In November 2019, I took a class called “Write Better Faster.” When the class ended, I went on a self-help binge, reading all the recommended books, as well as a few more I stumbled across along the way. These are the books I read (not including the several I didn’t finish for one reason or another):

  • The Power of Habit, Chuck Duhigg 
  • Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport
  • Verbalize, Damon Suede
  • Rising Strong, Brene Brown 
  • Wired for Story, Lisa Cron
  • Purple Cow, Seth Godin
  • Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs
  • The Dip, Seth Godin
  • Story Genius, Lisa Cron
  • INFJ Writer, Lauren Sapala
  • The Four Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, et al
  • Writing into the Dark, Dean Wesley Smith
  • Write Your Novel from the Middle, James Scott Bell
  • The Well-Designed Life, by Kyra Bobinet
  • You’re a Badass by Jen Sincero
  • The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks
  • Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg
  • The Science of Getting Rich – Wallace Wattle
  • Atomic Habits, James Clear
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  • How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett 
  • Stillness is the Key, Ryan Holiday
  • Wired for Joy, Laurel Mellin

If I was super together, I’d add links, but that feels like a lot of work. Instead, I’ll add a single link to the book that most stuck with me: Tiny Habits. I’m not going to re-review it, because I wrote about it in March and I also posted about what I’d learned in Ten Tips from Self-Help Books, but as 2020 ends, the concept of Shine is still helping me get through my days. If you have any reason to want to make changes in your life, Tiny Habits is a great book.

So looking backward and forward: when last year began, I decided not to make resolutions, but to have focus words instead. They were Create, Learn, and Appreciate. I’ve written about them before, too: Learn in 2020. Despite the challenges of the year — or maybe because of them? — I did a great job with my focus words. They literally gave me something to focus on when it felt like the world was falling apart.

But 2020 is over (thank goodness). Unlike a lot of people, I’m not really counting on 2021 being a better year. It ought to be, of course — the competition is steep! But I’m always cautious about predicting such things, mostly because a decade ago, when I wrote about what a horrible year 2010 had been, the universe responded with 2011, which was surreal. I still feel kind of like the universe was saying, “You want to whine? Here, let me give you something worth whining about.” Anyway, I hope for better things for 2021, but I’m not assuming we’ll get them.

But one of the things that many of the self-help books agree on is that living a good life means living mindfully, paying attention to your choices, noticing how you’re spending your time. My focus words helped me do that. They also helped me reset when I needed to. When life felt pointless and overwhelming, and getting out of bed seemed like too much bother, thinking about what I could learn and how I could create drew me onward.

So for 2021, my word is GRACE. Conveniently, it’s a nice word with many positive meanings, but I’m using it as an acronym.

G is for gratitude. Every day, I will acknowledge at least three things I’m grateful for. I do this already, so this isn’t a change, just a continuation of a healthy mental habit.

R is for reading. Every day, I’ll record what I’ve read. I’m not setting goals for how much or what to read, but I think paying attention to what I’m reading will be interesting. I’m hoping it leads to less doom-scrolling my way through the internet and more time in books, whether fiction or non-fiction.

A is for Art. Every day, I will do something that relates to artistic expression. It might be as pointless as drawing on my chalkboards, or it might be taking a photograph, creating a book cover, learning something new in my software programs. Maybe even appreciating someone else’s art? Maybe writing, even? This one is probably going to evolve through the year, but my feeling around this word is all about curiosity, exploration, creativity, learning, fun. I want to make sure that my days include creative fun and Art is my word to represent that goal.

Of course, I could have used C, as in Create, for that goal. But nope, this year C is for cooking. Every day, I’m going to record what I cooked. As with the reading, I don’t mean this as pressure: if I don’t cook on a given day or even a given few days, that’s fine. It’s not about making myself do things that I don’t want to do, it’s just about paying attention to what I’m already doing. Ideally, though, I’m hoping it will encourage some creative fun in cooking, too. I’m not trying to become a better cook, but I do like expanding my repertoire. Corn tortillas for the win.

Finally, E is probably obvious. Exercise. Sigh. Yeah, not my favorite. But isolation has not been good for my physical well-being. Well, isolation combined with allergies. I know that I need to be moving more, and I also know — all the self-help books agree on this! — that tracking your activity and paying attention to it are the cornerstones of change. G, R, and C are about paying attention to things I already do, A is partially aspirational, but E is definitely about getting better at something I don’t do nearly enough of. So I’ll track my exercise and push myself to do more of it, whether that’s longer walks, online yoga classes or even just jumping jacks in the garden.

Obviously, I could have made some other acronyms with these goals. Tracking what I cook isn’t really much of a challenge, so I could have stuck with gratitudes, art, exercise and reading and called 2021 the Gear Year. I considered including meditation (something I used to love and have almost entirely given up because I can’t stand being in my own brain these days), for Gamer, or I could have really simplified and gone with just meditation and exercise for a ME year. I always do gratitudes and have for years, so they don’t really need to be included in a resolution-type goal. Really the possibilities were endless. But I knew when I thought of grace that it was the right word for 2021. One of its many definitions is “the free and unmerited favor of God” and we could all use some of that these days.

So here’s to 2021 — may it be a year filled with grace!