Happiness Project: April Assessment

April- the kick-off of my Happiness Project, the month of 18 resolutions- came and went.

Here I sit, on September 19, finally delivering the highly-anticipated “Conclusion” post about my April attempt to harvest more energy. And although I did learn from this attempt, I am still delivering blog posts five months late. Do with that information what you will. 

This all begs the question, “Kristen, are you still a useless sloth after 4:00 p.m.?” I am thrilled to report that NO! I am not! I am now more akin to a turtle - slow and steady, to be clear, but for sure participating in and even sometimes finishing the race. (Bertie the tortoise to be exact, Guinness World Record Holder for turtle-speed.)

The April of Energy Taught Me…

I can make myself happier by having realistic expectations.

Although I admitted in my introductory post that I knew 18 resolutions were too many and said I’d approach the month with an experimental mindset, I didn’t. I was irritated with myself each day for not hitting all 18 resolutions and went to bed at night insisting I’d have a “perfect” day tomorrow. The bottom line: Trying to introduce 18 new habits, changes, or whatever, all at once, will always be too many. 

Improvement doesn’t have to happen perfectly for it to count. (And it usually won’t happen perfectly. That’s kind of the point.)

I struggle very much with black and white thinking when I’m trying to make a change. You would be shocked (or maybe not, if you were present during my Fitbit breakdown of 2016) at the number of times I’ve set a daily goal, and upon eventually missing it, felt I had no choice but to start over completely. I will erase all former data and claim that I’m actually starting that thing tomorrow. Because tomorrow, I will remember the shame of not accomplishing my goal today, and that will be enough to motivate me to perform it perfectly, every day, for the rest of my life. (I’d like to take a moment to thank Brene Brown, with her combination of indispensable research, general badassery and sweet Texan accent for finally helping me see that what I just described is not reasonable or productive.)

I meditated 36% of the days in April, which is worse than 100% and better than 0%. My ability to do some daily habit perfectly 100% of the time won’t say much about me (except that maybe I should talk to a therapist because it might mean I’m running in place before bed to meet Fitbit goals again). However, my ability to think- “Hmm… I wanted to meditate every day, and I didn’t. Is this something I tell myself I want to do but don’t actually care much for? Am I clear about when during my day I expect myself to do this thing? Well KP, whatever it is, the reason for failure is not that you’re lazy or undisciplined or a slob, because using this one example to attribute a negative quality to your entire being is absolutely absurd.” -does say something, and working on switching off my black and white inner dialogue has lead to a vast happiness improvement.

The imperfect attempts at improvement are what help you discover what’s best for you.

This lesson feels obvious - of course a cycle of trying, failing, and tweaking will eventually lead you to what works. I mean, the whole Scientific Method is based on this principle. But, KP a few months ago (and I’m guessing there are some other Type 1 Enneagrams out there who can relate) would consider any failure a lack of personal motivation and performance. So, I’d erase the failed attempt from memory and simply plan to try harder next time. Reflect? No. Use it as a chance to learn something? Nah. That’s not necessary when I know I just need to do better. To be better.

Well, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a human, huh? It brings the famous Einstein quote to mind: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If I hadn’t convinced you I’m insane yet, there’s the proof. 

Changes stick best when you have a plan.

I’ll continue with the meditation example. Once I took a minute to think about my meditation practice failures like a non-crazy person, things became clear. 

Why did I want to meditate? To help with anxiety, stress and being present. I want to be able to enjoy downtime without thinking about what needs tobe done in the future. Good motivation, check. 

How often did I want to meditate? Daily, for a few minutes at least. I figure once I create a consistent habit, I can gauge how often I need to do it. Expectation of time commitment, check. 

When in my day did I plan to meditate? Oh… hmm… well, in my head I picture myself doing it first thing in the morning, but that’s typically when I workout. I really don’t have even five minutes to spare in my morning routine, and I am not making myself wake up even EARLIER than 5:00 a.m. Okay... so maybe right before bed? But, that’s when I expect myself to journal and read, and I’m already having trouble doing those every night. Also, will meditating at bedtime even help me? Because I wake up at 5:00 a.m., I don’t have much trouble falling asleep. I know serious meditators might tell me to do it at work, but I think I’d be nervous the whole time about someone walking in on me and thinking I’m some sort of woo-woo type. Huh. That leaves…?

Well folks, there you have it. My problem was not that I was just not a good enough person to manage to meditate daily; my problem was that I hadn’t set a realistic expectation. I told myself I needed to meditate daily to be a worthy human, but didn’t think twice about when I should do it. 

I’ve since discovered that meditating post-work, after my commute, provides a lovely opportunity to decompress from my day and transition into a different headspace for my evening. The solution was obvious once I finally allowed myself to search for one. So to my perfectionist soul siblings out there, try something. Track it. Be okay with failing - let yourself learn from it. There is no right way for everyone. The right way is the one that works for you. (AND it’s okay if that right way changes over time.)

Being thoughtful about my time makes me more energetic, and therefore happier.

When I introduced my Happiness Project resolutions for April, I shared that my low-energy seemed to start around the same time I began my first full-time job. This baffled me, because I spent way more than 40 hours per week “working” during college. While balancing class, studying, homework, 3+ part-time jobs and other duties, I got up early, went to bed late, and never stopped “going” in-between. I LOVED it. My days were full with things I intentionally chose to fill them with. School was not a source of unhappiness - I was passionate about my major and minors. I chose my part-time jobs strategically. I worked at a front-desk with a computer and substitute taught so I could study while I worked. I taught fitness classes so I’d be paid for my workouts. I joined groups whose values aligned with mine and took leadership positions that allowed me to work on skills I could see myself leveraging in my future career. My day-to-day was crafted with thought, care and intention. 

I think somewhere along the way I started to believe I was just a naturally motivated person and forgot about the careful planning that went into creating an environment where I succeeded.

This April, forcing myself to reflect back on that phase of my life, pinpoint what I was doing differently and think about how I could apply those tactics to my current routine completely transformed my day-to-day. The changes I made feel so obvious in hindsight - of course I will be more likely to sit down and work on my personal projects if I schedule chunks of time to do so on my calendar (versus knowing in my head how I want to spend free time, expecting myself to just do it and feeling guilty when I pick re-watching the latest episode of The Bachelorette for the 3rd time over working on my budget).

In the words of modern-day philosopher, Drake, “It's a marathon, not a sprint, but I still gotta win the race, yeah.” Thank you, April resolutions, for getting me back on track in the race of life. It turns out Drake is correct. If I want to win, I’ve got to treat this all like a marathon, not a sprint. (And especially not a sprint that I keep deleting my stats for until I reach the perfect time.)

The Verdict: Resolution Results

Had the most impact on my energy: Time-blocking, “Decide now. Do it now.” mentality, focusing on one task at a time, drinking enough water, and working out. 

Did not matter for my energy: Trying and failing at getting my to-do list to 0 items, eating all whole foods, and creating a vision board.

Proof I was happy in April.

Proof I was happy in April.