With the new year comes new ideas, intentions and dreams. What’s the point of making these if the conditions for success aren’t optimal? The best lessons I have learned about creating the conditions for optimal success have some from learning how to garden.
Before you even start a garden, you plan to start a garden. Living in Vermont for several years, I learned that this was also a mental health trick to survive the long, dark winters.
First, you decide what is the goal of the garden; vegetable, herbs, flowers, or some combination. Next, you determine its best location for optimal shade and light. Once these are determined, you determine what you will need to have a fruitful garden; which plants compliment one another, have similar water and soil needs, growing and harvesting stages to create a planting schedule to maximize your plot of land and resources.
Prepare for your garden
Just as gardeners reflect on their previous gardens in preparation for their future garden, take time to reflect on 2018:
What were the highlights and of those what are you most proud of?
What did you want to do but didn’t and why?
What lessons did you learn this year?
What are you ready to do or let go of that your heart has already decided upon, but your head keeps trying to resist?
Once you have a clearer picture about what did and didn’t work, decide what your optimal life would look like in 2019:
What would you love to accomplish this year?
What do you need to make that happen?
Who do you need to make that happen?
How would you feel if your life were optimal (hint: dig deeper than “good” or “great”)
Clear the plot.
Before you can plant seeds in the garden, you have to prepare the soil. This requires clearing. All of this takes time and commitment to do, so clear a little time in your schedule daily and take each suggestion one week at a time. In life, there are two keys areas to consider.
In your physical space, do a deep cleaning of your home and at the same time, get rid of what is not supportive. This has many benefits, some obvious and some not-so-obvious. When we get rid of the old, we are forced to physically touch items to decide what stays and goes. There is an emotional and energetic response to that decision. When we choose to let go, we create space for something better suited.
Try these three areas this month:
Go through your closet and dresser getting rid of clothes that no longer fit you, you don’t wear or like, and then organize the space with what remains.
In the bathroom, get rid of all the half empty jars and tubes of stuff you don’t use or are expired. Give all the sample sizes to homeless shelters. Either commit to using the bath sets or give them away.
In your kitchen, go through the pantry and fridge, getting rid of everything that is not beneficial to your health, has been open too long, or is past its “best buy” date. Replace with healthier, more wholesome options.
Clear out your computer or phone. Get rid of files you don’t need, clear out the email inbox (and all the other extraneous boxes if you use Gmail), update the contacts list, purge the apps that waste your time and your “friends” list in social media as long as your purging. Change passwords and update security, too, please.
The second area to clear is your mental space. What are the old stories you tell yourself and others repeatedly about why you are the way you are, especially stories around painful memories? What stories do you tell yourself about yourself and others? How do you speak to yourself (compassionate or critical)? What isn’t the way you want it to be in your life that you tend to focus on (scarcity thinking)?
Our thoughts, self-talk and scarcity thinking tend to become habitual. As you spend a few days simply being mindful of the stories, dialog and focus, you can start to see what is truly holding you back from living optimally. Utilizing a journal to capture these ideas is particularly beneficial for the next step.
Eat your weeds.
Dandelions and arugula are technically “weeds”. Dill and mint are highly invasive. They may not be what you want in your garden, but that doesn’t make them “bad”. The thoughts, self-talk, and scarcity thinking you identified previously were coping mechanisms. Though they may not be helpful now, it doesn’t make them “bad”.
Now is your time to create your own adventure story. Review your old stories and decide on something better, more aligned with who you strive to be. Instead of being self-critical, practice self-compassion by giving yourself permission to learn and grow. Daily, focus on what’s working and cultivate an attitude of gratitude. While your garden is only at the beginning stages and has a lot of work before you reap what you sow, you can keep your eyes on your desired life and take steps daily towards it. Allow yourself to be directed with curiosity and wonder at who or what might show up to help the process along.
Show up and do the work
It’s time to build the garden. This is when the soil is ready and the time is right for planting the seeds, watering, removing unwanted growth and insects and setting the stage for a healthy garden.
Incorporate daily physical activity, eat to fuel your body (versus emotions), and create daily/monthly/quarterly rituals such as massage, stretching, body work so that your body performs optimally.
Mental optimization includes daily mindfulness practices, bringing a sense of play to the work you do, and crafting a support team to help you stay focused and accountable as well as cheer on your successes.
The waiting is the hardest part.
Once you’ve planted the seeds and done the mundane work of watering and weeding, you get to wait and watch as the garden grows into what it will grow into. Sure you can shape its direction somewhat, but you certainly can’t control all the variable influencing the garden. You need a willingness to be open to what will be. Same as life with your intentions and goals.
During this time, cultivate an attitude of gratitude twice a day, track the progress of your goals paying close attention daily to the successes attained and what was left undone. Pivot as often as necessary to maintain on the path of positively moving forward. You may have to prune or remove pests that hinder growth. Continually keeping an optimal environment allows for optimal development.
Harvest happens when it happens.
Gardens are never really on our schedule; you show up, do the work, wait and watch, supporting it as needed. One day, you start to see the fruits of your labor. It may be tiny or overabundant. You’ll never know until that day arrives. Some plants (and goals) will harvest early and you’ll have time to plant something else. Others take a long time to produce and a few many never produce anything to harvest. That’s okay. You’ll take note and make shifts next year when it’s time to start the planning process again.
When you do have abundance, one thing gardeners are always gracious about is sharing. An abundant harvest is a gift that is so much sweeter when shared not only with people you know and love but also those in need.
Once the harvest ends, it’s time to clear out the garden again and put it to bed for winter. This is a time of reflection, contemplation and evaluation. It is the cycle that allows us to plan for the next garden more effectively. Another growing season and calendar year will have ended.
May your garden be plentiful.