morning pages
If I hadn’t read The Artist’s Way this year, I would never have ended up performing All That Jazz in front of an audience. This alone is reason enough to read Julia Cameron’s brilliant book (don’t worry, you don’t have to perform All That Jazz in front of an audience – simply replace it with your own childhood creative dream). But another reason to read-slash-do The Artist’s Way (it’s a task-based book) is to adopt its advised habit of ‘Morning Pages’: writing three pages, longhand, first thing every day (and not going back and rereading it the following day or, indeed, ever). What do you write?, you ask. Anything you feel like, Julia Cameron says. Whether you’re looking out of the window and start off with a Molesworth-esque ‘hullo clouds, hullo sky’ (I often do) or you’re writing about what happened the day before or what you plan for the day ahead, whether you make a dramatic personal breakthrough or write utter drivel, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting those thoughts down on paper. I did Morning Pages over the three months of doing The Artist’s Way, have started doing it again, and plan to do it through 2017. Why? Because there is honestly nothing better – for working through your s***, for feeling lighter and/or more focused, for being set for the day, for getting more in touch with yourself and then staying in touch with yourself – than this big ol’ morning brain dump. If you’re going to set your alarm to wake up 30 minutes earlier for something other than sex (I’m looking at you, Helen Mirren), then do it in order to write your Morning Pages. Trust me. Your head and your heart will thank you for it.
Helen Mirren: ‘Doing one’s Morning Pages’ means something else in her household
2. Keeping a gratitude journal
I’d heard about the benefits of developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for some time, but as with most things in life, it wasn’t until I learned that Oprah Winfrey does it that I decided to give it a whirl. “I write a gratitude journal every night before I go to bed,” she told Psychologies magazine. “It cleans my spirit for the day and sets me up for the next day.” So now, the last thing I do before going to sleep every night is reach for the notebook & pen on my bedside table, write ‘I am grateful for…’ at the top of the page and list, yes, things I am grateful for. They usually start with ‘Frank’ (my husband), ‘Frank’s hair’ (my husband’s hair) and include ‘Our home’ and ‘Being safe’, but other than that, my list can end up including anything and everything – and anyone and everyone – I feel grateful for: from the smallest thing that’s happened that day to a big world event that’s put something into sharp relief. And while Oprah’s right that it ‘cleans my spirit for the day’ – it is indeed a lovely thing, psychologically, to end the day with positive thoughts – keeping a gratitude journal also has a slow-burn effect. Like meditating, exercising or listening to Paul McKenna tapes while you sleep, you don’t necessarily start to properly feel the benefit until weeks or months later and/or you find yourself standing at a buffet. In my case, I reckon my gratitude journal was slowly, subconsciously making me grab life by the proverbials, and get on and achieve more, because I was being consciously reminded on a daily basis just how bloody brilliant and precious life is, and how I therefore needed to make the most of it. (Time will tell if it yet inspires me to launch my own TV network and give away cars. Watch this space!)
What Would Oprah do? She’d keep a gratitude journal, that’s what
3. Doing a weekly check-in
This, as you may have guessed from its title, is the one weekly habit out of the three – and if you’re going into 2017 with some very specific goals in mind, it’s the one I recommend most. Every Sunday evening, I open up a document on my computer and write what I need and want to do in the week coming up – grouping things under titles like ‘writing’, ‘relationships’, ‘creativity/fun’, etc – and go over the list from the previous week. (Did I do all the things planned to? Does anything need to be carried over to the next week? What do I have in my diary for next week – and does it include something in every area I care about right now? And so on.) This weekly ritual has helped me to keep on track with my goals, helped me to stay on top of what’s important to me – and also helped me to recognise what I’ve achieved (and I think it’s very important to celebrate our achievements in life, no matter how small). At the end of every month, I round up what I did from my weekly lists and retitle the document from ‘MONTH NAME – GOALS’ to ‘MONTH NAME – ACHIEVEMENTS!’. (Yes, with an exclamation mark. As I say, it’s important to celebrate these things.) Oh, and you can include all sort of fun stuff in these weekly lists – I certainly do. Because the point is to help keep you on track with all the lovely, creative, self-nurturing stuff of life, too. And heaven knows it’s nice to keep a record and look back on what we’ve done, enjoyed and achieved in life – not least because we’re all getting older and thus a tad more forgetful. (As a result of my weekly/monthly check-ins, for example, I can tell you not only that I saw 45 films this year, but which 45 films they were*. And you’re damn right I consider seeing 45 films an achievement.)
So there you go, my friends: three habits which I hope help you as much as they’ve helped me. Here’s to our both expected and unexpected journeys – and here’s to 2017 being our greatest year yet. Especially if it involves seeing 46 films.