Routines provide us some structure and security, and we tend to like them, but they can and often do become ruts. As we approach the turn of the new year, it might be a good time to assess whether you need to add some spice to your life and ask more of 2024.
Make plans: the power of anticipation
Half the fun of doing anything is anticipating whatever it is you plan to do, and research backs this up. According to a study by researcher Yangmei Luo and colleagues, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is activated during anticipation for positive events, and that brain activity is associated with increased levels of well-being. So when you are thinking ahead to 2024, consider making both long- and short-term plans that you find interesting, whether it’s going away for a long weekend, playing pickleball, or catching up with a friend for coffee once a month.
Thanksgiving has passed, but gratitude is important year-round, and there are many ways to express that gratitude. Some people do it through prayer, while others choose deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques to help them focus on the things for which they are thankful. Many people like the idea of keeping a gratitude journal but find the idea of filling a notebook overwhelming. Fortunately, there are all kinds of ready-made journals with prompts that don’t require extended writing time, such as The One-Minute Gratitude Journal by Brenda Nathan.
Achievable, fun goals
Goal-setting can be really fun if we’re setting goals to do things that we enjoy. Jennie Mulhall makes it a priority to hike every Sunday during the year. “The goal is to be outside in nature moving my body,” she says. “The mental and physical benefits are a win-win.” She is willing to drive 30 minutes or less to find a place to hike and spends an hour or two outside.
Melissa Weedman retired three years ago from her career as a speech therapist and says it took her a while to adjust to setting enjoyable goals that weren’t tied to a paycheck or a strict schedule. “I have really tried to get out of that ‘work/should/have to’ mentality,” she says. “I preached about being a lifelong learner my entire career, so I try to continue that now.” She joined the 52 Book Club to read 52 books over the course of a year and found, through trial and error, a great way to enjoy poetry: she reads a poem every Sunday and sits with that poem to mull it over and really consider its language and meaning.
By Carrie Vittitoe | Photo by Clay Banks