Originally published Tuesday, 31 December 2013.
I love the new year. I love fresh starts and new beginnings. I love the chance to be more intentional with life, and in that mode, I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve learned over the years about being a better human being, and what are the small things I want to do to cultivate those habits. I’d love to share three of them with you:
#1 Ask More Questions
Seems simple…but try it. 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 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—if you can be curious enough to stay tuned. 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. Question-asking takes humility and curiosity. It takes wonder. And it takes strong attention and listening. Next time you are in a meeting with your co-workers, chatting with your pastor, or catching up with a friend, try it. 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 an 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
If anything reveals the true nature of your personality, it’s your ability to show up 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 this 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….”) 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.
These three habits for 2014 all have one thing in common. They are other-centered. Asking questions is about taking the posture of a learner, not assuming you know it all, and being willing to listen more before speaking. Intentional gratitude reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, and that recognizing the gift of others in our lives goes a long way to realign our perspective about God and the many ways he’s gifted us. And being on time expresses to other people—from your mechanic to your best friend—that they are valuable to you. So before you decide 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.