You never know when you might “accidentally” be inspired in a very large way by a stranger you meet at the dentist’s office.
We were both early, waiting for our cleanings, I was reading a book and she pulled out her knitting. I said, “Oh, isn’t that so relaxing? I used to love knitting.”
“It’s like a meditation,” she agreed.
“I only know how to knit,” I said. “I never learned how to purl.”
“You could take a class,” she suggested. She asked what part of town I live in, and told me about a knitting store nearby.
And that’s when it got interesting.
Because she told me that for the past few years, she’s made a point of taking classes in all the things she’s ever wanted to learn: ballroom dancing, horseback riding, knitting, etc. But here’s the key: she fully commits to learning whatever it is, but only for one month. And at the end of that month, she moves on to something else.
Back up for a second. I’m familiar with Life Lists. I made one for myself about fifteen years ago, listing all the places I wanted to go, the new skills I wanted to learn, the other changes I wanted to make. It’s why I finally ended up writing my first novel. And also seeing a real Broadway show, learning martial arts, going on a Jane Austen tour in England, and all sorts of other interesting things.
But this woman, Danetta, took the Life List concept and made it better. Simply by putting a time limit on the things she was going to try.
She started the way a lot of us do, making an exhaustive list of absolutely everything she’s ever wanted to do and to learn and all the different trips she wanted to take. After that “brain dump,” she had a list of about 100 items. Big things from exotic travels to little things like getting a pedicure. Anything that sounded interesting or fun made it onto the list.
Next she organized her list into several categories: Health & Fitness; Travel; Friends & Family; Home; and Personal Growth/Learning Adventures. (I love that term learning adventures!) Then she made herself a schedule.
She knew if she wanted to try as many things as possible during the year and still give herself sufficient time to enjoy each activity, she could commit one full month to whatever she wanted to do. Twelve new activities every year, and they could be from any of her categories.
So one month she might tackle some home project she’d been meaning to do, and the next month she might take Czech lessons or hike as many miles as she could.
In the Friends & Family category, she made a list of all the friends and members of her extended family that she wanted to see more often, and made a rotating schedule of lunches, holiday gatherings, and other ways she could guarantee she kept in touch with all of them throughout the year.
In the Travel category, maybe she couldn’t take a big trip that particular month, but she could do all the research for it: look up airline prices, look for hotels, study a little of the language if she were going abroad.
And if it turned out at the end of the month that she had had her fill of a particular activity–like reading the Classics (because face it, a little of The Iliad and The Odyssey goes a long way)–she could move on knowing she had done it, tried it, and could check it off her list.
But if it turned out to be an activity she loved, like writing a novel, she could add it to her life more permanently.
It reminds me a little bit of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. The difference is that Gretchen picked themes for every month, like working on her marriage, being a better parent, learning to have more fun in her life, and then worked on the whole category. I prefer Danetta’s strategy of choosing just one item on her list and really devoting herself to that. It seems easier and more doable.
And you just gotta love that whole short-term commitment thing. Get in there, try something in an intense, concentrated way, then move on. Yes, please.
I’ve done something similar by pretending every summer I’m sending myself to summer camp. I pick a few skills or crafts I want to try–like learning archery or how to make fire from scratch, or taking a beginning drawing class–and that’s something to look forward to when the temperatures here reach 117. At least I can go play at something for a while. Preferably somewhere that has air conditioning.
This summer I’m going to learn how to make lotion from scratch. I’ve already found a bunch of instructional videos on YouTube, and that will be my project for July. I might also take a sewing class. Who knows? I haven’t exactly decided on my themes for camp this year.
So there’s some inspiration that I’m happy to pass along to you. And it comes at a great time, since we’re about to enter a brand new month. What do you want to do with the remaining 8 months of this year? If you create your own list of everything you’ve ever wanted to do and try and learn, which 8 things could you start giving yourself right away?
And as always, if not now, when?