New Habits New Year

One of the things that I have loved about starting a new life in a different country or location as an expat is that opportunity it presents.  A chance of a new start to do things differently.  Granted it is a little extreme to do that just for the sake of starting something new, but it does feel like a blank sheet of paper.

blank diary page with glasses and key and cup of coffee or tea

And similarly the start of a new year can feel like a new opportunity.   We may be already in the second week of 2021, but I only really consider it a new start when the kids are back at school.   And how grateful I am that they are here in Spain.   They are excited to be back with friends and be reconnected.  I am, because it gives me the chance to sit here and ponder on my priorities for 2021 and how to move forward with this blog and so much more.  Some space, and in some ways, a blank page.  But, also a blank page that feels a little daunting and overwhelming, I have to admit.

When I moved alone to France when I was 18 I took it as an opportunity to explore, improve my French and to get fit, My intention was partly to surprise all when I came back svelte – a new and different me.  I took the opportunity to do things differently as I was away from my habits, my friends and family, a chance to change.  I tried to reinvent myself and did surprise everyone on my return home.

As I sit here feeling almost confronted by the blank page in front of me and what next, I can see the opportunities, but also my fear. Not quite the gung-ho attitude I had 30 years ago!  I also wonder if we are all feeling a bit like new expats do right now, a bit disconnected from our friends, our family, our lives and routines, some of the things that we really want. 

Does this give us all an opportunity to look at things different and work on things that really matter to us?  Maybe. 

small rock island in the middle of the blue ocean

I must admit I am finding it hard to think like this and get particularly enthusiastic, especially with it being cold and raining outside (and no central heating in these Spanish houses!) plus recovering from a rather exhausting and over indulgent Christmas.  I know that these feelings are all temporary. And at least I am sitting here writing at the computer, rather than eating some more mince pies (yes, a few left). I might not be doing some of the exercise I vowed to do this year just yet, but I am doing something small and I am honouring my weary body.  I also relatively recently realised how important and cathartic it is for me to write, it helps me feel a state of flow, regardless of the fact that I also feel out of my comfort zone.  It is interesting that for someone so private, I almost feel compelled to share my thoughts in writing.  I can’t explain why.  Maybe it doesn’t even matter. It just works for me, so I will keep doing it.

lonely shadow figure with sun and mountain on horizon

Anyway, sitting here as the rain pours down, with my blank page and new diary, I think of what next? Yes, I might not be able to do the volunteer work I had planned, or feel comfortable joining the networking groups in the current climate. Still, what do I want to create and invent for myself and my family this year?

I know I am extremely fortunate that I have the luxury of time and the foundation and security blanket of my husband’s job that allows me to even contemplate these possibilities. But I also have a sense of duty to create my own contribution in this world through service, work, education, whatever.  I might not have a word for my year, or a new year’s resolution, I gave them up a while ago.  But I do have a sense of wanting to continue on this journey of self-awareness, of expression and most importantly, connectedness to myself and to those closest to me.  No massive great ambition, just a central purpose and intention.  Then I can let things flow from there.

Right now, my focus has to be on those things closest to me, which effectively means on me as the kids are at school and the husband is working.  I will return to intermittent fasting today, my meditation practice (yes, I am one of ‘those’), my free writing morning pages, my exercise (when I feel 100% again) and I will make some changes and upgrades too.  

book with tea fruit and chunky comfort blanket nourish

What I have found works for me/us is working on a very practical level. When I commit to something a certain number of times a day or week it makes it more likely to happen.

For example, writing ‘Meditation’ into my diary to do before everyone gets up and before I collect the kids from school, it happens. 
If I create a weekly meal plan with 2 veggie meals a week and fish once or twice, it happens. 

Much more likely than if I just vowed that we will eat less meat or I will meditate. Now, these might not be radical changes or resolutions, but they do add up into shifts and changes.  

If I add in a 3 times a week aerobic exercise practice and 3 times a week yoga practice (even if it is for 15 minutes), I know that I will feel more energised and connected to my body.  I know from experience, that I will then feel more in tune to listen to when it needs food or rest or whatever, rather than my mind telling me I just want a mince pie or to mindlessly scroll social media.   I know through my meditation practice I will feel more calm and at peace and less likely to snap at the kids or react in a habituated way, and when I do, that I will be easier on myself.   I know that if we eat a more plant based diet not only will we be nourishing our bodies, I will feel less ‘bleurgh’ and we will also be helping our world.  

drawing of interconnected communities

Does it make me want to do it all right now?  No, not particularly. 
I don’t feel that motivated.  I have to take the dog for a walk in the rain, wash the dishes, and do my Spanish homework and put all the Christmas decorations away and, and and……  

I come back from walking the dog and queueing up (outside) at the Post office, two things I definitely did not want to do today in the tipping rain.  I strangely do feel a bit more energised having got some stuff done.

On days like these, a thought keeps coming back to me.   Many of us may be feeling a bit despondent, isolated, lacking in motivation or direction right now.  I know it is far worse for some than others and we (my family) are very fortunate, and in Andalucia the ‘C’ situation is currently not too bad.  But I also know that none of this will last forever.   Above the grey blanket of cloud in the sky today, and any day, the sun is still shining, it never goes away.   It will be there and we might get a glimpse of it next week (according to the forecast) or maybe even tomorrow.  

Right now, I just have to get on with things in  a way that works for me and my family.  I might not feel like I have much say or control.  But I can decide some things.  I can make some changes.  And I am writing this now partly to try and budge my own sense of fatigue.  2021 is a blank sheet of paper.  For now, at least, it still feels a little like old habits are running the show, but I can still decide what we eat for dinner.

silhouette sign post with sunset or sunrise decisions planning 2021

For more on how to deal with difficult or challenging emotions please also read this with some of my experiences in the run-up to Christmas and how to deal with sadness, despondency or any emotion really.

Photos – Blank page – by Debby Hudson, Island – by Martin Sanchez, Solo – by Tim Mossholder, Nourish – by Jess Bailey, Signs – by Javier Allegue Barros

How do you feel about the start of a new year? Have you used a move to a new country/job/school to change habits or reinvent yourself? We would LOVE to hear your comments and ideas of how to start your blank page……….

4 comments on “New Habits New Year”

  1. Madeleine says:

    Love your post Emma. Personally I find that writing down a list of of daily rituals or routines helps me keep on track as well as having a long term vision or PEA (person emotion attractor) for myself with measurable goals to get me there. So satisfying to tick them off!

    One thing I want to do is to improve health and energy levels through being well hydrated. I aim to start each day with 500ml of lemon water with Himalayan salt. Will let you know how I get on.

    1. Emma Lees says:

      Thank you Madeleine, glad you found it of use!

      I agree writing things down really helps and the rituals certainly make me feel more grounded too. I haven’t heard of PEA before, so going to delve into that one, great to have some longer term goals to work towards too.

      Keen to hear about how the hydration kick-start works for you, I need to drink more water and less tea during these colder months. Thanks for the reminder esp of the salt, somehow I had forgotten to add it to my lemon/ginger morning combo. Good luck and maybe we can keep each other on track!

  2. Heather says:

    Great piece Em, so much i can relate to. I think motivation is going to be especially hard this year, and I do believe that routine is going to be a key thing for me. I am waiting for the boys to go back to school tomorrow to bring more routine to my working week.
    I am proud that I am back exercising again – had some fun with Zumba and the kids Nintendo Switch this week, and I hope I can get running soon too, just need some physio on the broken elbow and a few drier days.
    I’m off now to add some Romanian practice to my list of things to do and to finalise the menu for the next week.

    1. Emma Lees says:

      Thank you Heather and for the chuckle too! Good luck with the Romanian, I thought Spanish was hard!!

      Hope the elbow is recovering well, impressed that you could do zumba ok with it, I need to restart my YouTube zumba again tomorrow too.

      Hope back to school goes well and we can all find our groove quickly for 2021!!

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