Year in (P)review: Reflecting on This Year and the Next

A year in review, a year in preview. I’m gearing up to do this in the next couple weeks, and I hope you’ll find a chance to do so as well. The basic idea: take some time at the end of the year to reflect on the year gone by, and to set some intentions for the year to come. Maybe people do a version of this by having a New Year’s resolution, but I’m talking about a much more in-depth thing. Not just coming up with one item for a to-do list as you clink glasses on New Year’s Eve.

Instead, it’s a drawn-out process involving substantial reflection and introspection from a variety of angles. It can involve movement, meditation, long walks, bubble baths, sitting by a fire. Activities that turn us inward and allow us the opportunity to be quiet with ourselves. Sans smartphone.

I like to start with the year gone by. It can help to organize the internal conversation by asking some questions. Start simple. What happened this year? What were some of the big events? What were some of the small events that made a big impact? What was the overall feeling in the year, and how did that evolve?

Then, we can get into more substance. It helps if you went through this reflection process a year ago as well, but it’s by no means necessary. What was I hoping for this year? Did I move closer to that goal? Did I realize I needed to pivot those intentions? What worked? What didn’t? As Bob Ross said, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” No need to think of the things that didn’t work as failures. They are places for growth and learning.

But we do need to get into them. We won’t gain much from our failures unless we allow ourselves to examine them. If we repress, we lose the lesson and build up future pain. What would I have liked to have done more? Done less? What was valuable to my life as a whole? What took a lot of time, but proved not to be valuable? Again, no judgement against the self, we just recognize these things.

Asking these questions allows us to get a deeper impression of the year. We can begin to ask some less tangible questions. What brought me joy? What did I love? Who were the most important people in my life? What can I do to express that to them, to show gratitude to them? How can I show those same qualities to myself?

There are unlimited questions we could ask ourselves about the year gone by, and it is valuable to come up with a few yourself, based on what’s important to you. At a certain point it is time to transition from the year gone by to the year to come. I’ll try to take at least a day for each. Not necessarily sitting at a journal all day, but having that intention for the day. Bringing it with me to yoga class, to the coffee shop.

The year to come represents enormous opportunity. One could argue that the transition to the new year is purely theoretical and arbitrary. Sure, I agree. The solstice is Tuesday, New years is in a week and a half. There are all sorts of other landmarks around this season that can be used. But regardless of what is arbitrary or true, the idea of transition and new beginnings can be very effective for bringing in new energy to our lives.

Imagine: if you wanted to, you could change everything in your life in just a matter of the next few weeks. If you are out of shape and overweight, you could start on the path of health and fitness by exercising every day. You could make that part of your life and your routine, part of who you are. You can start a new hobby, a new craft, and eventually make that into your life’s work. Never done much art? You could start painting every day, again making that part of who you are, and by the end of the year you would have enough talent and work to begin to sell art in a real way. These things won’t necessarily be easy, but they are achievable.

Or the changes could be much more modest. You could spend substantially more time with your family, your kids. You could cut out habits, get away from screens and pocket vibrations. You could start jogging regularly or learning how to throw pottery. All these take a strong will and a set of powerful intentions. They take more than a half-hearted New Year’s resolution. But New Year’s is still a great time to do them.

As we begin to look forward, we need to keep in mind the reflection we’ve done on the past year. Frame the questions in a similar way. What do I want to do? What big events would I like to accomplish? Any travel? What are some small things I could do that might make a big difference?

And get bigger: How do I want to live? What are going to be the main focuses of my energy? Who do I want to share my life and my love with? What one thing would I do every single day, if I could? What do I want to create? How do I want to grow as a person?

If you’d like, come up with a word for the year to come. Something that embodies the values and intentions you’d like to live.

There is reason to be optimistic. We have the power to create our own lives. Even with the complications and guidelines put on us by society, we always have the opportunity to choose how we respond to the world. We can create an internal state that is resonant with our values and with the people we love.

I encourage you to give it a try. Even if it’s just an hour sitting down with a notepad for the past year and one for the next, this exercise has enormous potential. The days are nearly the shortest they’ll be all year, and this is a natural time for reflection. Treat yourself, and have some fun with it!

The Inner Self vs. The Outer Self

Yesterday I listened to a podcast while painting a bathroom. This is the great thing about podcasts — they make you want to write blog posts. This particular one was “On Being” with Krista Tippett, and for the bathroom-painting episode, she was interviewing Seth Godin, who is hugely popular in certain internet circles, especially for his ideas and writing about authentic marketing.

Seth and Krista were chatting about how to get your message out, and who to connect to, and what makes that connection meaningful. If you want to know all the details about this, I recommend listening yourself. The super boiled-down version that I took away was: it’s not about how many people you connect to. It’s much more about connecting with the right people, with your tribe, and feeling part of that community.

This is not a new idea for me. I doubt Seth invented it (if he did, bravo!), but it’s at this point it’s widely dispersed on the web, and I’ve even written around the idea before. But something clicked for me this time. An analogy, or parallel, or metaphor (oh, the power of metaphor!), that I’ve experienced personally with the disconnect between the inner self and outer self.

Basically this: so often, we do work because we’re good at it, or because we think more people will like it, or like us. I do this all the time. All the time. And on the surface, it’s useful. It makes it easier for people to like us, it makes us relatable. These are great things! They contribute to meaningful relationships. But this bending of ourselves also has negative aspects to it. Over the long-term, it wears us down. It keeps us from intimately knowing our deeper selves. It allows us to repress things we don’t think will mesh well with everybody else, and I would argue, from developing a strong sense of character.

And for me, sometimes I do feel like I lack character. I worry that I’m boring. That by being some kind of meditation/mindfulness guide, I’m not supposed to have strong opinions about things, or at least not express those feelings. I love guiding meditation and leading mindfulness workshops, but I worry that I give the impression of being chill and passive all the time. Don’t worry friends, I am not always chill and passive!

Here are some things about me that are not encompassed by this mindful/deliberate internet persona I’ve somewhat intentionally created:

  • I love long, intellectual novels. Infinite Jest is my favorite book even though everyone says it’s pretentious. Anna Karenina and War and Peace are tied as my favorite Tolstoy novels, and I think Proust is a baller.
  • I’m often pretentious and arrogant. I think I’m right about a lot of things, even though I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself I’m not right about everything.
  • I’m a huge fan of Bernie Sanders, and consider myself to be a socialist. I think capitalism is evil, and exploits humanity’s most base tendencies.
  • Sometimes I care a lot about money and capitalism.
  • I don’t meditate everyday, and sometimes I go weeks without doing it at all. I do notice a difference in my life (things aren’t as good) when I’m not meditating regularly, but that isn’t necessarily enough to get me to get back in the routine.
  • I exercise a LOT (ideally twice a day), and believe that that is the number one most important thing we can do for our mental and physical health. Way more than meditating.
  • I keep meaning to see a therapist, but keep avoiding it.
  • I like getting absorbed in board games, and I’m good at them. Some combination of being competitive and good at math.
  • I’m good at math.

As you can see, this is kind of a silly list and the things are not a big deal. I doubt any of them are going to cause me to lose my “tribe.”

So, let me pose a question. What are the things about you that you repress, or don’t like to bring into the public eye? Why is that? Is that something you want to change? It’s not necessary to do so, but I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge and be aware of. There’s the mindfulness coach talking again…

Letting Go… of Sugar

Holy crap. First of all, I never thought I would be the kind of person to stop eating sugar. I’ve been firmly addicted for years. My favorite food is ice cream. I’m not a fan of fad diets, although one time I did do five days of the ten-day Master Cleanse.

Now I’m questioning everything. And if sugar can go, what might happen to gluten, or, God forbid, dairy? Caffeine?? (Not a chance. Not ever.)

Back to the beginning. Well, to a month ago. I decided I should tighten up my eating habits, and a few whispers I’d heard recently put sugar as a big question mark near the top of my list. “I’ve been eating a lot of cookies lately. What if I… didn’t?” This is how my brain works. It’s weird.

So I haven’t given it up completely, but I’ve cut back significantly, and cut out all the things that contain obvious processed sugar. No ice cream, cookies, cakes, pies, sweet breads, fudges, marshmallows (only once has this come up), soda (also only once), or fruit juice. Things I allow myself still: very dark chocolate (like 85% — not much sugar), plain yogurt (way more sugar than dark chocolate), and fruit (although I’m starting to cut back on this now, too).

This sounds like it would be a huge feat of self-control, especially since I would regularly chow down on sweet pastries to fill the calorie gap I have from exercising a lot and forgetting to eat regularly. But it hasn’t been hard at all. Seriously, after the second day, it’s been a breeze.

I don’t crave sweets at all any more. Most fruits are starting to taste so sweet that they almost hurt my mouth (hence the cutting back here, too). I wouldn’t necessarily say I feel substantially better all the time, but I have eliminated the lows that come a half-hour after a sugary snack. Here’s the best part: all food tastes better. My taste buds are coming back to life, having been numbed down by years of over-stimulating sugar.

This all kind of started on a whim, but now that I’m doing it I’m starting to find out all this crazy stuff about sugar. Basically, it is the Devil. Of food. Seriously. It seems to be one of the main causes of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, even cancer. It’s super addictive. It puts a huge strain on the liver and pancreas. All in all, it sucks big time. Here’s a National Geographic article about all that, along with the sordid history of the demonic treat. I have no idea who this guy is, but he says that the way to actually lose weight is to stop eating sugar. I’ve heard stories of this working wonders.

Apparently, a lot of people have known this a lot longer than I have. Cool. I don’t know why I didn’t jump on the no-sugar bandwagon long ago (side note: it seems “Sugar-free” and “Diet” snacks are evil in their own right. This is all about eating real, healthy food, mostly prepared by ourselves. Don’t trust the industrial food-processing conglomerate with your health). But I’m glad I figured it out now, and sooner rather than later. I can barely believe myself when I say it, but at this point, I don’t even want that piece of cake.

Meditation sounds

Being Yourself to Attract the Right Business

This has been a bit of a personal conundrum lately. Basically, I have a small business doing meditation and mindfulness coaching for offices. This does not resound with everyone. Clearly. Many people don’t get it, and only a small portion of the ones who do are willing to pay for it.

So, I’m faced with a choice. Do I water down or change my message to try to attract a wider audience? Or do I stay more true to myself, even if it means pushing certain people away? I’m not sure if this is an obvious choice or not, or if it is, in which way it’s obvious.

The first option has appeal. “I want people to like me!” This fits with our most natural desires for love and belonging. We want to be accepted and celebrated by as many people as possible. The fulfillment of this desire is why celebrities tend to be so strange, I think.

It also sounds good for business. It means attracting more clients, potentially selling more product, basically doing better all around.

Not so. At this point I’m convinced of the opposite. It may be different if you’re selling to the masses (although maybe not: Apple has way more personality than IBM, and their stock reflects it), but especially for small businesses and solopreneurs, being true to oneself is best for business.

Here’s why. When we work for ourselves, we’re constantly selling our business and we’re constantly selling ourselves. We are our business, and the two are relatively inseparable. When people buy our service, they’re buying us, and they’re doing it because they like what they see. They like the potential and hope we’re giving them.

When we water down or alter our message to fit the crowd, we attract people who aren’t quite as good a fit for us. This might be fine once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, we’ll be forced to put on a facade that satisfies clients who are not our ideal clients. These clients will want a business that is not what we strive to offer, that is not truly us.

We take this as reinforcement of how we should be and act. We see that it works to not be fully ourselves, and we compromise even more. We do work that is less and less true to our ideals, and that begins to strain our self-perception and self-awareness. We lose track of who we are and we lose interest in our work.

By staying true to our own selves as much as possible, we attract a (potentially) smaller group, but one that resounds more with our message. We attract our true supporters. Given the opportunity, these followers will become the champions of our work, promoting it to their tribes and friends. Having business we’re excited about will create more business we’re excited about. Vicious cycle averted, virtuous cycle embraced.

The real question is how can we: A) know our true selves, B) project that out into the world, and C) be receptive to accepting positive energy back into ourselves. Meditation and mindfulness are great for working on all three of these things, and that’s basically what this whole blog is about.


Side note: I’ve got a Beginner’s Meditation eGuide coming out in the next couple weeks. Get excited!

Side side note: With all this talk of finding our supporters, if you like these blogs, please share them however you feel comfortable doing so. It means a lot to me!

Crisis of Values vs. Crisis of Inspiration

When embarking on any great endeavor, there will always be setbacks and doubts. Whether it’s traveling, a new job, moving across the country, or following our dreams, there will be moments when things don’t feel right.

I’ve experienced this over and over again this past winter and spring. First, with writing a book. “Is this worth doing?” “Am I ever going to finish?” “What am I doing with myself??” Etc. And again later on with starting my business. “Is this a valuable creation?” “Will people pay for mindfulness training?” “What does this mean about who I am?” I still feel it sometimes.

When the doubt really gets going, it can start to feel like a crisis. Everything feels wrong, and we begin to question what we’re doing with our time and our lives. Have you ever felt this way? I’m guessing you have.

In my experience, this self-doubt is a result of one of two separate things: either a crisis of values, or a crisis of inspiration. They both feel really bad. Bad enough to derail a major project, even if it’s almost completed. But they mean different things and should be treated differently, so we have to be able to differentiate them.

The crisis of values happens when we begin to realize that we’ve changed, or our work has changed, and what we’re doing no longer aligns with who we are and what we believe in. This is a deep, existential struggle, and it demands a full shift of perspective to be able to see clearly.

We may need to redefine the values in our lives, to regain a sense of ourselves through conversations with loved ones and old friends, or perhaps to take a long trip to clear our heads and get some distance from the day-to-day. I experienced this a few years ago when I decided to leave my office job to pursue writing and art, and eventually yoga and meditation.

The second is a crisis of inspiration. This typically happens when things are hard or moving slowly. Perhaps there is no end in sight for a particular project. Things may feel stagnant despite the constant slow churn of effort.

This can happen at a traditional job, but I’ve experienced it more with big personal projects. They are ideas I still strongly believe in, creations I want badly to bring into the world, but I’m tired of them. They feel like Sisyphean tasks. The projects have demanded a huge amount from me, but are not yet bearing fruit.

This crisis does not require the major life-altering decisions to fix. It may demand a shift of perspective or a reinvigoration of values. Most of all it demands inspiration. This can come from an outside source, or it can come from inside.

External sources such as friends, personal development blogs, and books on the subject are all excellent places to start. Getting back to the important parts of life can also do great things: exercising, spending time with friends and loved ones, cleaning the house, finishing up some other lingering projects.

The thing to avoid, however, is mistaking one crisis for the other. If we treat a crisis of values as we would a crisis of inspiration, we’ll find ourselves continually trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. It just won’t fit. Best case scenario, we’ll eventually realize that and treat it for what it is. Less-best case, we’ll build up lots of resentment and eventually something will break.

The other situation is more dangerous. If we treat a crisis of inspiration as a crisis of values, we may end up abandoning a cherished project, job, or business too soon. We may not give it time to grow and be nurtured, to truly come into its own. If I had a nickel for every book half-written and every business idea abandoned, I would need to rent storage space to store all my nickels. Paying nickels to store nickels does not sound like an awesome business strategy, so I would rather avoid this.

Next time you’re feeling doubt about a big project, take a step back and ask yourself what you need the most. To change your whole life? Or to find new sources of inspiration?