Many December thirty-firsts ago, my wife Gretchen and I decided to shift our yearly resolutions into a more productive direction. No more dwelling on the negative habits we disliked about ourselves. Instead, we’d focus on one simple way to do life better. Since then, each year we choose a word or two to live by which becomes our mantra for twelve months, a lens through which we examine and improve our lives.
Our first year it was ‘Maintain’.
Due to our binge-and-purge style of house cleaning, the apartment we shared was in a constant state of upheaval. We’d wash no dishes and launder no clothes until we ran out of everything clean and then we’d spend days procrastinating the inevitable. Once the piles of mess started to reek and move suspiciously on their own, we’d dedicate an entire hellish weekend getting load after load scrubbed up and stored away.
Then we’d do it all over again.
Using the word ‘maintain’ as our lens, that next year we took on a new approach to house cleaning. We began washing smaller loads of dishes and laundry but more often. We started putting things away when we were done using them and paying our bills three times a month instead of all at once a week after they’re due. Ever since that first year, Gretchen and I still attempt to maintain our lifestyle instead of putting it off and piling it up. Now our house is usually an impressive twenty-five minutes away from being 78% guest-ready.
The next New Year’s life-lens was ‘Zoom Out’.
The perspective my wife and I had on our relationship felt too close and narrow. We were nit-picking and fighting over details, like whose turn it was to vacuum or to do that small load of whites.
So we widened our lens and began taking in a bigger picture.
We zoomed out and examined our life the way you do in those game apps where you’re in charge of the kingdom below. From that less personal angle, it was easier to see the other person’s POV and it became obvious how petty most of our quarrels had become. Since that year, we regularly zoom out and the arguments in our kingdom have decreased to an almost tolerable level.
‘Kung Fu It’ was one of my wife’s most successful life-lenses.
After forty years of living with her ADHD undiagnosed, Gretchen finally realized why her brain would struggle with certain skills other people found basic, like returning emails and texts, scheduling and keeping appointments, and following up on promises made regarding small loads of whites. Her scattered mind made handling her business extremely frustrating.
So that year she decided to ‘Kung Fu’ everything.
A martial artist repetitively practices the individual steps of their moves, and Gretchen began doing the same with her life skills. She slowed down every activity she was struggling with until she could identify the individual steps required to accomplish it correctly. With the slower speed and relentless repetition, she learned where she was coming up short and began Kung-Fu-ing herself new muscle memories for those activities.
2017’s life-lens has been the ‘Positivity Train’.
All year we’ve attempted to lessen our negative instincts by redirecting our thoughts and reactions in a more positive way. It’s incredible how many more of life’s green lights we’ve noticed now that we’re focusing less on the reds. We’re seeing that more promises are kept than broken, and more small loads of whites are washed than not.
For 2018, ‘De-Big-Deal It’ will be my mantra.
Family activities can be a stressful and irritating hassle for me, so next year I’ll practice de-big-dealing them by focusing on the fun we’re about to have instead of on how frustrating it is getting everyone dirt free, properly clad, loaded up, and buckled in.
Life-lenses work for us.
Had we approached our resolutions the old way by focusing on negative habits, we’d have blown off our goals within weeks. But by Maintaining and Zooming-out, by Kung Fu-ing and De-Big-Dealing the Positivity Train, we’re accumulating tools that are gradually improving the way we’re loving each other and living life.
What will your 2018 life-lens be?
- Mike Lukas
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