When you begin something new, you can’t guess how far you can go.
Do you agree?
Let me share some stories from the first six months of 2023, a year of trying new things without setting any great goals.
Crochet? Me? No way!
When I received a crochet starter kit as a Christmas gift, my first response was, of course, ”Thank you”, followed immediately by “you must be kidding”. As someone who has not spent much time with arts and crafts, I was skeptical about my ability to put the three balls of yarn and the set of crochet hooks to use.
As the days went by, I saw the pink box around the house, silently beckoning me to pick it up. After a few days I finally gave in and decided to try my hand. Only for fifteen minutes each day. I set a timer and tried to follow instructions in the booklet beginning with learning how to make a chain stitch and then moved on to single, double and triple crochet stitches. My goal was to stick with this practice for 21 days, for exactly 15 minutes a day without missing a single day. That’s it.
No pressure to make something, or for it to be pretty or functional. A tick on the calendar to confirm that I had indeed stuck with my goal was an achievement by itself.
At first just the tick gave me a kick – I was actually doing something everyday without expectation. I had no competitor, no great accomplishment to complete and no one to report my progress to. All I had to do was sit with it each day for the promised duration.
I’m not exactly sure when I started watching crochet tutorials on Youtube to make useful items but I discovered a whole new world of easy to make patterns with simple instructions and excellent visuals to help me create fucntional objects using yarn and needles.
In the first half of 2023 I have made half a dozen hats (tiny ones for babies, beanies and bucket hats for adults), a baby blanket for a special friend and am currently on the lookout for a new project. My confidence in my ability grew along with my skill which was based on the foundation of sticking with the practice for just 15 minutes per day. When I found myself crocheting on my evening commute, I was shocked at my own transformation from clueless klutz to confident crocheter (if that’s a word).
Tuning into gratitude
In my darkest days, taking time to write down a few things I was grateful for has saved me from drowning in my misery. Studies show that people who are able to list a few good things each day reduce their negativity bias and are able to turn their actions towards positive events thereby developing better interpersonal relationships and of course, more happiness. I can attest to this from personal experience even though at the time I came up with this routine for myself, I was unaware of the field of positive psychology and their research into this attitude of gratitude.
My goal then was to simply get through each day without feeling beaten by the unfairness of life. While I advocate this practice vigorously, I have been lax about doing it lately. I decided to revive this habit by committing to spend some time either in the morning or before bedtime, to recount some of the good things that had occurred. I chose a small notebook to keep beside my bed and started the experiment.
In the second week, I came across an episode on the Science of Happiness podcast where listeners were encouraged to go deeper by not just listing the good things but also why these occurred.
Hmmmm! I had never gone down this path before. A deeper excursion into why I was feeling grateful for whatever happened today?.
Do you know what I found? I found more reasons to be grateful!
I also found that there were many times when I had made extremely difficult choices but with the wisdom of hindsight, I could see how those same choices have enabled my life today. If I had not walked away from my unhappy marriage, I could not have experienced a good one in midlife. Moving to Singapore had not been easy but now I enjoy my nightly walks in the safety and warmth of tropical nights.
By the time I reached the 21-day mark, I was a different person because now I could see all the underlying layers that determined my current life. There was indeed much to be grateful for and many people to thank for having accompanied me on this journey.
Back to basics
Unlike my crochet experience where I went from zero to creator in a few months, I fell behind on yoga, a practice that I have been doing for over twenty-five years.
On the first of January I was struck by a debilitating pain in my lower body, something that had plagued me back in late 2021. Despite multiple medical investigations and alternate treatments, there wasn’t much respite, until one day the pain disappeared completely. Only to appear again in 2023.
While I could manage daily tasks with difficulty, over a few weeks I was able to resume most activities. However, yoga became impossible. Simple stretches were painful. Joining my regular weekly classes seemed like a dream from long ago. Over time I could sense my muscles tensing up, my body getting sluggish and a feeling of lethargy that was hard to shake off.
I then turned to my trusted technique of 15 minutes a day. What could I do to ease my way back into a regular routine of awakening my tired body?
Once again Youtube came to my rescue. I found Yoga with Kassandra channel where she has hundreds of short yoga sequences, including a huge selection of yin yoga poses, which were perfect for me. I didn’t push myself too hard and listened to my body if something felt too difficult or painful. In fact, after almost a decade, I began to start my day with yoga instead of practising in the evenings. I then added my breathing meditation at the end of the yoga session and felt so much better. My body was happy that I was devoting the first waking hour to self-care.
After 21 days of this, I tentatively ventured into a strength training routine for my hands, something that had been on my list for a while given that we tend to lose muscle as we age. Having never been inside a gym, I was averse to starting at this age. But we had a set of weights at home which I could use and I’m on my way now. To be completely honest, it is the least favorite part of my day but hey, not everything is fun but you need to do it for your own good.
Why starting small is my go-to method for anything new
I’m afraid of failure. And pain. What if I’m really bad at this? What if it causes me pain? What if it’s a total waste of my time? What if it doesn’t lead to the perfect outcome? There are so many reasons to NOT do something.
An easy out in such situations is to start small. I am OK with making a small commitment of time each day for 21 days to devote to something different without expecting it to work wonders. And in most cases I see how it leads to better things.
My crochet experiments led me to create a wide variety of useful items that I could gift to my circle of family and friends. My gratitude journal helped me go deeper into my life experiences to discover how truly grateful I am not just for today but for everything from the past that brought me to this moment. And resuming yoga in small bites for restoring flexibility is now helping me get stronger.
I’m even considering trying 15 minutes of pilates each day. Wish me luck!