17 things to try in 2017

By Caitlin Kelly

Set at least one face-to-face date with a friend (or colleague) every week

In a world of virtual connection, it’s too easy to spend our life tapping a keyboard and staring into a screen. And we miss out on so much by not sitting face to face with friends and colleagues — their laughter, a hug, a raised eyebrow.

Eat less meat

I’m neither vegan nor vegetarian, but have decided, for health reasons, to try and eat less red meat. Great recipes help, as does finding a good and affordable fishmonger.

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Switch up your cultural consumption

If you’ve never been to the opera or ballet, (or played a video game or read a manga),  or visited a private art gallery or museum, give it a try.

We all fall into ruts, easily forgetting — or, worse, never knowing or caring — how many forms of cultural expression exist in the world.

If all you read is science fiction, pick up a book of real-life science, and vice versa.

Have you ever listened to koto music? Or bhangra? Or reggae? Or soukous? One of my favorite musicians is Mali’s Salif Keita. Another is the British songwriter Richard Thompson.

Watch less television

I turned off the “news” and my stress levels quickly dropped. I read Twitter and two papers a day, but most television news is a shallow, U.S.-centric (where I live) joke. I enjoy movies and a very few shows, but try to limit my television time to maybe six hours a week.

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Read for pure pleasure

I consume vast amounts of media for my work as a journalist, (we get 20 monthly and weekly magazines and newspapers by subscription), often ending up too tired to read for pure enjoyment.

Make a point of finding some terrific new reads and dive in.

 

Schedule a long phone call or Skype visit each month with someone far away you miss

Like me, you’ve probably got friends and family scattered across the world. People I love live as far away from me (in New York) as Kamloops, B.C., D.C., Toronto and London. Emails and social media can’t get to the heart of the matter as deeply as a face to face or intimate conversation.

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Get a handle on your finances: spending, saving, investing

Crucial!

Do you know your APRs? Your FICO score and how to improve it? Are you saving 15 percent of your income every week or month? (If not, how will you ever retire or weather a financial crisis?)

Have you invested your savings? Are you reviewing your portfolio a few times a year to see if things have changed substantially?

Do you read the business press, watching where the economy is headed? If you’ve never read a personal finance book or blog, invest some time this year in really understanding  how to maximize every bit of your hard-earned income and cut expenses.

I wrote five pieces last year for Reuters Money; there are many such sites to help you  better understand personal finance. Here’s a helpful piece from one of my favorite writers on the topic, (meeting her in D.C. last year was a great nerd-thrill!), the Washington Post‘s Michelle Singletary.

Fast one or two days a week

I’ve now been doing this for seven months, two days a week, and plan to do it forever. The hard core consume only 500 calories on “fast” days. I eat 750, and eat normally the other days. (Normally doesn’t include fast food, liquor [except for weekends], junk food like chips and soda.) It’s helped me shed weight and calm digestive issues.

It’s not that difficult after the first few weeks and doing vigorous exercise helps enormously, thanks to endorphins and other chemicals that naturally suppress appetite.

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Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, NY

Explore a new-to-you neighborhood, town or city nearby

Do you always take the same route to work or school or the gym? We all try to save time by taking well-known short-cuts, but can miss a lot in so doing.

Make time to try a new-to-you neighborhood or place nearby. Travel, adventure and exploration don’t have to require a costly plane or train ticket.

Ditch a long-standing habit — and create a new one

Watching television news had become a nightly habit for me, even as I found much of it shallow and stupid.

My new habit for 2015 was playing golf, even just going to the driving range to work on my skills.

My new habit, for 2016, is fasting twice a week.

Not sure yet what my 2017 new habit will be.

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Write notes on paper

As thank-yous for the dinners and parties you attend. For gifts received. Condolence notes.

Splurge on some quality stationery and a nice pen; keep stamps handy so you’ve no excuse. Getting a hand-written letter through the mail now is such a rarity and a luxury. It leaves an impression.

Decades from now, you’ll savor some of the ones you received — not a pile of pixels or emails.

I recently ordered personalized stationery; here’s one I like, from Paper Source.

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Buy something beautiful for your home

Even on a tight budget, adding beauty to your home brings you every day.

A bunch of $10 tulips. A pretty pair of hand towels. Fresh pillowcases. A colorful cereal bowl or mug.

A platter for parties!

Even a can of paint and a roller can transform a room.

Your home is a refuge and sanctuary from a noisy, crowded, stressful world. Treat it well!

Visit your local library

Libraries have changed, becoming more community centers. I love settling into a comfortable chair for a few hours to soak up some new magazines or to pick up a selection of CDs or DVDs to try.

Get to know a child you’re not related to

We don’t have children or grand-children, or nephews or nieces, so we appreciate getting to know the son of our friends across the street, who’s 10, and a lively, funny, talented musician.

People who don’t have children can really enjoy the company of others’ kids, and kids can use a break from their parents and relatives; an outside perspective can be a refreshing change (when it’s someone whose values you share and whose behavior, of course, you trust.)

If you’re ready for the commitment, volunteer to mentor a less-privileged child through a program like Big Brothers or Big Sisters or other local initiatives. Everyone needs an attentive ear and someone fun and cool to hang out with and learn from  — who’s not only one more authority figure.

Write to your elected representative(s) praising them for work you admire — or arguing lucidly for the changes you want them to make, and why

I admire those who choose political office. For every bloviating blowhard, there’s someone who really hopes to make a difference. Let them know you appreciate their hard work — or make sure they hear your concerns.

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Write a letter to the editor

If you ever read the letters page, you’ll find it dominated by male voices. Make time to read deeply enough that you find stories and issues to engage with, about which you have strong and lucid opinions and reactions.

Support the causes you believe in by arguing for them publicly — not just on social media or privately.

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Spend at least 30 minutes every day in silence, solitude and/or surrounded by nature

Aaaaaaaaaah. Essential.

If you’re feeling stuck, try mind-mapping.

 

Hoping that each of you has a happy, healthy 2017!

Which habit(s) are you trying to break?

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the best things about a vacation is — for me anyway — coming back to my home and daily life with refreshed eyes and new ideas. I almost always make some changes in how our apartment looks, and some changes in how I conduct my work and life.

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Everyday life…Time to get out my guitar again! (Photo credit: loginesta)

Being self-employed as a writer for seven years means I have a lot of freedom in how, when and where I work. But it also means I fall into ruts and routines, like everyone else. If it’s easy and “normal”, I tend to keep doing it. I sit at the dining room table writing on my laptop, (why not at the library? a coffee shop? a shared space? the park?), because that’s what I did the day/week/month before.

A best-selling book, The Power of Habit, addresses this. Once we become habituated to a behavior, it’s comfortable and routine, and demands little thought or creativity. It might be what we drink each morning, (or night), or the clothes we wear or the friends we hang out with.

Here’s a great post by Seth Godin on why being angry is a habit one can choose to break.

One of the things I enjoy most about vacation is the chance to flee habitual behavior and try new things, some of which are simply easier, more affordable or more accessible in places other than where I live, whether horseback riding or finding a store full of used CDs.

I do do a few things, habitually, that I am enjoying and are good for me, like a Monday morning jazz dance class that leaves me drenched in sweat and ready to start my week. At 4:00 p.m. or so, many days, I brew a full pot of tea — no crappy bag-in-a-cup! — and sit down to hydrate and relax for a while.

And every year — no matter how much I would really prefer to blow that cash on a fantastic trip somewhere — I put away 15 percent or more of my income. It has finally begun to add up to something that seems real and worth managing, so the years of self-denial are worth it.

But I have a few habits I need to change:

— checking email too often, out of loneliness and boredom

— dicking around on social media (ditto)

— procrastinating on major projects that require a lot of intermediate steps to get to completion

— wasting time on magazines instead of reading books

— losing two to four hours listening to, (albeit loving!), talk shows on National Public Radio

— sitting for too long at the computer without a break, like…hours!

— not exercising consistently every single week, at least four (ugh) times

Here’s a beautiful, smart post about the power of habit — and how essential it is to wake up our lives while we still have them to enjoy:

One way is to make a conscious effort to break the habit patterns which blunt our perceptions. After all, it was sheer habit which caused the man to throw the magic pebble into the sea. ‘Habit,’ says Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot, ‘is a great deadener’. A contemporary Buddhist says that we should try to do some of the following:

 
When in company act as if alone
When alone act as if in company
Spend one day without speaking
Spend one hour with eyes closed
With eyes closed, have someone you are close to take you on a walk
Think of something to say to someone particular. Next time you see them, don’t say it.
Go somewhere particular to do something. When you get there, don’t do it.
Walk backwards
Upon awakening, immediately get up
Get dressed to go somewhere, then don’t go
Just go out immediately, as you are, anywhere
Do what comes next
Walk on!            
What habit(s) are you struggling to shed or change?
How’s it going?