You are a different man today than you were a year ago.
Your relationships, experiences, and the ideas you engage with all slowly shape the landscape of your character. Call it personal growth, character growth, spiritual formation, whatever. Life, and the way you live, is forming you.
All of this means that a year from now you will be a different person. Guaranteed. The question that remains: Who will you be?
Are you choosing weeds or fresh veggies?
Change and growth naturally happens. Think of the world outside your living room window. Nature is a system designed for growth. The soil, the water, the sunlight, plants with seeds–it’s all there. You don’t have to do anything to make it happen. Just think of how often you have to mow and weed!
But what if you wanted something more than haphazard growth? What if you had a specific outcome in mind? Maybe you’d like to dice up some fresh salsa from ingredients in your garden?
Then you would have to do certain things to tap into that natural system of growth.
- Prepare a space.
- Select your plants.
- Cultivating the soil.
- Pay attention to the plant’s health and the pests that threaten them.
- Provide fertilizer and water in the right amounts.
These efforts don’t create growth. You don’t manage the sun, the rain or the temperature. Those circumstances are outside your control, but you do put in work!
You intentionally cultivate and nurture the possibility of growth in a certain direction—a garden full of delicious fresh veggies. Your life works this same way. This year, will you be more like that yard, growing in random or reactive ways? Or will you be like the garden, growing toward the desired outcome?
Think of the kinds of things coming this year:
- 2080 hours of work, give or take.
- 1095 meals, depending on how often you snack and how big those snacks are.
- 100 and 700 hours of television and movies, depending on your habits.
- 40 minutes a day on Facebook (I hope not, but that’s the current national average in the US.)
- 30-50 opportunities to go out for fun and entertainment.
- Somewhere between 50-100 significant conversations with the closest people in your life.
These experiences will shape you physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. But will they help you become who you want to be?
How to plan for fruitful growth this year.
Because life is designed for growth and change, the process of getting an outcome you want is not mysterious. You have three important resources that you spend every day. When and how you spend them determines the direction of your life.
This is universal. You can ignore this post and never think about this topic again—and still, you will spend these three resources. The way you spend them—even if you spend them accidentally and without intention—will shape who you become over the course of your life.
The three resources? They are Time, Attention and Proximity.
1. Where will you invest your time?
Your life is made up of time. 24 hours a day, every day. More than anything else, how you spend your time will determine the man you become.
In 2015, I wrote about 200,000 words. I even got a book contract, committing me to write another 70,000 words. If word count is the metric that matters, I can officially call myself a writer. Woohoo!
But those words only exist because of how I invested time. I spent something close to 500 hours, hours that I could have been doing other things, easier, more comfortable, or, even more, fun things. I spent those hours. The words were the fruit. More importantly, those hours shaped me. They began to change my habits, my thinking, the man I’m becoming.
In the next year, you and I both are going to spend 8,760 hours. Will we choose to spend them in ways that lead to who we want to be?
2. Where will you focus your attention?
The currency of our modern, hyper-connected world is attention. Your attention is a high-value limited resource.
Companies are going to spend $5,000,000 for the opportunity to show you a single 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. Facebook is going to continue giving you—for free—one of human history’s most advanced communication and data storage tools. Why? Because they can sell your attention to others companies. In 2015, they made well over $4 billion dollars doing it!
Attention is what your thoughts on. What we fix our attention on changes how we think and how we feel. This changes how we act and react. Over time, this shapes who we are becoming.
This next year you will give your attention. Maybe you’ll give your attention by accident, like when you flop down on the couch with the TV on, only to get up hours later after watching several episodes of something that you didn’t even really choose.
Or maybe you’ll give your attention on purpose through face-to-face coffee conversations with people you care about, books that challenge you to grow, or even movies that make you think rather than just provide an escape.
Whatever you focus your attention this year, it will form you. Will your attention take you toward your goals?
3. Who will you give proximity to?
I like to imagine that I’m a separate, individual identity, able to spend time with anyone and not have it change me. But that’s not the truth of who we are. Our identities are porous. We’re social creatures, made to live in a web of relationships. This network of relationships helps us understand who we are. More importantly, these relationships shape us.
When you spend a great deal of time with people, you begin to value the things they value or else live in reaction to their values. Either way, you’re being changed by them. Even their emotional mood will subtly shift your emotions.
If the people you spend the most time with have lives full of drama and conflict, don’t be too surprised when your life starts filling up with drama and conflict. Surround yourself with people who are cynical, angry, and bitter, and you’ll find yourself becoming more cynical, angry and bitter.
Whoever you decide to spend time around this year will form you. Will these important relationships help you become who you hope to be?
Great news! You have a choice.
A year from now you will be a different person. The man you become will be the direct result of how you choose to spend these three critical resources that make up your life.
But that’s great news! It means you have the power to determine who you will be a year from now. You can decide, to a large extent, how you spend your time, where you invest your focus, and who you give proximity to.
As you spend these three vital resources, you are cultivating the garden of your life. So, get serious thinking about these things. What fruit do you hope for? Your future self will thank you for it.
Photo: Flickr/ Javier