If you’ve hit mid-January and you new year resolutions have vanished with the last needles of the Christmas tree, it’s time for something more uplifting.
Here are five commandments I’m practicing myself to make my 2016 a year that’s not just about ticking off goals, but full of flow and positive momentum.
Honour your body to serve your mind
Your body is extraordinary. The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve fought off infections, accidents, environmental hazards and natural weaknesses to still be here. Think of everything the cells of your body have achieved for you: learning, loving, swimming in the sea, singing, mastering calculus or creating another human life. No one else can honour your body as you can. Feel it, own it, ask it each day how you can support it. Ask yourself: how would you treat the living being you owe the most to in the world? Then do it for the body that’s done so much for you already. Allow it to move, to stretch, to grow, and feed it what will nurture and care for it. And this is what will happen: moving your muscles and bones physically changes your brain chemistry and its wiring, to create more feel-good, motivation and positivity.
Practice gratitude, daily
What in your life is positive, beautiful or rewarding? Deliberately practicing gratitude proves itself again and again to be linked to positive emotions and mental health. You might choose to focus on the past, the present or the future. You can write things down, take photos, or simply tell other people how much you appreciate them. When everything seems bleak, choosing to focus on something that’s positive – even the fact that you’re alive – can change your brain chemistry. As the meme going around Facebook this week has said: ‘If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.’
Welcome the shit sandwich
When I heard the wonderful writer Elizabeth Gilbert talk about this last year, a giant Catherine-wheel of a firework went off in my brain. Creativity, she point outs, demands plenty that isn’t about immediate play, joy or success – in fact, at some point it almost certainly involves drudgery, discomfort, or just irritation. It’s not her question, but borrowed from blogger Mark Manson: ‘What’s your favourite flavour of shit sandwich?’ Recently I’ve been asking myself each morning what shit sandwich I’m prepared to eat today, and I find the answers strangely joyous. Simply naming the hard work, the phone calls I don’t want to make, the editing I’ll do anything to avoid, makes them nothing more than a bad taste. And sulking about a bit of revulsion, my brain tells me, is a poor reason for missing out on achieving the things I truly value. Ask yourself: what aren’t you doing simply because it won’t taste good enough? Then remind yourself of why you want it, and decide whether it’s a good enough reason.
Be brave, for five seconds at a time
Sometimes getting into flow takes more courage than we think we have. The courage to say no to distractions, requests or the wrong kind of client. The courage to put ourselves out there, or to cut ourselves off from the world, so we can do the work we need to do. But we underestimate ourselves. This advice, from the sales trainer Lisette Howlett, asks nothing more than this: five seconds of bravery to move yourself from where you are now to the other side. Five seconds to say ‘no’, or ‘yes’; five seconds to dial a number, to delete Facebook from your phone, to write a line of a novel. There, you’re through the hatch of procrastination and fear. And it was almost never as bad as it threatened to be.
Play. Because amazing things happen when you do.
Forget structure, time, goals. Let go. Be free. Do something because it’s liberating, fun, ridiculous, silly. Explore what happens if you combine ideas, if you try doing things differently, if you do something just because you want to. When I watch my five-year-old deep in Lego, I see how joyous and focused true play is – and how celebratory it is to create a spaceship that also goes under water! All achievements, however large or small, start with a dream, with something playful and experimental that starts to grow and strengthen. Take time to release everything, and see what happens.