After giving it some thought for nearly forty years, I’ve had an epiphany: setting personal goals (be they New Year resolutions or any-time-of-year resolutions) does not work for me. Goals in the workplace, fine. My 9-5 job revolves around project delivery and successfully meeting time, cost and quality objectives. No problem. In my personal life? Setting goals is bad for my mental health because I end up a) not meeting them and feeling guilty as a result; or b) meeting them and feeling guilty about the things that I had to either do or stop doing in order to meet them. It’s a lose-lose situation. Side note - I have recurring nightmares that I’m running late for a flight because I’m trying to pack 500 pairs of shoes into my suitcase. Alternative nightmares: I suddenly realise that I have my final university exam the next day, which I’ve completely forgotten to revise for, or have to hand in my dissertation, which I’ve completely forgotten to write. Exam question: is there a connection between anxiety and guilt at not achieving self-imposed goals? Something to ponder.
For the past few years, my husband and I have jointly set a theme for the year rather than specific resolutions. The theme for 2016 was Expand, for 2017 it was Organise, and for 2018 it was Relax. I always continued to set mini-goals within these themes, however, and then felt bad for not meeting them. But last year was different. I began practising the Chimp Management methodology as a mechanism for managing stress, and improving mental health and well-being. Through this learning, I came to an important realisation: success is not achieving outcomes. Success is feeling like you tried your best.
Sometimes trying your best means you kick ass and take names. Sometimes it means you barely move from the sofa and feel grumpy all day. Every day is different, and if you try to achieve certain outcomes regardless of your specific personal circumstances on that particular day, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Since I adopted this mantra whole-heartedly towards the middle of last year, my stress levels have melted right down and I’ve found myself far more able to cope with challenging situations than I’ve ever been able to before.
So, no goals. No resolutions. No outcomes. Just a broad theme for the year. And for 2019, the theme is Nurture.
The dictionary definition of ‘nurture’ is to care for something while it’s growing or developing, such as a young child, or a plant. It means encouraging ideas and plans to develop. Nurture is something that nourishes, fosters or supports.
This is exactly what I want to be doing in 2019. I never give much thought to the theme of the year. I’m a very instinctive person, and when the word ‘nurture’ flowed into my mind when visualising the year ahead, it felt right, just as Expand, Organise and Relax felt absolutely right previously. Like a jigsaw piece slotting neatly into place.
So, what does Nurture mean to me?
First of all, it means taking what we have, and developing it, rather than buying new stuff. We don’t need new stuff. We have enough. I want to look after, develop and nourish what we’ve got. Finish the projects we’ve already started in the house rather than taking on new ones (we have another bathroom to do, but that can wait until 2020). Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Live with less, and buy carefully and sustainably when we need to.
Nurture myself. And my husband, the kids, and the dogs, of course. But certainly myself. I do roll my eyes slightly at how the concept of self-care has become a capitalist money-making scheme, where embarking upon self-care requires the outlay of cash for fancy whipped face creams or elaborate yoga retreats. To me, self-care means making lists. Lists of the truths in my life that I have to accept: my girls will always fight in the bath, I will never get everything done on my daily to-do-list at work, the dogs will always bark appallingly and painfully loudly when I put them on their leads on for a walk. Lists of things I need to get into (and stay in) a good place: eating well, running, spending time outside in a green space every day, hugging my dogs (they’re just so furry and calming, when they’re not barking their heads off that is!), little treats (not necessarily food - half an hour in peace and quiet to read my book constitutes a little treat to my mind). Then accept the truths, and do more of the things I need to do in order to feel good every day. That’s what self-care means to me, and it doesn’t cost money. I write all this while acknowledging my (white) privilege in, for example, having a job that means I don’t have worry overly about financial pressures and stresses, and can therefore more easily invest time in myself.
Nurture others. I mentor a couple of people at work, and I’d like to work with a couple more. It’s very rewarding. I also invested time in 2018 learning about anti-racism and beginning the process of unpacking my own racism. In 2019, I’d like to continue this work in my personal and professional life, and use my social media channels to ‘pass the mic’ to people of colour in order to amplify their voices. I have some thoughts on how to do this in practical terms that I’m currently mulling over.
Nurture the garden. The house is basically finished, and I’m looking forward to spending time outdoors, planting and growing the things that I’ve never had time to thus far, because I’ve been too busy sanding floors or ripping off wallpaper. We want to finish the raised beds, and plant them with things like cherry tomatoes, David Austin roses, sweet peas, herbs, and strawberries. I’d like to plant a couple of eucalyptus trees, a silver birch tree, and sow a wild flower area at the end of the garden. Writing this, it’s starting to feel maybe a bit too outcome-based so I think I’ll stick with ‘planting things’.
Chickens. This is a specific thing, and it does involve taking on more things to nurture rather than nurturing what we already have, but I definitely see chickens in our future, and maybe 2019 will be the year that we install a coop in the back garden (as fox-proof as possible, which granted is not the same as being fox-proof) and bring home some speciality chickens with furry feet, and rescue some battery hens in order to give some lovely old ladies a good home.
So that’s the theme for 2019, and the more I write about it, the more right it feels.