Ah, the New Year. I love the hopefulness of this time, a time to break up with all the stuff you hated about 2013 and dream again for better things in 2014.
Whether you are an optimist or realist, it’s hard to ignore that January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. But instead of setting unrealistic goals for yourself and then losing your dignity in a late-night doughnut run, consider these five simple habits that can help you be a better human.
1. Ask More Questions
Asking good questions seems easy, but it’s demanding on many levels. First, it demands that you actually listen. You must suspend your own thoughts, stories, advice while you make sure you hear what the other person is actually saying.
Second, it requires curiosity. Maybe you think your girlfriend’s story about her mother is completely boring, but there’s a reason she’s telling you. So think about a question or two you can ask. Often, I find asking questions about how someone felt in the situation can help bring a conversation to a deeper level. What started out as a boring story might turn into a very meaningful conversation.
Third, asking good questions brings dignity and value to the person you are talking with—whether it’s the bagger at the grocery store or a mentor you admire.
Make it a goal for 2014 to be a person who is often told, “that’s a great question.”
2. Write Gratitude
I recently received a letter in the mail (I know! So 1990!). I was delighted to open a note of encouragement from a young friend in my church. The letter was unprompted and not related to any one event. “What’s funny about that experience is that I was in a terrible mood when I sat down to write those notes,” he told me later. “But by the time I finished writing them, my mood was completely changed.”
Make it a goal to write one thank you email or letter each month. Unlike a mundane thank you that follows a gift, a unprompted note of gratitude does two things: it forces you to recognize the ways you are blessed, and it blesses someone else. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll find that intentional gratitude shifts something inside of you, altering your perception of the world and your worries.
3. Be On Time
Some of us operate with a huge mental clock that’s constantly ticking down the seconds, and others of us … well, we are lucky if we know what year we are in.
But whether it comes easily or not, being on time is about intentional choices. It’s about not always choosing the most efficient thing (“I’ll just write one more email before my next meeting”) or the most enjoyable thing (“I’ll just hit the snooze one more time”).
Being on time is about honoring the people around you. And sure, I get it, the doctor always runs late or your friend is always 15 minutes behind for your coffee date—but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Pack a book, or better yet, bring your thank you cards. Those extra minutes can give you the opportunity to be peaceful and present.
4. Choose real-time interaction
Here’s the thing: I hate the phone, but what I hate even more is trying to craft text messages or tweet replies that convey subtle emotions. Last year, I made a conscious decision to only use electronic communication to convey information or encouragement. If it’s anything else, it tends to get skewed.
So when you start to wonder what your friend really means by that text message, stop texting and call. You can save yourself a lot of wasted emotional energy, and you also convey something else: that your friend is important enough for you to cease Candy Crush, turn down the football game and actually converse. Use the phone, or better yet, get face to face (even if it’s over skype). You may not be able to keep up with as many people, but your true friendships will benefit.
5. Use the weekend rule of decision-making
If you’ve suffered from lack of margin in your life or often feel confused about what direction your headed, consider using the weekend rule for decisions. Maybe you are ready to break up a relationship or quit your job, or write off your parents for good. Maybe you feel too tired to investigate that volunteer opportunity.
Before you act (or don’t act) on anything, give yourself two intentional days of discernment. Two days gives you time to pray about it, to consider your motives. Two days gives God time to change your mind. And two days will make you a more intentional person.
Argue with yourself, consider your emotions, lay out the facts in prayer with God. Take a walk or go jogging and converse with Him. If you want His peace to be your guide, you must give him set-apart time. Making space for his direction is an intentional decision to allow Him to be Lord, and to open yourself up to the times when He can change your mind about the next right thing for your life.
These habits all have one thing in common: They are other-centered. Asking questions is about taking the posture of a learner, not assuming you already know it all. Intentional gratitude reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Being on time and choosing real interactions expresses to other people—from your mechanic to your best friend—that they are valuable to you. And the weekend rule is a choice to live differently—not by the winds of your own decisions but with an intentional choice of inviting Christ to be Lord.
So before you decide to use this year to lose 10 pounds, get a promotion or become more awesome, consider what you can do to honor those around you—and you might just become the better human you’re longing to be.
Nicole Unice is the author of ÒBrave Enough: Getting Over our Fears, Flaws and Failures to Live Bold and Free.Ó (Tyndale, 2015) and travels frequently enough to almost feel like she can fly. Find out more at nicoleunice.com