If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I make a habit of selecting a one-word theme each year. This theme serves as sort of an over-arching beacon for my goals, activities, and introspection for that given year. Some examples of themes that I have chosen during the past decade include simplicity, joy, deliberate, balance, peace, and essential. I have found that each theme tends to lead into the following one such that it’s not difficult at all to decide how I want to focus the coming year.
My theme for 2019 has been “freedom.” This theme was introduced in January, and I also wrapped up my 2018 theme (essential) in the same post. Over the course of this year, I’ve written about my freedom theme in multiple posts, including an update at the halfway point in June and some thoughts about how technology impacts our freedom. I’ve given a great deal of thought this year to the role of freedom in my life. I’ve made some changes that have helped me to feel freer, but there is still a lot of work to be done in this arena. However, as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on where I am with freedom today and how I’d like to continue to transform in the coming year and beyond.
What’s Changed Since My June Update
When I did my June freedom update, I shared a list of ways in which I had already embraced freedom more fully this year. I also listed a number of other shifts that I wanted to experience related to freedom before the year is over. I have made progress in a few of these areas, but I continue to feel challenged by others. Because I like to acknowledge the positive steps I’ve taken, I will start there.
Fewer Items on My To-Do List
I used to be a fierce “taskmaster” who would list out more to-do list items than pretty much any human could accomplish within an allotted day, week, or month. Earlier this year, I used a weekly planning form that had room for twenty-five tasks and my top five priorities. I always filled in all of the slots on the page and then turned the page over to list still more items. Then I would be upset when the week ended and I hadn’t crossed out every single item on the list. Such a practice was definitely a recipe for discontent!
I gave up the weekly planning form a few months ago in favor of a basic paper planner, but I continued to write a fairly lengthy to-do list each week, and I was still unhappy when I wasn’t able to complete everything. Fortunately, that changed with my discovery of the “just one thing” approach that I wrote about in my last post. I’m now keeping a master to-do list in the back of my planner and selecting only one key priority for each day. This approach still needs a bit of fine tuning, though, as I don’t always do my “one thing” early in the day (as an example, working on this blog post was my one thing for today – Thursday – and as I’m writing this, it’s now well into the evening!). Regardless of the “hiccups” I still need to work out, I’m now feeling less anxious and more accomplished, which will hopefully work to increase my sense of freedom. I fully intend to keep going with the “just one thing” approach in 2020.
Reaching a Happy Medium in Terms of Contact
I’m doing a lot better with feeling less obligated to keep in touch with people on a super regular basis. I still feel guilty that I’m not as “on” as most others seem to be, but I’m honoring myself, my needs, and my energy levels by stepping back from social media, email, and other means of connection. I’m aiming for quality over quantity and hoping that those I care about will feel loved and honored by me even if I’m not in touch as often. I also hope that the guilty feelings will subside as time goes on, as I’m tired of being wracked by guilt so much of the time. As I mentioned in my “Thoughts as the Decade Fades” post, I’d like to leave unnecessary guilt in this decade and not carry it forward into 2020 and beyond!
Eating is Less Fraught for Me
As someone who obsessed about food and weight for literally decades, I don’t want to live my life that way. When I wrote my June update, I lamented the excessive amount of time that I was spending on preparing and eating food. I’m pleased to say that this has improved, as I have discovered some simpler ways of receiving appropriate nourishment. Not only have I come up with a “menu” of easier meals to choose from, I also found a nutritious, low-carb meal replacement option that I now use once or twice a day.
While I’m not currently following the trendy ketogenic diet that’s all the rage in the US, I’ve noticed that I don’t tolerate carbs or sugar as well as I did when I was younger. I’ve also learned that if I start my day off with ample protein, my blood sugar stays more balanced and I feel better overall. Since I’m not someone who likes to eat anything heavy in the mornings, the meal replacement shake has been serving me well as my breakfast nearly every day. I’ve also lost some weight since I started using this meal replacement (I don’t know how much since I never weigh myself), as well as through using the Fitbit device that I received as a birthday present back in August.
I don’t miss the wardrobe tracking that used to be such a big part of my life. It served a useful purpose for me while it lasted, but it’s important to realize when it’s time to move on from practices that are no longer serving us. I like the freedom inherent in just wearing my clothes and not giving too much thought to how often I’m wearing them. I still have a good sense of what I am and am not wearing, but I no longer need to calculate the nitty-gritty statistics that were commonplace on Recovering Shopaholic for years.
I’ve gotten rid of a lot of pieces since I started my “half project” back in May (latest update HERE). While I can’t yet say that I’ve made peace with my menopausal body, I have been willing to let go of most of the items that no longer fit my current shape and size. I have also passed on most garments that are uncomfortable for me, either physically or emotionally. My ultimate goal is to be able to get dressed and then forget about my outfit when I leave the house. I want to be able to focus fully on the activity I’m doing and have the clothes take a backseat to the people I’m with and the enjoyment I’m experiencing in living my life. I’m not there yet, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is great.
Another helpful change I’ve made recently is that I modified the way I organize my closet. I used to organize my tops by sleeve length and then by color, with the prints being categorized by their dominant color and mixed in with everything. I now have all of the prints together and all of the solids together, still separated out by sleeve length and color. I did this for both my tops and my toppers (I don’t have many pants and most of them are solids). This reorganization has shown me some of the primary issues with my wardrobe, including the fact that I have too many solid black tops and not enough solids in other colors. I also saw that most of my toppers are solids and that I could stand to add a few printed pieces in that category. The reorganization has also made it easier for me to get dressed (your mileage may vary…), which is helpful in terms of my clothing-related freedom.
Where I’m Still Struggling Related to Freedom
I’m proud of the positive changes I’ve made related to my freedom. Some of the shifts have been relatively small, but the cumulative effect has made a significant difference in my life. That said, I continue to feel challenged in some key areas, including time management and worrying about what others think. Below are some of my thoughts on both of those topics.
Time Management Challenges
Beating myself up for my lack of productivity is something I’d like to stop doing. I don’t need to accomplish hundreds – or even ten – tasks each day. I just need to be moving forward with things that are important to me. Some days I do better with that than others, but I believe that the “just one thing” approach will help me to set priorities and advance them. What’s true is that a little bit at a time can add up to a lot over the course of a year or a few years. I have written two books and over 500 essays (see HERE and HERE) at this point, but these things were all accomplished gradually. It’s like the old saying goes… “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…” Of course, none of us actually wants to eat an elephant, but some of our goals can seem as gargantuan as those types of wild beasts.
I think that my biggest time management challenge is getting going in the morning, so I believe that incorporating a very basic morning routine would be helpful. I’m going to try out a few options and see what works best for me (I’m sure I will write about my findings…), but I know that the status quo of lagging and then feeling bad about it should not continue. I’m not even going to require myself to get up early (I realize that I’m fortunate to have this choice!), as I often struggle with insomnia and I now better recognize the importance of sleep (and my Fitbit assigns me a sleep score each day that is sometimes quite sobering).
I think a “just one thing” approach to habit change may serve me well, so I’m only going to focus on improving my mornings and see how that goes. I think I will feel freer if I get going earlier and do my key priority (my one thing) as soon as possible each day. That way, I can incorporate more fun into my days, knowing that I have done what’s most important to me and my goals. I want to get outside during the daylight hours more often, too, especially during the shorter days of winter. I do make a point of walking by the water frequently, but it’s good for my well-being and my health to enjoy some fresh air while it’s still light outside.
The Opinions of Others
I’ve known for a long time that I worry excessively about what other people think of me, but I didn’t fully understand the scope of my problem until recently. I actually struggle with social anxiety and that’s a big part of my issues with shopping and my wardrobe. I often feel inferior to others in terms of how I look and I compare myself unfavorably to the way others are dressed and how their hair and make-up looks. I don’t feel at ease in social situations and I mostly avoid them, but this is something I’d like to change.
I would like to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I want to go back to the days when I had my own distinct sense of style and I didn’t try so hard to measure up to societal standards for how one should look and dress. I was what one might call a “quirky dresser” and although I don’t desire to go back to the way I used to dress, I would like to return to the state of following my own muse.
I kind of lost my way in my late thirties when I feared turning forty and thought that I should start dressing more mature and sophisticated. I started watching “What Not to Wear” and tried to adopt the urban New York style wardrobe that the hosts prescribed to most of their makeover subjects. The thing was, though, that blazers and pumps weren’t a good match for either my lifestyle or my personality. Not only did I start to dress in-authentically as I attempted to “dress my age,” I also became much more self-conscious about how I looked. I was afraid of failing at my new way of dressing and looking conspicuous and “off.”
What I’ve learned this year is that I feel happier and less self-conscious when I’m wearing what I wear to go for a walk or to the gym. I feel like I’m just being me and not trying to measure up to any type of external standard. I would like to extend this feeling of “free to be me” to the rest of my life as we move into 2020. This means that I’m going to stop trying to wear what I think other people will approve of and I’m going to just dress in a way that makes me happy. If something is “in” but I just plain don’t like it, I’m going to leave it alone and wear what I like. If I end up looking like I should be nominated for “What Not to Wear,” so be it. The show is off the air, anyway!
I doubt I will look like a big fashion “don’t” because I actually prefer a more minimal style these days. I like to look streamlined and elegant more than quirky now. My style aesthetic has changed, as will happen for most of us over the years, but it doesn’t generally shift in exactly the same way as the trends do. There is freedom in not trying to be trendy, at least there is for me. I don’t think that dressing to please myself will solve all of my social anxiety or compulsive shopping woes, but it’s a start and it’s the “one thing” that I’m going to focus on for now. One step at a time…
I feel a lot better about my freedom theme than when I sat down to write this post. I realize that I have taken more positive strides with the freedom in my life than I originally thought. I also understand that I have a more optimistic outlook than I did even just a couple of weeks ago, when I stopped trying to do all the things and started zeroing in on the key tasks and objectives that will make the biggest difference for me. I may not be where I’d ultimately like to be with my feeling and experience of freedom, but I have made progress. And as I used to say about my wardrobe and shopping on Recovering Shopaholic (and it’s still true there as well), progress over perfection!
I’m glad I selected freedom as my theme for 2019 and I believe it served me well. While I will be selecting a new theme for 2020 (which I will introduce in my next post), I’m not leaving freedom behind. As has been the case in previous years, my themes have continued to percolate in my awareness and help me in my quest for a happier and more fulfilling life. Freedom is one of my key values and I want to make sure I’m honoring it in how I live my life. The reflections I’ve shared today will assist me in keeping freedom in my mind and in my heart as I move forward.
Now I’d love to hear from you. I know that not all of you selected themes for the year, but you’re all welcome to weigh in. Here are some questions to help channel your thoughts:
- Did you select a theme for 2019? If so, what was it and how do you feel you did with it overall? What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- If you didn’t select a 2019 theme, how do you feel about your year as a whole? What progress have you made? Where did you feel most challenged?
- What do you want to carry forward into 2020? What do you want to leave behind?
I invite you to share your insights on the above questions, what I wrote about in this post, or whatever you’d like to comment on. I welcome your feedback!
This will be my last post before Christmas, so I want to wish all of those who celebrate a very merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy your time with family and friends. I’ll be back before the end of the year to announce my 2020 theme and why I have selected it. Thank you for reading and many blessings to you all!