What I Achieved This Year And A Few Things I Didn’t

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In December last year I decided that this year was going to mark a change; a year that I needed to take seriously; to plan; and measure.  This shift in my focus came for three big reasons:

  1. My health was starting to decline again, after a few years of improvement
  2. I was about to turn 50 and wanted to avoid any kind of mid-life ‘crisis’
  3. I wanted to start to prepare myself for a good retirement in a few years time

In summary I was planning for my 50’s to be much better than my 40’s which had been defined by whole series of serious health challenges for the whole family.  I wanted my 50’s to be defined by how well I’d lived, not how ill I’d been.

I spend a lot of my time at work on strategic thinking, so it’s no surprise that I started my planning for the year by defining what living well meant to me.  In this post I share this definition in all it’s geeky glory and provide an honest appraisal of how well I’ve achieved it. 

First I’m going to start with the big picture definition that I began the year with,  a good life is one where I have:

  1. Autonomy in what I do and when I do it
  2. A chance to develop mastery, to improve myself
  3. A sense of purpose, that I’ve accomplished something and made the world a better place

and where I:

  1. Eat right
  2. Keep my body moving
  3. Sleep well
  4. Meditate

Although it wasn’t long before I added: relatedness, a strong connection to other people, improved empathy and understanding, and sustainable challenge to the list.  By the end of the year though I realised that I needed to add feeling safe, or protected something that continues to be sadly lacking in my life to this today.

I’m going to take a quick look at how well I achieved on this big picture, before I get to some specifics:

  1. Autonomy 9/10
    I’ve worked hard to achieve a considerable amount of autonomy in my life, much more than most, it’s been critical to managing my health but also to exploring new ways of working and teaching me how to break the link between hours worked and value delivered.  I have a lot of control over my personal life as well, we have enough money, the house and garden are well maintained, the kids are all independent, leisure activities are right outside the door and I have a lot of holiday
  2. Mastery 6/10
    I’ve found keeping up with the fast paced world of end-user computing to be an impossible task given the number of hours I work.  This has been made worse by huge organisational turmoil at work and many new faces in the business.  I’ve had to focus too much on maintaining mastery over existing areas of expertise, and that’s meant I’ve failed to get a good appreciation of broader issues.  Outside of work I’ve learned practically no new skills at all, even my reading is in genres that I’ve enjoyed all my life
  3. Purpose 7/10
    All the change at work; the stop/start nature of many of the initiatives and the failure of others has made progress extremely difficult to achieve.  All this frustration at work provided lots of opportunity to coach and support by colleagues though.  I offset some of this lack of clear purpose at work by rediscovering blogging, starting by writing a hundred posts in a hundred days. I finished the year having written just over 365 posts in total; I’ve had some nice feedback, but not enough, and I’ve been proud of the body of knowledge I’ve built up.  I’ve done a lot of work on the house and garden too and given a lot of money to charity.
  4. Relatedness 7/10
    As someone with Asperger’s syndrome relationships and empathy have always been a struggle.  I’ve made a lot of effort this year though; I’ve talked to strangers; spent more quality time with Debbie and the kids; we’ve had a lot more family meals; and I’ve tried to spend more time with friends at work.  I’ve talked more to the staff at cafes and to the other regulars.  I’ve worked hard to improve my empathy and I’ve been amazed at how I’ve been able to start seeing things from other peoples point of view, it’s really opened my eyes.
  5. Sustainable challenge 7/10
    This has been very tricky to achieve, if I do too much, at work or home, I flare; if I do too little then I’m bored and disengaged, particularly from work.  I’ve pushed myself intentionally this year quite a few times to check that I really can’t cope with intensity with unfortunate results.  I guess I need to just accept the joys of a low intensity life.  That low intensity life has seen me traveling more, hiking in the lakes and the east coast most months, cycling quite a bit, reading wonderful books and growing a lot of my own food though.
  6. Protection 4/10
    This year has been very uncertain at work, many people have been made redundant; lots of friends. I’ve felt personally very exposed. I’m not financially or emotionally ready to leave work yet; not clear on where my job is going and not healthy enough to have the resilience not to care.
  7. Eat right 8/10
    I’ve made a huge amount of progress on my diet this year.  After decades of eating mostly grains, often in the form of bread supplemented by meat, cheese, fruit and sweets I’ve completely changed my diet.  I now eat 80% vegetables, berries, nuts, meat, eggs, cream, coconut oil, oats, milk and cheese and yoghurt, with the remaining 20% adding pears, bananas, chocolate (mostly 85% dark) and the odd bread roll or cake. 
  8. Keep my body moving 8/10
    I’ve also made considerable progress here.  Last year I would focus my movement in a two hour window in the morning and rarely move much for the rest of the day.  Now I try to alternative one hour of sitting with an hour of movement, when that’s not possible I will take a 5-10 minute break every hour.  Movement provides really reliable pain relief and that means that I now rarely need to take pain killers during the day, although I do need to take then at night to sleep.  The biggest success has been using the exercise bike in my office for 1-2 hours a day, I can use it while on conference calls, the phone, and while watching TV or work videos, I love it!  I still need to be more disciplined with my strength exercises and stretches though and to swim and cycle out-doors more.
  9. Sleep well 7/10
    Body pain and headaches at night regularly over-power the urge to sleep, leaving me tossing and turning for hours if I don’t use some form of sleep aid.  I used to be able to take sleeping pills just on the bad nights, but even using them 1-2 times a week (more often during bad flares) gradually resulted in dependence so I had to wean myself off them.  So now I use different meds that have less dependency issues, but they have to be taken every night without fail.  On bad pain nights though I still struggle, but I’m generally sleeping well.  That said there’s hope that if I can reduce the pain next year I can get off these meds, which I’m desperate to do.
  10. Meditate 7/10
    I go through periods of meditating for 20 minutes every day without fail, followed by weeks when I only manage it once or twice.  I’ve only so much motivation and when my routines are disrupted meditation suffers.  That said I’ve practiced for so many years now that I can slip into a meditative state with  a single breath and I find myself doing that many times a day.

Some specifics that I’m particularly pleased about include:

  1. In the last few months I’ve added four of my most hated childhood foods: nuts, fish and egg yolks and liver to my regular diet and I’m gradually adding more
  2. After eating almost no vegetables for 40 years, I now eat a huge plate full every night and often eat a double serving of salad for lunch, I’ve switched mostly to healthier berry fruits
  3. By using intermittent fasting I’m finally chipping away at the last 7lbs of fat that I want to loose, it’s all around my belly, otherwise I wouldn’t care
  4. I walked a Marathon along the cliffs between Filey and Scarborough, I doubt I will ever attempt it again, but it feels good to have done a marathon once in my life
  5. Over the last 365 days I’ve only bought things for myself on 17 of them, most of those things have been books or magazines.  The total value amounts to less than £100, this is a very marked difference to the number and cost of gadgets of all types that I used to buy myself in the false belief that they made me happier.  I’ve spent a lot more money on experiences, mostly events, holidays and evenings out
  6. I’ve kept working for another year, that’s 13 years longer than expected and hopefully I have at least another 4 years left
  7. I’ve worked through every room in the house, the garage, my workshop and the shed renovating, cleaning, tidying and decorating as appropriate.  The whole house now meets my standards and it’s a very relaxing place
  8. I’ve grown a lot of my own food, perhaps a hundred meals and plan to grow more next year
  9. I’ve been on various holidays with Anna, Jennie, Steph, Debbie individually and Debbie, Anna and Thom together.  I somehow missed a holiday with Tess – to be fixed next year!
  10. I’ve actively simplified my life, a lot of stuff has gone to the tip and to charity shops and I’ve a huge stock of well ordered spares in my workshop, life is a lot more relaxed as a result
  11. I’ve only read a newspaper once or twice (to see what I’m missing, nothng) and I’ve not watched or listened to the news at all,  I get everything I need (and skip everything I don’t) from real people, twitter and podcasts
  12. I’ve read 42 books and listened to another 24 making a grand total of 66 books this year
  13. I’ve restarted my personal blog and started a new professional blog and written just over one post a day on average. I’ve reduced the rate of posting down to about 4 a week now
  14. After 18 months work with the physio and a lot more on my own I’ve finally fixed my right knee to the point where I can cycle again.  My physio says I heal extremely slowly and need to be very careful not to injure myself
  15. I bought the maximum amount of holiday my company allows (40 days in total) and took it all, as well as taking most of my monthly ‘think weeks’.  This is a big achievement, meaning I am able to pull myself away from working at last
  16. I’ve picked up a huge amount of litter and tried to find opportunities to be kind and helpful every day (holding doors, helping with shopping, carrying prams …)
  17. I’ve managed to keep on top of the errands, the housework, the garden and the DIY allowing Debbie to dedicate herself to getting her teaching diploma
  18. Most nights we eat as a family (although it’s rare for everyone to be home)

All in all a lot to celebrate, in fact there’s a lot more because the whole family has had an excellent year, but that’s for their blogs (maybe not). 

There are a few notable failures:

  1. My pain levels have gradually increased over the last year
  2. I’ve had three nasty flares and had to up my immune system suppressant medication levels again, I’ve also had many mini-flares
  3. I’m not able to sleep without sleep aids
  4. I’m still suffering from chronic migraines, having made excellent progress last year, they are back, probably in part due to the fact that I still need to take codeine a few days a week
  5. I’ve not learned anything truly new, but I’ve spent a lot of time maintaining the knowledge I already have
  6. Strength training is rarely possible and I’m gradually getting weaker
  7. I’ve pretty much stopped swimming.  The sleep meds I’m on make it too hard to go early in the morning and I’m too tired at night.  I need to find a way though, swimming is the best thing I know for my arms and shoulders which are much worse this year
  8. I’ve been absolutely hopeless at just lying back and relaxing during the day, reading a book, listening to music, playing games with the kids – I never seem to find the time

The picture at the top of today’s post was taken this morning while walking in the windy dunes.  I’d met up with Anna at Caffe Nero after finishing my reading and we walked along the promenade to the Beach Terrace Cafe for breakfast.  For the last few days I’ve been in a world of agony due to inflamed neck muscles but it’s fading now and I can walk without pain, this morning has been such a treat!

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. December 23, 2014

    […] achieved a lot in 2014, but there are a few things that I’ve failed on, I’m intending to try and fix these.  But […]

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