16 Things I Learned in 2016

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’d meant for this to be my last post of 2016, but as I had some unexpected (but very wanted and appreciated) plans come up, this post will just have to ring in the new year.

I first tried doing this last year and ended up loving the process so much, I think I’ll do it every year for as long as I continue blogging.

In no specific order, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

1. Regularly doing special adventures and get-togethers is ALWAYS worth the stress and time it takes to plan them.

Last year, one of my resolutions was to do a monthly “day adventure” as a family to give us something to look forward to every month, and it ended up being a resolution that’s been absolutely life-changing. As an adult, so much of our lives seem to be taken up by the daily grind and our often-monotonous-seeming routines, so it’s super important that we shake it up once in awhile. One of the best parts about these adventures is that we’d often invite other people to tag along (especially our parents so that Raven could get in some quality time with her grandparents), and I’ve loved having these memories that I’ll always be able to look back on.

There were many times throughout the year (especially while I was still teaching or when I was trying to plan our big 30th birthday barbecue or when I decided to do our now-annual Friendsgiving at the very last minute) that I would get stressed out over the plans and all it took to put these things together, but I never once regretted doing it when all was said and done.

The fact is, I’m not always good at keeping in regular contact with friends and family, and I’m especially not good at planning regular outings with friends and family naturally, so having this as a goal (which will now be a perpetual goal) will help me to give those relationships the importance they’re due.

2. Cooking is not as exact a science as baking, and it’s often very forgiving.

Growing up, I ALWAYS preferred baking to cooking–in fact, by the time I had moved out into my own place while attending college, I could make a mean batch of cookies and just about any bread I put my mind to, but I only knew how to make a grand total of three “real” dinners (not including Pasta-roni). For a long time, those three dinners were on heavy rotation until I married Matt and decided that I really needed to branch out (for his sake as much as mine). However, in all those first four years of marriage, I usually religiously stuck to the recipes, terrified of changing anything for fear that I would mess it up.

With the challenge of my 100 Hours in the Kitchen project, I forced myself not just to try LOTS of new recipes throughout the year, but to seriously modify or even create those recipes myself.

To my amazement, I discovered that most dishes are very forgiving of substitutions and that I became a MUCH better and more intuitive cook as a result of my year of experimentation.

3. Cardio (aka, running) will never get me all the body results I want—I HAVE to do strength training, too. 

Because I’ve now been a runner for five years (so weird!), my body has basically totally adapted itself to my running routine, so much to the point where it’s not nearly the kind of challenge anymore that my body requires if it’s going to change shape and firm up. When I finally (grudgingly) added in some weights and other strength-training moves this year, I was finally able to start seeing the results in my post-baby shape that I’d worked at for so long.

I’m still not great at doing strength training as often as I should, but every time I’ve managed to stick with it for any length of time, I notice results (and pretty quickly, too).

4. The idea of capsule wardrobes is kind of brilliant, actually. (But they take a LOT of work up front.)

Even though I’ve pursued a simpler lifestyle for years, I was hesitant to hop on the capsule wardrobe for many reasons. However, earlier this year, I eventually took the plunge, and I ended up kind of loving the simplicity of it all. Paring down my wardrobe to a relatively small number of pieces that I would exclusively wear for 3 months took so much of the guesswork out of whether everything still fit or was in season or went together, and so dressing in the morning became a much more streamlined process.

Although I haven’t done a capsule wardrobe since I quit teaching (because, as I’ve mentioned before, I honestly struggle to get dressed in “real clothes” on most days), I have at least tried to rotate out the off-season clothes and just keep the staples in my closet (and the stuff that fits me right now), so dressing is still a lot easier than it used to be.

5. Even though I still think that teaching is something I was “born to do,” now is not the season for me to be doing it as a full-time job.

Teaching is something that has always come pretty naturally for me, and it’s something I usually really enjoy doing. However, I have had it confirmed to me again and again that staying at home with Raven is definitely where I should be right now, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.

On paper, our decision to have me stay at home was a scary one, with our budget cut dangerously close to the minimum and with a nightmare to work out with all the insurance papers, but there’s a peace that has also come from following my heart, even when rationally the decision didn’t always make sense.

6. When we feel that something is right and we have the faith to follow it, God provides the way.

This lesson goes hand in hand with #5, and I’ve been astounded at how clearly I have seen the Lord’s hand working in our lives this year. So many variables converged together at the absolute perfect times to allow us to financially make it on one steady income, and I have seen so many little miracles already where we’ve received extra income on months when it was most needed.

I know that our Heavenly Father is good, and that He looks out for us (if we let ourselves have the eyes to see Him).

7. Children can learn discipline and other life skills at a remarkably young age if we (as the parents or authority figures) are willing to consistently implement consequences.

I had learned the importance of following through with all consequences as a teacher, but I have been astounded this year to see how young we’ve been able to help Raven to learn self-discipline and to follow simple rules. Her pediatrician told us right before she turned a year old that she was now able to understand a gentle and short time-out when she did things she shouldn’t, and so we took his advice and started right away with training her not to drop food off of her high chair tray and to not get into the kitchen or bathroom cupboards.

After a few consistent pairings of a firm “No” with a 30-second time-out (where we gently but firmly hold Raven’s hands and/or feet together), she quickly learned the behaviors that were expected, and I can now trust her to behave herself the best that she knows how 95% of the time.

It’s glorious.

8. Writing down weekly to-do lists for myself has been a game changer for me.

I’ve done various forms of the to-do list over my lifetime, doing everything from a yearly to-do list (aka, new year’s resolutions and challenges for myself), a seasonal to-do list (usually over the summer holiday), a monthly to-do list, a weekly list, and even a daily task list (sometimes even broken down by hours).

In short, I’ve always been a list-maker, but I’ve never necessarily hit on a habit with making those lists that I’ve stuck with for any length of time.

For the past several months, however, when I noticed that much of my time was being squandered (as I was still adjusting to the stay-at-home life), I started making a weekly to-do list for myself each Sunday night that stretched over the next week. I included everything from the habitual (do laundry, write three blog posts, go to my Tuesday hip-hop class) to things that I just wanted to accomplish that particular week (use up the brown bananas, buy a birthday gift for a friend, finish editing a photo session). It’s been rather astounding really how much it’s increased my productivity, and I fully plan on continuing the practice into this new year.

9. Regular outside time is a daily necessity for both me and for Raven.

When I was teaching, I was used to only being outside for the time it took to climb into and out of a car and get into whatever building I was headed to (and hardly ever spent time in the sun), but when I quit my teaching job at the beginning of June and had long stretches of time endlessly before me in our two-bedroom apartment, I started taking us both of out of the house just to escape it for awhile.

With the daily practice of going on long walks and feeding the ducks and observing the birds, I noticed that not only did it help to calm Raven down if she was restless, but it also helped me to measurably feel much happier and more patient on a consistent basis.

It’s been a lot more challenging to continue doing this now that it’s winter, but we still do make an effort to get outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes (like for these pictures, when we hurried outside and took them all in about three minutes, as none of us–especially Raven–were dressed to stay outside long).

10. Letting myself read whatever I feel like reading has been the key to refreshing the love and passion I felt for it back when I was a child.

This sounds like such a “duh” lesson, but I have to include it here.

For so long, I only really let myself read off of recommended reading lists, and I felt like any book I read that wasn’t on such a list was kind of “wasted time.” Eventually, I realized that I was avoiding reading altogether because I felt guilty when I “sneaked” other books into my nightly reading time, so I finally just made the decision to forget about the recommended reading lists and just read whatever I wanted.

And you know what?

It’s been amazing. Not only did I read more in 2016 than I have in any other year of my adult life (that I started recording, anyway), but I also STILL read some books off recommended reading lists—but this time because I WANTED to, not because I felt like I SHOULD.

And that has made all the difference.

11. I lose nothing by pushing myself.

Like most humans, I tend to stay in my comfort zone a lot. Even when I take on challenges or “risks,” they are almost always calculated and reasonable, and usually a lot of forethought has gone into them. This isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, but it also means that I sometimes shortchange myself.

This year, when I was training for my half marathon, I’d been going really easy on myself as far as my mile times went because I was just getting back into long-distance running after having Raven and after my muscles had gone into remission from my AI disease. About a month before the race, I read an article in Runner’s World that kind of shifted my perspective about my running and inspired me just to push myself a little bit more each run, just to see if I could. Sure, I might not end up beating my previous half marathon time, but there was no harm in at least trying.

Well, I ended up smashing my previous half PR (personal record), and for the first time, I could see that running a half in under 2 hours was not only a goal that was very achievable for me, but that I might very well achieve it next time that I sign up for a half.

12. My photography is less about my equipment than it is about my discipline to daily practice and regularly experiment and consciously learn.

For a long time, I used the fact that I only own a basic entry-level DSLR camera as an excuse for why my images weren’t as good as other people’s.

Now, after another year of taking a picture every single day and pushing myself to experiment much more during photo shoots, I can clearly see that the problem was never with the gear, but in my familiarity with it.

Of course, I still one day want to own a higher-quality camera (and higher-quality lenses), but I’m no longer letting myself buy into the lie that my images are always going to be lacking until I get nicer equipment.

This was an important lesson for me to learn.

13. I am a highly sensitive person (an HSP). 

In psychology, a highly sensitive person is one who is defined as being much more sensitive than the average person when it comes to outside stimuli (like loud noises, chaotic situations, violence in the media, contention, etc.).

I’ve kind of always known I was like this, but this year, I was finally able to be more okay with it and to own it a bit more. Being a highly sensitive person comes with a lot of benefits, but it also means I have to be a bit more careful about controlling my outside world when possible so that I don’t go crazy. It meant that when all the election garbage was going on, I had to avoid social media more than usual. It meant that I had to be upfront when I was called into the Primary leadership in our ward about the fact that I don’t handle chaos well and that I would therefore be enforcing certain rules whenever I taught the children. It means that after a loud family party, I need to retreat for awhile after in order to feel like myself again.

Basically, just being able to label this trait in myself has helped me to avoid situations that would easily upset me, thus allowing me to overall be a better version of myself more of the time.

(Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about highly sensitive people.)

14. If I don’t have a routine and certain guidelines for myself, I tend to be a big time-waster.

This lesson actually kind of shocked me, just because I’ve felt that I’ve always been the kind of person who works hard and gets a lot done. However, I realized pretty quickly upon staying at home full time that the reason I usually got so much done was that I’d always had a routine that had been set by work or school that allowed me to have finite deadlines and other external forces urging me to be productive and finish things in a timely manner.

Early on in my SAHM life, I made a loose routine of what I wanted to get done when, which I stuck to for several months, but which I got off track of when the holidays hit. When I was a few weeks into being pretty off track, I noticed how much I’d let slide, not just around the house but also when it came to my personal care and goals.

So, in effect, a set routine and deadlines is kind of a MUST for me (which is probably why my weekly to-do lists are so effective!).

15. Social media can often be downright toxic for me.

This is a lesson I learned at several points throughout the year, but anything I tried to DO about it never seemed to stick (which is why you’ll notice that one of my resolutions for 2017 is to have a set routine for my social media use, which will drastically cut down my exposure to it).

I’m sure this goes along with being an HSP, but I find myself often very affected by what I read and see on Facebook, blogs, and Instagram. There were many days this year where my mood was distinctly soured by something I had seen or read online, and while I often went to those social media sources looking for more faith in my relationships with people, I often left with less faith in humanity in general.

While I don’t plan to eschew social media altogether (as much of my interaction with you blog readers happens via Facebook), I am putting together a definite routine with what I will check when (and it won’t be every day). This is something that I’ve been trying to do for a long time (like if you remember this post from back in September), but as my #14 lesson says, if I don’t have a set routine, I often won’t follow through.

16. Contentment comes not from reaching certain milestones by certain fixed deadlines in your life, but by learning to appreciate the stage you’re in.

This has been the year of Matt and I learning over and over again to let go of the expectations of all we’d thought would happen by the time we were 30 and to just embrace exactly where we’re at now.

Sure, it’s good to continue to strive for our goals, but whenever we catch ourselves bemoaning the fact that we’re still not in a house or that we still don’t have a clear career trajectory for Matt (or for me, for that matter), we quickly look around right after and realize that there is SO much to love about the stage that we’re in exactly right now, two-bedroom apartment and all.

It’s been a good year, friends.

Here’s to many more lessons that will be learned in 2017!

What big life lessons did 2016 hold for you?

***Note: The idea to record what I’d learned this year in this format was originally inspired by this.

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