How 2016 Made Me Better
To the world in general, 2016 pretty much sucked. We lost David Bowie; we lost Prince; and depending on your political leanings, some say we lost progress here in the U.S. It seemed pretty bleak across the board to almost everybody—even me. But when I turn the lens on myself and look at how the year went for me personally, it’s a very different picture.
At the tail end of 2015 I decided that this year would be all about self improvement for me, and I leaned in hard. Maybe not as hard as I should have, but there were still great leaps made in my life in the areas of health, creativity, and productivity. Overall, my goal was to “be better.” I know this seems broad, but to me those areas are really what that encapsulates, so they were where I put my focus.
A lot of the things I started doing affect all three of these areas at the same time. The morning routine I incorporated, for example, includes protein and water intake for my health (and ultimately productivity), as well as meditation, gratitude, and playing with my cat, which all lead to me going into the day with a clearer head and much better focus—super helpful in a creative profession. And something I started doing recently, writing down ten ideas everyday, has not only fueled my creativity, it’s also enhanced my ability to think on the spot and come up with good solutions to problems—something I’m doing more and more lately.
Technology played a big role in my being able to better myself in 2016, too. One of the main tools I started using to track my betterment progress is an app called Habit List. This lets me list the things I need to do everyday to feel great (it’s a modified version of the list Chase Jarvis uses) and helps me to stay on task by tracking my frequency and sending me reminders. Without it, I’d probably get a lot less done.
The Clock app on my iPhone is super helpful, too. I have alarms set throughout the day to remind me of things like “Be grateful” and “Take a walk.” It’s nice to have these little reminders when I’m wrapped up in something and forgetting to be my best.
While these technological tools helped me so much in 2016, the ideas behind most of the things I used them for came from good old-fashioned books. Reading was huge for me this year and probably formed the foundation for 90% of the things I’ve been doing. I won’t go into everything I read (but I do list all of my 2016 titles here), but all of it was in service of bettering myself. Big ones included Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, and especially Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, which I’m still making my way though. I felt like I had a dozen teachers in a Proper Life class. It’s been incredible.
Back to technology. I took a handful of courses online through CreativeLive and participated in their 28 Days to Make challenge in February (NOTE: This is now offered as a free class that you can do anytime—I highly encourage you to take it). This really set the tone for how I made things this year. In that month I followed prompts to make something from scratch everyday. I was so inspired by one of the weeks of assignments—taught by one of my favorite illustrators, Kate Bingaman Burt—that I parlayed the momentum into an Instagram account called Daily Illo, where I posted a quick drawing everyday. Unfortunately, keeping up with this got kind of tricky as we moved into summer (mostly because I got married in May and the weeks and months leading up to that were incredibly time-consuming) so I put it on hold, though I have every intention of returning to it in some capacity soon. I was already creating everyday anyway (both at work and with my daily cat photo (@Pinkypolydactyl on Instagram), so I didn’t feel to bad about it. I did rediscover my love of drawing though, so I started turning some of my illustrations into screen prints. This is something that I plan to turn into an Etsy business with my wife in the new year.
CreativeLive really helped me to kick my creativity into gear this year, and that’s one of the things I’m most thankful for. It’s led to a lot of new ideas and great projects that I’ve either already started or am in the planning stages of. I know that 2017 is going to rock creatively.
So that’s kind of a wrap-up of the internal work I did in 2016. Something external that also made it such a good year was marrying an amazing woman. My wife and I had been together for thirteen years before we tied the knot and she inspired me everyday. But being married to her—even though things don’t really feel all the different—is even more incredible. Saying “I do” seemed to solidify us as a team more and we’ve already gone on more adventures than in past years—including a wonderful honeymoon through the Southwest. I feel pretty confident that every year with her from here on out is going to be remarkable. So that’s something to look forward to.
There’s no doubt that I have a lot to be grateful for as we move into 2017. This year has been kinder to me than just about every other one before it. My goal is to keep that momentum going and, as James Altucher says, “be one-percent better everyday.” I think that’s achievable. Oooh, I should add it to my Habit List!