4 Things I Learned in 2017: Mindfulness, Personal Growth, and Slowing Down
2017 was a wild year. I entirely fought off my lingering social anxiety, I made a ton of new friends, and I did things I never thought I’d be able to do (a year ago, reading my poetry in front of others would have been out of the question).
Since it’s almost a new year (2018! Where has the time gone?), I wanted to reflect a bit on my year and note the most important themes that emerged during the past twelve months.
You Can’t Do Everything
This year, and particularly in the last semester, I tried to maintain good social relationships, do all my readings and homework, volunteer several places at once, work, and still try to work on my poetry book and my novel, along with attempting to learn instruments and new languages, among other things — in short, I tried to do everything all at once.
Maybe a person can do that for a little while, but it isn’t sustainable, and eventually, something will end up being pushed by the wayside and forgotten while more important things take center stage. What I started to do when I was becoming overwhelmed was to ask myself: what are the most important things to me right now, and what can wait until when I have more time?
I ended up narrowing down my list of twenty plus things I wanted to do with my life to about five — and I feel much better than when I was trying to fit everything in and doing them all half-baked. In short: do a couple things well and with your full attention, rather than a lot of things all at once and doing a poor job of all of them. That’s what multi-tasking does; you end up with a bunch of half-done projects you’re not thrilled with, rather than one you can say you’re proud of.
Take Those Breaks Already
As you can see above, I enjoy being busy and learning new things. There isn’t often a day when I’m idle — I always have something to write, organize, clean, photograph, plan.. you get the picture.
However, being this type of person, I don’t often give myself time for breaks. A break is just laziness when you could be doing something productive, right? Nope. Breaks are important for your mental and physical health, and should be scheduled into your everyday life just like you likely schedule in everything else. In fact, breaks can even improve motivation, a huge plus for us creative people.
Without breaks, our bodies and brains will burn out far quicker, and then your chances of being productive are even lower — and you don’t want that. So, take the dang break already. Meditate, walk, read, do whatever it takes for your brain and body to calm down and repair itself for another round of whatever you’re working towards.
Life is More Fun Outside of Your Comfort Zone
When I was younger, I had terrible social anxiety. Interacting with people made me nervous, and the thought of leaving my house made me feel like I was going to throw up. However, over the last few years, my social anxiety has faded rapidly, and since the beginning of this year, has nearly completely vanished.
How I did that was to push myself out of my comfort zone. I started volunteering for things in the community and my university, I took courses I would have never taken a year ago, and I started conversations with strangers that lead to deep friendships. Any time I felt that familiar feeling of “I can’t do this” bubble up, I stopped and thought about it. Could I really not do it? The answer was always no, of course not. I, and you, can do anything we want with our lives.
Looking at life through this lens has made me happier than I’ve ever been — I’ve cultivated an amazing group of friends, I’ve experienced things I never would have otherwise, and I’m even planning a bunch of travelling for next year — something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a couple of years ago. So, next time your brain tells you you can’t do something, do it anyway. You won’t regret it.
Do Things Because You Want To
If I can leave you with anything, I’d say it would be to start doing things for you, not for other people. Want to take art in university but your family tells you you won’t get any jobs with it? Take it anyway.
I went into psychology when I began university because my family wanted me to have a degree that would lead to lots of job opportunities, which is a fair thing for them to want, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to write and create, but I chose to stick with psych to keep them happy. And guess what? I wasn’t happy. I spent the first three years of my degree entirely miserable in my psych classes and having a blast in all the English classes I was taking as electives.
I chose to finish my psych degree, but then went straight into a creative writing degree. It was only an extra year of school, and after doing something I so deeply disliked, I knew it was time for me to do something for me. My belief is that as long as you can pay for basic necessities like food and rent, it doesn’t matter what you do for work or school. Find something you enjoy doing, and do it. If you’re not living life for yourself, you aren’t really living.
Overall, I made a ton of progress with myself, both in the present and with how I want to be in the future. I learned a lot about myself, and in the process, common themes emerged that I’ll hold on to and recall in the coming years.
Although these lessons were significant to me throughout the year, I encourage you to use them for yourselves as well. Whether you’re a writer, photographer, or a scientist, these lessons will benefit you both in body and mind.