Goodbye January! Hello February!
Does anyone else find January exhausting? The constant “get your life right” messages and promises of quick fixes?
10 steps to lose 10 pounds
Choose your word for the year
New Year’s Resolutions that really work
Setting SMART goals to change your life
This planner is the answer to all your problems
Don’t get me wrong, this is what I DO. I love this stuff! I have a word for the year. As a professional coach, setting intentions, building sustainable goals, and figuring out systems to support those goals is a large part of the work I do with my clients. And personally, as an enneagram 7, planning is my drug of choice. I am not even going to admit how many new planners I bought for 2022 (ok, ok, it was three. I know, I can not possibly use three planners. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I ADORE new planners! And, for the record, they are all gorgeous 🙂 Hush, I’m working on it.)
While there is the possibility I follow too many “how to fix your life” Instagram accounts, or sign up for too many emails from planner producers, I think we all experience the pressure to make changes in January. And possibly, experience the sense of failure on February 1st when our life, and our struggles to manage it, look much the same.
I’m here today to offer you a new perspective.
I recently discovered a new-to-me tool based on the ancient teachings of St. Benedict. St. Benedict was a monk who lived in the sixth century and Christians around the world still use his model for finding freedom in an intentional rhythm of life he called a Rule of Life. A rule of life is a schedule and set of practices and relational rhythms that help us create space in our busy world for us to live in alignment with our deepest passions and priorities, particularly as it applies to living a life of faith. Benedict’s Rule has become the standard of monastic life and prayer around the world.
Before you worry that I have decided to join a monastery, let me tell you about my FAVORITE part. This quote is from the folks over at Practicing the Way.
The Latin word we translate “rule” was originally the word for a trellis in a vineyard. In the same way a vine needs a trellis to lift it off the ground so it can bear the maximum amount of fruit, and keep free of predators and diseases, we need a rule as a kind of support structure to organize our life around “abiding in the vine,” (John 15v1–8) as Jesus imagined.
It’s been said that we achieve inner peace when our schedule is aligned with our values. A rule of life is simply a tool to that end. Rather than a rigid, legalistic to-do list, it’s a life-giving structure for freedom, growth, and joy.
Isn’t that a beautiful metaphor? The work we do in intentionally structuring our life, whatever we call it, is meant to offer support that leads to freedom, growth and joy. YES! The trellis isn’t the end goal, the goal is a beautiful, thriving, healthy, fruit bearing vine.
So how do we go about building a trellis that leads to thriving?
Here are some of the practices I find meaningful:
In his excellent book Atomic Habits, James Clear encourages us to start with our identity. WHO do we want to BE? Before we set goals for the kinds of things we want to DO, start by identifying the kind of person who honors the values underneath those desired behaviors. Here are some examples:
- I want to be a reader, so I will read 30 minutes a day.
- I want to be a person who prioritizes prayer, so I will start my day with prayer.
- I want to be a person with energy and stamina, so I will walk one mile a day.
- I want to be an encourager, so I will text someone everyday with words of encouragement.
- I want to be a generous person who gives back to the community, so I will give X amount to _____ each month.
You can read more here, but you get the picture. When we start with who we want to BE, the goal is “stickier” and we are more likely to maintain those intended behaviors. And if you are on social media, I would encourage you to follow James Clear for other great tips.
Take an inventory of your current habits. Which habits do you want to do MORE? Which habits do you want to do LESS? What are you doing that you want to STOP doing? What are you not currently doing that you want to START doing? Shoot me an email if you want a great one sheet tool for doing a habit inventory.
The KEY to this exercise is CURIOSITY, not judgement. No room for shame and self recrimination here. Shame keeps us stuck, plain and simple. Get curious about the habits that no longer serve you, brainstorm about the ones that would serve you better, and come up with a plan to make that happen. Start SMALL so you can experience some wins. Tiny changes lead eventually to transformed lives. Show up, do the next right thing, and trust the process. If this feels too difficult to do alone, ask for help.
While I love yearly, quarterly, monthly and daily planning, the unit of time that works best for me in terms of “trellis building” is weekly planning. What would an ideal week look like for me? If I say I value connection, where in my week do I make time for a call with a friend or lunch with a favorite colleague? If I say I am a person who values good health, where do I put exercise and meal planning on my calendar? If solitude or journaling is a practice that feeds my soul and helps me show up more thoughtfully, how do I include a date with myself as part of my weekly rhythms? Once I have that ideal week mapped out (in pencil,) I can begin each individual week by adjusting the structure to encompass that week’s unique obligations, responsibilities and opportunities.
One quick example, I love yoga. Yoga is good for me. There are three classes each week at my yoga studio that I particularly like. Last year, I got to those classes when my schedule allowed. This year, the way I structured my ideal week begins with blocking off those times. Obviously, things might come up, but I begin with the intention of honoring that priority because my identity goal led me to prioritize my yoga practice. Again, email me if you want a great template for planning your ideal week.
Building healthy, life affirming habits takes time. I also believe evaluating our habits requires a sense of humor. To be honest, I believe a sense of humor is essential for being an inhabitant of planet Earth these days, Lord have mercy! Let’s not be afraid to try something new, reevaluate, and make changes when necessary. I’m a big believer that different seasons call for different structure. When my kids were little, I had to build that “trellis” much differently than I do now that my only responsibility is a 13 pound dog and a fairly self sufficient husband. What hasn’t changed is the need for occasional “trellis repairs.” Just like in my garden, the changing seasons always require some clean up work. Some things that flourished last spring need to be pulled out and replaced by something new. Some practices that worked pre-pandemic need an update for pandemic living. My 50 something body has different needs than my 30 something body. As always, curiosity, compassion and courage is required. One day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time.
Identity. Inventory. Ideal Week, Innovate. Repeat, as necessary.
Starting February 16th, I will begin offering free monthly online webinars on a variety of enneagram and neuroscience topics. This month, I’ll once again offer my Introduction to the Enneagram webinar for those of you who wonder what in the world “enneagram” means. If you would like to join us, register here.
Lent begins on March 2nd this year. If you are looking for a Lenten devotional for you or your faith community, I humbly offer my 40 day devotional Being Brave as a suggestion. Thanks to all of you who have supported our little book with your prayers, your reviews, and your recommendations to your friends!