This is Part Two of my Winter Solstice Annual Review. If you find it useful, let me know :)
Part One looked at my Goals and how many I achieved. You can read it here (and probably should before reading this post). Although I failed to reach a lot of my goals I feel I had a pretty good year, albeit one with as many (perhaps more) downs as ups. The Goals on their own are only indicators of how my year went, so in this post I’m taking broader strokes to look at the big picture – what went well, what didn’t, and what are the lessons I need to draw.
This is all pretty personal, but writing this stuff keeps me honest to myself and, hopefully, will help some people in the same way that other blogs have helped me. If you haven’t read the Goals Review yet I would go and do that first. Now, on with the show.
WHAT WENT WELL?
I accomplished a lot, and I learned a lot.
I ran that marathon and I surprised myself with how strong a runner (a mountain runner at that) I could become in just a couple of months, without any real strength training or changes to my diet. I’ve neglected this side of my life, the physical potential of my body, for over a decade. I’ve kept the engine running over and done the occasional bits of maintenance, but this race was like revving the pedal in neutral and getting a sense of what lies under the hood. It excited me and I’m determined to make exploring this side of my potential a big part of my life.
I also managed to get into the mountains, climb, dive, and snorkel. I made real progress in my (intermittent) yoga practice, making the connection between the body, the breath and the mind in a way that made me feel like I got it, and also feeling comfortable to do self practice for the first time. I made similar progress with meditation, which has certainly been the most important personal habit I’ve developed.
I rekindled my creative flame. OK so I didn’t write a book, but I started writing again (and had some lovely feedback from a few people). I didn’t make a film, but I started filming again. I also found my love of photography again and took more (and better) photos this year than I have done in… perhaps ever. And those singing lessons made me feel musical, and want to learn an instrument and write songs and poetry so that I can explore that side of my soul a little bit deeper.
When planning my Goals I deliberately didn’t include work, but work is a huge part of my life, so to leave it off the list not only means that I’m not planning my year holistically, I’m also not reviewing it fully. But I made real progress in my work. My charity, the Heart of Borneo, is going through a real change of direction and identity, and we made great progress there, as well as building our team and launching some powerful new projects. Beyond Exploration, my expedition business, grew well and continues to pay me enough for my lifestyle. I developed my own website, took on a virtual assistant, and am about to start working with an agent. And I laid some excellent foundations for some new, big projects. Perhaps most importantly, I’m starting to see how all of this stuff fits together, which is something I’ve been working towards for years.
And I learned a lot from my successes. This was the first year that I really laid out my goals in this way and tried to plan the year around them, building structures into my days, weeks and months to make them happen. I also learned the power and importance of proper scheduling in order to manage all of these different goals alongside other commitments, and I experimented with and introduced new tools to help me achieve this. I’m now convinced that I can achieve the same amount of ‘work’ in a highly focused 2-3 hours a day as I can in a full day of unfocused procrastination.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
I wasted a lot of money this year. This has been a bad habit of mine since forever, but now that I’m conscious of it and trying to do better, it’s galling to think about the debt I’m carrying in to next year that could have been paid off. I probably could have begun saving and investing this year if I’d been smarter. I didn’t record my personal expenses but I know that I’ve allowed myself to spend more on food, hotels and travel than I would normally, and I still spend a decent chunk of my cash on booze.
Wasting money is one thing – it’s throwing my own time away which shouldn’t hurt anyone except myself – but wasting resources is something else entirely. As an environmentalist I’m ashamed by the number of flights I’ve had to take this year. I say have to, but it’s a result of my own planning and choices and it’s time to get it under control. I also feel bad about the waste that hotels generate as a result of me staying in them, and my lack of control over the origin of my food and the number of plastic bottles I’ve bought for water.
I listed relationships in my Goals and Goal Planning post but I said that I didn’t know how to write goals associated with that part of my life. Perhaps as a result I feel like I’ve neglected – to one degree or another – all of the important people in my life, and I didn’t really make any new friends. Probably as a result of this I can also say I’ve regularly felt lonely and quite sad. This time last year one of the things I wanted most in the world was a sense of stillness and community. I had some stillness in India but the community was very transient.
Looking back, that stillness in India was blissful. Since I left in early July I haven’t really stopped. The longest I’ve spent in one place was 3 weeks on a narrowboat in London, but even that involved weekends away. Throughout that whole 6 month period I have had the feeing as though I had lost control of the year. The first half had been busy but it was intentional, directed and calm, while the second half was chaotic and reactive. Probably thanks to the mindfulness practice of the first half of the year I’ve been very aware of the stress and anxiety that I’ve been feeling, the occasional bouts of depression, and the twisted behaviour that comes with these feelings: the relapsing into bad habits that only compound the problems.
I came up with a plan to try to turn this around. It was detailed in 100 Days of Habitude, but it was far too complex and was stillborn no matter how many times I tried to start it.
WHAT ARE THE LESSONS?
Travel Less & Travel Differently – Given that travel and adventure seem to form such an important part of my life, this might seem strange. But by travel I don’t necessarily mean being away from home (wherever that is!). What I really mean is moving: flying, driving, train journeys and taxi rides are expensive, wasteful, time consuming, tiring, and distracting. Looking at my travel schedule for the past 6 months it’s no wonder I’ve felt drawn out and stressed. I need to do less moving, more being still. In fact, the lesson here should probably be Find More Stillness.
Find a Base – Being in India was great, but it took about a month to find a town, and then a room that felt like a good base, and then to get into a good rhythm. That month was great fun and was spent with my partner, but there’s only so many times a year you can do that sort of thing and still be productive. Probably twice at most, but it seems I’m missing things from my life that require something a bit more long term.
Real relationships take time to grow and moving often, even every couple of years, gets in the way. I think 3-5 years is the minimum amount of time to live in a place if you want to grow a real community of friends and neighbours. I’ll be moving to Bristol or Edinburgh next year with that sort of time frame in mind.
Don’t Try To Do Too Much – It’s obvious isn’t it! I am a believer of aiming for the stars in order to reach the moon, but it ends up with over promising and under delivering, to yourself and potentially others, which isn’t great. I tried to do too much this year. Better to do less but do it well.
You Can’t Control What You Don’t Measure – An old adage and one that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my habits without much success, especially with my personal spending, but also with things like exercise, meditation, and even work. After a lot of false starts and experimentation, I think I’ve found the right mix of tools, tricks and apps to help me with this. I’ll write about this next year.
Concentrate on Cornerstone Habits – The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation: all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, so it determines the position of the entire structure. Cornerstone habits can be thought of in a similar way: get these ones right and the rest should fall in to place nicely. Mine are meditation, exercise, proper scheduling (including time off), and not drinking.