Each month of the year, I'm challenging myself to make or break a habit. January was shopping, February was exercise, in March I gave up all social media, in April I attemped to Utter Nothing Negative, in May I forced myself to get more sleep, in June I started to write 30 letters, in August I ate at home, in September I practiced being on time, in October I wrote 30,000 words, and in November I practiced listening.
My discipline challenge for November was to LISTEN. I hesitated on choosing this one - this year the months with more concrete challenges have gone the best - but the thought kept coming back to me, so I decided to go with it.
I can’t point to some grand Eureka! moment in November, but I did remind myself daily to shut my trap and hear what the other person was saying, so the awareness alone was worth it.
I practiced listening to my children instead of trying to figure out how to make the moment of crying/whining/exuberance better.
I practiced listening to my friends instead of thinking about what I was going to say next.
I practiced listening to strangers' snippets of conversation around me in public instead of zoning out to my phone while in line or waiting.
(This got interesting:
We met on Plenty of Fish. I drove out to meet her and she was LATE.
I had shingles in the 70’s.
You’re vegan now? What does that mean?
And so much more.)
I practiced listening to family members who weren’t saying what they really meant, but who were doing the best they could to communicate how they felt in other ways. This took a particular type of listening, but once I concentrated a bit, I could hear them by listening without my ears.
I practiced listening to my husband, who isn’t much of talker, which often means I dismiss the task of hearing him because there’s so much silence. I’m so used to filling the quiet with my ongoing stream of thought, that asking and then listening to him this month had a weighty significance.
I practiced listening to the outcry - both sides of it - as the grand jury announced that they would not be indicting Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. This was both the hardest and the easiest to hear.
I liked listening. I spend a lot of time by myself, with children, or in front of this computer. When I get around grown-up people, I’m eager to talk and share and tell and have little patience for simply hearing. That’s my mistake. Listening and hearing was almost as much fun as being the one wanting to be heard. I didn’t feel frustrated or horrified at myself like the major fail of the Utter Nothing Negative challenge, the reminder to listen was gentler. And probably more effective.
I hemmed and hawed about what discipline challenge to take on for December. As the last month in this year-long project, and one already filled with tasks and holiday obligations, I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. So I’ve chosen something that’s rattled around in the back of my brain for most of the year anyway.
Someone suggested awhile back that I use the last month to do ALL the challenges at once. An Ironman of discipline challenges, if you will. This is way too much to take on at once, but I’m going to modify the idea:
In December, I’m going to take the 3 most effective monthly challenges: exercise every day, write 1,000 words every day, and eat at home - and do them all at once for 3 weeks.
I chose these three because they’re the ones that I think were the most life-changing, the habits that I really want to stick the most beyond this novelty year. I’ll do a summary of the whole project when it’s over, because I took something from every single month, but for December, I’m going to get back on these habits because, sadly, all three have completely waned since the month I took them on.
Now, it’s holiday season, which means we have dinner and party plans more evenings that usual. Those get a pass just because they do. But lunch and evenings that we’re home will be cooked here. I’m still working on my writing project, and there is no time more than now that I’ve needed the exercise.
So December, hello and here we go.
STRATCH THAT. STRATCH EVERYTHING ABOUT DECEMBER ABOVE.
Day 2 of failing at the this challenge and I just need to admit that this isn't the right thing this month. Our schedules and obligations are too erratic in December. I'm leaving my words above because I want to come back to them, but I refuse to spend this season feeling guilty and beating myself up.
Instead, I'm revamping and going to try a challenge that I sort of told myself NOT to do. I'm giving up my phone.
I've never really understood all the parents-on-their-phone shame. This is a whole different post, really, but it incenses me when people scorn or judge people who are on their phones a lot. Admittedly, I'm on my phone pretty often, but I try to use common sense when around my family or out with friends.
I don't think I have a "problem." Facebook has never made me feel depressed. Pinterest doesn't make me jealous. And I have a decent argument that zoning out to one's phone is sometimes a lesser of many other evils, and that finding a distraction from daily life isn't a concept my generation invented.
And yet lately I've been on my phone far more than usual and for no good reason. We only have a few weeks of the holiday season and only a limited number of holiday seasons in our life. I don't want to waste these moments. So I'm putting my phone by the door when I walk in and - barring having to check it every few hours for calls or texts, OR for a purposeful photo (and maybe this will even get me to pick up my good camera more often) - I'm going to leave it there.
photo by JD Hancock via flickr