7 Lessons I Relearned This Year
Do you ever feel like you have to learn the same lessons over and over?
Yeah, me too. That’s life. Head knowledge isn’t expertise. Understanding isn’t skill. Information doesn’t automatically translate to experience, wisdom, or a life well lived. You have to actually Do The Things. You practice, make mistakes, forget, start again, and each time the knowledge becomes less in your head and more in your heart, your gut, your very bones. It takes living to learn.
As I reflect upon the past year, I can clearly see the healthy habits that, when I actually practice them, help me manage difficult situations, relationships, and entire seasons. None are surprising. I’ve written about all of them before. I’m listing them here because all practices require, well, practice. You may, like me, need to be reminded from time to time of these seven “make or break” habits that keep you mentally and emotionally strong and healthy:
Human beings thrive in tribes. We need community. And that’s been extra hard this year. What I’ve found is that I have to make my connections count. I don’t have the emotional resources for much small talk or one-way relationships.
Healthy connection means taking risks by putting yourself out there and sharing your real self with others, while also maintaining boundaries. I tend to go from ditch to ditch on this one. I am learning that I need people. I need to show up for people. I need to invest time and energy and heart in my tribe. And I need breaks from connecting, too.
2. Create safety.
Human beings also need a safe home base. The world can be a perilous place, but you can face it when you have a tribe to support you and a refuge to retreat to. If you don’t feel safe at home—whether that’s your literal home, your workplace, your community, or wherever you spend your life—it’s time to make a change.
It might mean you need to change. You might need to change the way you act or react, the way you present yourself, or the way you behave. You might need to heal from past wounds or build some new “muscles.” It can also mean you move to a new location, drop-kick toxic people from your life, work to modify norms and culture, or change your whole career. None of this is easy. But you deserve a safe home. If you’re not feeling safe, change something.
3. Say “No.”
How can such a small word be fraught with so much difficulty? It’s because so much gets packed up along with those two little letters. We infuse so much meaning into “no” and we assume others will, too. “No? You don’t love me… you don’t trust me… you don’t care about your job…”
I have a hard time saying “no.” I always worry “no” will mean the end of a relationship or opportunity. And you know what? It has, at times. That sucks. It’s not fair that sticking up for my values means that I lose some friends or clients or family members or opportunities… but that’s why they’re values. Values are what you’re willing to sacrifice for. It’s painful, but then you know your life is focused on what’s most important.
I find it sometimes even harder to say “no” to myself. No to what’s unhealthy. No to what’s unwise. No to my Inner Critic. No to my fear and anxiety. I keep trying because saying “no,” to yourself and others, leads to health and peace.
4. Say “Yes.”
You have to be able to say “no” to give a genuine “yes.” A “yes” when you really want to say “no” isn’t a true yes. It’s a burden. It’s easy to say “yes” to crap when you have little practice saying “no.”
But sometimes a true “yes” is just as hard, just as scary, just as much a sacrifice as saying “no.” After all, they go together. Every “no” comes with a “yes” and vice versa. Say yes to things you don’t “feel like” but will create the type of life you want to live down the road. Yes, I’ll call my friend even though I’m tired because I’m always uplifted after our chats. Yes, I’ll get out of bed even though I’m depressed because I know I’ll feel better once I get moving. Yes, I will take the day off because no one on their death bed wishes they’d worked more… What “yes” will bring you more fulfillment?
5. Give thanks.
Reality bites. There is plenty to be grumpy or anxious or angry about (especially this year). I believe in facing the truth. Don’t sugarcoat reality or pretend things are better than they are.
But don’t ignore the good either. Gratitude puts the bad in context. It gives it some space and breathing room. Constantly acknowledge the good. All the time. It’s good for your own mental health and your relationships, too.
I’ve kept a gratitude journal for ages and I admit this year has tested my practice. It’s not that I couldn’t find things to be grateful for—I didn’t want to. I wanted to wallow in my grumpiness. Choosing to be grateful directly impacted the people around me. Who wants to live with a grump?
(P.S. I love this article from Ryan Holiday on giving thanks every day, even for unpleasant things.)
6. Be good to others.
Being good to others is not the same as being nice or giving them what they want. It certainly can include those things, but the bar is much higher. Being good to others means treating them the way they need to be treated (even when you’d rather not) and seeing things from their perspective (even when it’s completely foreign to you).
Being good to others means giving—giving your attention, your time, your ear, your mentorship, your resources. It means being kind, even when undeserved. Being gentle, even when provoked. Forgiving, even without an apology.
Being good to others also means enforcing boundaries and saying “no.” You can’t always rescue people, even those you love. Sometimes the kindest, most loving thing to do is let people fail.
7. Be good to yourself.
Be good to yourself, but not because you deserve it. I mean, maybe you do. But being good to people—others or yourself—is not something that has to be earned.
Be good to yourself because it’s good for you! Same as others! Take care of yourself, love yourself, give grace to yourself, be kind to yourself, forgive yourself. I find it’s much easier to be good to others than myself, but I’m working on it.
Hold yourself accountable and be someone you like. Live a life that brings you peace and joy and purpose. It’s good for you! And we need strong, healthy, happy people in the world.
I admit I’ve found it challenging to practice every single one of these behaviors this year. But what I can say with 100% surety is that when I DO practice one or more of these habits, everything in life goes better. I feel more stable and grounded, more powerful and at peace, and more supported and happy in my relationships.
So… here’s to the practice, my friends!