A couple of days ago, I wrote about my feelings on New Year’s Resolutions in general, and I stand by that. But regardless, I know many of you are looking around for things you may want to do differently in your life. It’s just that time of year. And I’m no different. Arbitrary or not, tomorrow begins a new year, and especially after the one we just lived through, it marks a new beginning. Or at least a chance of one.
So, I’ve given thought to some of the things I want to change for myself. Some of these I’ve written about before. And the good news is, these aren’t radical cold turkey changes. It’s not like I’m asking you to go from a two-pack a day smoker to running marathons. You won’t be eating triple bacon cheeseburgers today and tomorrow, you’ll make a kale smoothie.
These are subtler changes. Changes you can ease into.
You don’t need to make them all today. You don’t even need to make them all. But pick one or two, put them in the back of your mind, and think about them. None of them will create life-changing events, but if you implement them, your life will change, and I believe, for the better.
Live in the Present
Put down the screens for a while. Wait! Finish reading this article, then put down the screens. Take a breath. As Common says in the Microsoft commercial, Look Around. See the world. Be in the now.
Way before screens and apps, around the birth of the video game, I worked in a bar as a cook. It was a popular place with live music, and every night was a cacophony of sights and sounds. Usually, by eight or nine, the kitchen would slow down as people got down to serious drinking. I would sit at the corner of the bar, nursing a beer and watching the people. It was enlightening and some of my best early education in human behavior.
Next time you are at Starbucks, or preferably a locally owned coffee shop, forget the free Wi-Fi. Grab your brew and a corner table. Just sit there and watch the people. Be in the moment.
When you are home with your family, be home with your family. Set aside an hour every night, dinner time would be perfect, where screens are outlawed. This includes television. It will be awkward for a few nights but stick to it. See each other. Talk to one another. Listen to each other.
Live in the Present.
Never Stop Learning
In every job I ever held, there was one commonality amongst almost every other employee. What they knew right then was all they would ever know. They may have been great at their present job, but if that job went away, they would be screwed. Because it’s all they knew how to do.
I have never stopped learning and hope I never will. I had worked in construction for the last six years when we got our first computer, an Apple IIe. Google it. If you go to the Smithsonian and look at their personal computer history display, I owned three of the first five.
From day one, I wanted to learn how to use it. And then I wanted to learn how to program it. And I did. That began my love of all things technical, which carried me through the next 40 years.
A few years ago, I threw myself into learning languages. I learned a lot of Spanish and a smattering of several other languages. I still practice those every day. Why? Because I wanted to. I wanted to learn; I always have.
Last May, I bought a guitar. I am teaching myself how to play. Slowly. One note on one string. I have practiced every day since. Every. Day.
What will I learn tomorrow? I don’t know. But it will be something.
Never stop learning.
I’ve written about this a couple of times. It sort of goes with Live in the Present, but has more to do with actions. All your actions. Every. One. Be intentional. As you move, make, interact, and operate, be intentional. In all things.
Don’t just stand up. Plant your feet flat on the floor. Lean forward. Flex your hamstrings and glutes as you push your feet into the floor and rise.
Slow down. Think through every action. Move with care and consideration. Don’t do anything without being mindful of what you are doing and why you are doing it.
When I take a photograph, I examine the scene. I think about the settings I need to capture what my mind sees. I make those changes. I raise the camera to my eye and think about the scene again. And then, I press the shutter. Intentionally.
When I play my guitar, I think about what my left hand is doing and what my right hand is doing. With every strum and stroke. One note on one string. With intent.
As I write this, and the cursor moves across the screen, I am thinking about each word, each sentence, each paragraph. Does this say what I wanted it to say? I think it does. It doesn’t always say what I started out to say, but it says what it needs to say.
Be Who You Want to Be
Ghandi is attributed with the famous saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Did he say it? I don’t know and don’t care, it’s a great saying. It’s something to live by. But it applies more to my next two topics.
In this one, I want you to be the change you wish to see in yourself.
Another old saying in the corporate world is, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” This is more appropriate but too narrow. Be the person you want to be. In the way you dress, in the way you act, and in the things you say. And don’t say. Start now.
This is the true nature of any resolution and the only way they work. Don’t just think about the specifics of the resolutions, be the person that does those things. Don’t go on a diet. Be a fit person.
Decide what changes you want to make in your life and then become that person. It’s a subtle shift in mindset but a crucial one for success. If you think, I can’t eat that, and I have to eat this, you will fail. If you know that, as the fit person you are, this is what you eat, you will succeed.
Be Who You Want to Be.
Do the Next Right Thing
Ahh, this is the essence of the whole thing. If you are in the present, being intentional with your life and being the person you want to be, you will always do the next right thing. I always add the adjective right in there. Don’t just do whatever’s next, do whatever’s right.
How will you know what that is? Because you always do. You always know, deep in your heart and mind, what the next right thing is. Often you don’t want to do it. It’s something you’d rather put off.
But here’s the thing, if you put it off, you will put it off again. It will never get done. And it will worry you. It will nag you in the back of your mind and keep you from being truly happy. From being content.
But if you do it and do it now, it’s done. Listen to the Nike ad and just do it. Whatever it is. And as soon as that’s done, do the next one.
Do the next right thing.
And Do it the Absolutely Best You Can, Always
And don’t just do it. Do it right. I guess I should say do the next right thing right, right? Do you see how all of this ties together? How it becomes cyclical and iterative? If you live in the now and be intentional, never stop learning, and be who you want to be, then you will do everything the absolute best you can. Always.
One thing I do daily on my guitar is the warmup. I’ll get back to this in a minute, but for a long time, the warmup was just something to get through so I could get to the good stuff. As if I had any good stuff. But then I realized I was just enforcing sloppy playing. So now, I treat my warmup as if it were a live performance. As if hundreds of people have shown up to listen to me run up and down a C major scale.
This article is full of old sayings, and here’s another one. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you? I don’t particularly like that one because it’s misleading. It sounds as if there is some vast gap in time required to do something right instead of doing it half-assed. But there’s not.
The difference between doing the best you can and just getting through it is often measured in minutes, if not seconds. A sloppy warmup takes me fifteen minutes. A perfect warmup takes me seventeen minutes. Two minutes to do it right.
This one is important, and you have to always tie it back into Be Intentional. Because it’s not just about the big things. It’s about everything. Walking the dog. Loading the dishwasher. Tying your shoes.
Do everything the absolute best you can, always.
Learn and Live the Serenity Prayer
For the couple of you that don’t know it.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. You can add God to the beginning or leave it out, your preference, based on your beliefs. Of course, grant me is implying some sort of higher power with the ability to grant things.
But at the end of the day, you have to be our own higher power. You have to do these things for yourself. Every one of these things is a thing you can change if you only have the courage. And there ain’t no wizard behind the curtain. Just like the Cowardly Lion, you already have the courage, you always have. You just didn’t use it.
You can change almost anything about yourself. What you can’t change are the people around you. You have to accept them. Now, I know some of you are thinking, yeah, I can change the people around me, I can move somewhere else. But trust me when I say this, you will still be you, and that’s where the problem is.
That doesn’t mean, stay stuck in a poisonous environment. If your job or relationship is causing you grief or pain, have the courage to change it.
But if that displeasure is based on the fact that no one will do things the way you want them to, get over yourself. Have the serenity to accept the people you cannot change, and have the courage to change the only person you can. And from that will come great wisdom.
Learn and live the serenity prayer.
I had outlined this article and begun the first draft when I stopped to do my morning guitar practice. And halfway through my warmup, every one of these points was driven home to me. Because suddenly, I realized I was ignoring all six of them. At the same time.
I was fumbling through my exercises, but I was thinking about this article.
Thinking about it instead of living it.
I wasn’t living in the present. I was thinking about the past when I outlined this article and the future when I would complete it.
I had stopped learning. Learning requires a concious effort. You have to pay attention. You have to…
Be intentional. I wasn’t. I was hitting most notes on most strings, but only from muscle memory. Playing any musical instrument absolutely requires that you be intentional. About every note, every movement.
I certainly wasn’t being who I want to be. Who I want to be is a great guitarist. Hell, who I want to be is a good guitarist, a competent guitarist. And I’ve listened to hundreds of them since I began this journey. And not one of them fumbled through a half-assed performance.
Do the next right thing? That should have been easy. The next right thing was one note on one string. I wasn’t doing that. I was doing something else while my hands did some things right and most things wrong.
So, I stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. This was something I could change, and it didn’t require much courage. All it needed was that I be the absolute best I could at what I was doing.
Save this article. When you get through mid-January and those New Year’s resolutions begin to fall one by one, come back to it. Think about what those resolutions meant to you and how they fit into the principles outlined in this article.
Now, start over. Groundhog Day Resolutions are just as good.