Something a bit different today because there’s no point in talking about clothes at the moment – we’re going to need an Ark up here soon if the rain doesn’t stop! Before I start though I just want to thank you for all of the encouraging comments and messages you sent after my Christmas post, they were so heartwarming to read and they helped my year of blogging to end on an especially happy note.

So talking about learnings suggests something quite profound but that’s not what this is, it’s just that instead of viewing 2023 purely as a clean slate and facing firmly forwards, I spent a bit of time over the Christmas break reflecting on the past year. Yet again there seems to be a backlash against new year’s resolutions which I think is a bit of a shame because there’s always a bit of fine tuning that you can do to make life easier/happier/more meaningful. However this is perhaps a more considered way of trying to build on things – looking back over your lived experience and seeing what worked and what didn’t. So, these are the 4 learnings I’m taking from 2022, things that became clearer as the year went on.

Exercise can become a straightforward habit

4 learnings I'm taking from 2022

Don’t glaze over if you’re not an exercise lover because this is more relevant to you than anyone else. I was the girl who hated any kind of sport. I then grew into the woman who went to the gym two or three times a week because it was a justifiable break from the intensity of having three small boys and a rugby/karate husband, a form of ‘me-time’ I suppose. Lots of people I knew went to the same gym so it was very much a community and a social escape with a coffee afterwards. I did have a workout routine but it was so peppered with chat that I don’t think I got very much fitness out of it.

However, in July 2019, my gym closed very suddenly and I felt a kind of bereavement because the social outlet that I’d always had on tap was pulled out from under me without any warning. I took up the offer to transfer my membership to a new gym immediately but none of my friends did because it’s further away and so I hated going. In the end, Mal suggested that he joined too which made sense because I no longer needed the ‘me-time’, instead it became a kind of ‘us-time’… but… Mal doesn’t do anything by halves and so before I knew it we were on the gym’s elite academy programme.

At first it was really, really daunting going to the various strength and cardio classes with a below average level of fitness and an above average number of birthdays. There were a couple of times at the beginning where I stomped out in frustration and one that reduced me to tears (and I never cry) but I slowly started to see progress and a switch flicked in my head. You were backing me up by mentioning the visible difference in the comments and then, of course, came lockdown. We set up a home gym but were rubbish at using it; the eldest and I completed Couch to 5K though which meant that over the successive periods of gyms being unlocked and then locked again, I kept moving.

In 2022 for the first time we were able to commit to the academy properly and if we were away from home, we ran instead. The regular 360 scans we had showed all kinds of magical changes in terms of muscle, bone density and fat loss. By the end of the year, exercise had become as automatic and integral to feeling good and well as brushing my teeth. Quite simply, it’s now a habit and if I don’t get the endorphins that come after a workout three times a week, I miss them physically.

This January they’ve shaken the academy up again by introducing a version of Barry’s Bootcamp which involves a really tough HIIT session in the dark with disco lights flashing and loud music thumping. Right now I hate it and there are sessions where I feel tempted to stomp out again but experience has taught me that it’s just how my body reacts when I push it in a new way. And growth only comes with that level of challenge. So I’ll grit my teeth and persevere.

I’m somebody who responds well to external accountability so the fact that I register for a class means I will always attend. We wear MyZone fitness trackers which require us to hit a certain number of points each month to improve our status. That in itself motivates me – and it also means I work even harder to compete with Mal to see who gets the most points out of each class. I’ve found that small but incremental things like this help me much more than any big goal of dropping a dress size.

If you struggle to find an exercise routine to stick to it’s worth understanding what will motivate you personally – this quiz on the Gretchen Rubin site is a really good place to start. Years ago it helped me to understand that I’m an upholder – if I commit to somebody or something else I’ll always keep my word, I’m hopeless at keeping any kind of promise to myself though which explains why home routines don’t work for me.

You don’t need me to tell you that exercise makes you feel better in so many ways. The sweet spot though is the point where it becomes a habit – when you no longer have to force yourself to go out and do it. And a lot of that is to do with small, achievable goals and consistency – that was the first of the learnings I’m taking from 2022.

Empty Nesting is an ever changing process

4 learnings I'm taking from 2022

2022 was our first full year of empty nesting (although Mal will insist that the boys were at home more than they were away). I know quite a few of you are facing it in September and the main thing I’ll say is it really isn’t as bad as you think. Years ago my sister-in-law told me that you grow with your children and that by the time they leave, you’re ready. And although you probably don’t realise it yet, it’s true in so many ways.

For us, the first few months were filled with feelings of heady romance as we had time to really get to know each other again. There’s something magical about the ability to go where you want when you want to without having to consider anyone else. You don’t have to plan weekly menus because everything can be so much more spontaneous – and if you just end up having beans on toast nobody grumbles. Your weekends are yours with no taxi service requirements and you can have uninterrupted conversations at any time of day.

The difficult part is when they come home, not because it isn’t wonderful to see them – it absolutely is. It’s because you slot instantly back into comfortable family life. I find I start to worry about them again too. When they’re away I don’t because I don’t know what they’re doing on an hourly basis. However when they’re at home, I fret about the small things such as them getting home if they’re out with friends and the big things such as their life plans. I’ve been having really strange dreams this week because I know they’re leaving this weekend. I keep waking up with my heart thumping because in my dreams they’re little again and helpless and for one reason or another I haven’t been able to rescue them.

I’m telling you this because as you can imagine it makes Mal exhale deeply and ask once more, “when does term start again?” So another learning I’m taking from 2022 is that the empty nest itself is so much more straightforward than I thought. I love both sides of my life but it’s the chopping and changing between periods of being a carefree couple and then the comfortable slide back into extended times of family life that’s confusing because it unsettles you all over again.

My learning from 2022 is simply to expect this – and to treasure it because we see so little of the eldest now he’s settled in London that I know it won’t be long before family life comes only in short snatches.

Pepper your calendar with fun (but not too much)

4 learnings I'm taking from 2022

The best analogy I can think of for the first full year of empty nesting is that we felt like Ted does when we let him off the lead. The sudden freedom of being able to work whatever we wanted into our lives was dizzying and we really made the most of it. You may remember my project of ‘making summer count’ which came after so many years where the focus of the whole season had been on our main family holiday, with the rest of the warmer days simply drifting away. Last year I was determined to make memories from the start of the summer until it drew its last breath.

I can say now that in my enthusiasm I overdid it. Of course we had lots of events carried over from the two lockdowns so it was busy before I even started planning extra things in but by the end of it, we were exhausted. So over Christmas we thought hard about what the real highs were and concluded that they were more often the outtakes that happened than the supposed big moments.

In Lanzarote for example it wasn’t so much the boutique hotel or the swanky dinners, it was driving around the mountains with the roof of the car down, singing at the tops of our voices. At our three day festival it was dancing in the woods to Horse Meat Disco rather than watching the big bands on the main stage. The jubilee weekend started out as a huge disappointment because the event we’d booked with lots of our favourite bands playing was cancelled a few days before. However a simple weekend at home and particularly a spontaneous walk to a local pub where we indulged in champagne in the sunshine followed by a hazy stroll home and a kitchen disco afterwards turned out to be one of the happiest days of the year.

So what learning am I taking from all of that? Well on a practical level I’m being quite disciplined about only making plans for one weekend in three so that I don’t ‘kill my social battery’ as the middle one wisely terms it. I’ve also realised that real joy often comes in the unplanned moments that aren’t overwritten with expectation. There’s a lot to be said for low key simplicity.

Spend rather than spill your time

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This is my key mantra for the year, it’s something that jumped out at me when a book I was reading over Christmas described a character “spilling her time over Instagram.” It really struck me because I notice so many people now locked to their phones in quiet moments – in a queue for coffee or on a train journey… losing all of the unexpected thoughts that come when you let your mind drift or a have conversation with someone new.

I really like the use of the word ‘spilling’ because it suggests that you’re accidentally wasting time rather than actively ‘spending’ it on something you can account for, even if it’s just the time to daydream. I don’t have a social media addiction – I check Instagram once a week, if that. My time spillage is lost on my Apple newsfeed, I’ve always justified it to myself because I need to be informed for work. I have to read a cross-section of newsfeeds each day to understand the way consumers are being influenced by the media, it helps me to plan retail strategies. However, I go way beyond that and end up down pointless rabbit holes because there’s always something new and random to read.

With my digital detox over Christmas, that stopped. My phone reacted like an unfed cat, continually sending me mewing messages and alerts. When it reported that my screentime was down by 91% I realised that I really have to do something about it and going back to it now with the endless Harry and Meghan stuff has accentuated how pointless most of my news consumption is.

So, I’m now checking my newsfeed once before work and then once again before I log off for the evening. That’s the only time spilling I do so if I can stick to it for a year, by next January I’ll have spent 2023 far more meaningfully. There used to be a saying that on their deathbeds ‘nobody would wish they’d spent more time in the office’. In the 21st century surely that has to become ‘nobody will wish they’d spent more time online’. Maybe we all need to be more selective about what we consume – and I realise I may be shooting myself in my foot because you could decide not to spill your time reading my blog any more but if that’s the case, I hope you replace it with many magical moments…

Wishes for 2023

Those are the 4 learnings I’m taking from 2022 – so, what does 2023 look like?

Well it has big things for us as a family – the middle one graduates this summer so I hope he has a happy last two terms, does well and launches successfully into his future. From April the youngest will spend a year and a half living abroad so I hope he stays safe and has the time of his life. Mal and I are adjusting our working lives with new contracts as you know so we can’t plan too far ahead at the moment which is a bit frustrating but we’ll get used to it. I’m hoping it will be a year of travel – to see the youngest living his life in France and Spain and also to tick off some of the places on our list. We have one trip in the calendar but that’s all for now.

In your comments after my last post of 2022 a few of you mentioned Richard E Grant’s autobiography. Before she died, his wife’s last instruction to him was to find a ‘pocketful of happiness’ in every day. That fits with my learnings from last year – that some of the best times are the small, unplanned ones – and also the focus on spending rather than spilling time. For now I’m training myself to spot the many pockets full of happiness that come with each day. Some will be little dress pockets but I hope there are lots of big fat cargo pockets too!

Maybe pockets of happiness are a good thing for us all to focus on in place of reaching for social media/ refreshing the newsfeed or doing whatever else it is that spills rather than spends time. We’ve been to another funeral today, our third in three weeks. Yet another reminder that time is precious and that it will, at some point, run out. So let’s spend it well this year and not let it spill away.

Disclosure: ‘4 learnings I’m taking from 2022’ is not a sponsored post

If you’re in the mood for more – here are some thinking posts from years gone by…

Goodbye 2020 and hello lockdown 3.0

20 questions about life and style – 5 more

How it feels when your child leaves for university

Thinking ahead to the end of our lives – let’s discuss

Hello 2020 – reflections on a midlife decade

When life plays cat and mouse

Midlife – making the middle years count

Midlife and the turning of the generations

How it feels to have been 50 for a year

On children growing away – how a stair carpet floored me

Today I am 50 – how it feels

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