Year-End Reflection Part 2 | Our Vitality Bucket

It’s been a turbulent year for many of us, taking a real toll on our vitality buckets – our energy levels, physical health, mental focus and overall sense of wellbeing. In Part 2 of this special Year-End Reflection series, I’m tapping into the wisdom of my Good Life Buckets model to help you understand how the last year has impacted your own vitality. I’ll share the key ingredients for refilling our vitality buckets, along with 5 clarifying questions to ask yourself during this period of reflection. I’ll walk through a personal assessment of my own vitality and mindfulness in 2023, modeling how to evaluate your mental focus, physical energy, pain levels and more. This insightful episode will provide a framework to help you reflect on the past year and make intentional changes to optimize your mindset and physical vitality as you look ahead to the new year.

Join me as we explore practices and perspectives to refill your vitality bucket! If you’re open to it, record your own responses and email them to [email protected]. We may include your reflections in an episode. I’m excited to share this powerful process over the coming weeks to help us all step into the new year with intention.

Take The Good Life Bucket Quiz to discover your levels.

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Find all of the Year-End Reflection episodes on this Spotify playlist.

Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Jonathan Fields: [00:00:02] So here’s my question. How has your state of mind been this year? And what about your body? If you’re like so many others, it’s been a bit of a rocky year on one or even both of those fronts. Which is why in today’s part two of our special month long year end reflection series, we’re tapping into the wisdom of the good Life buckets to better understand how this last year has impacted us in three critical areas vitality, connection, and contribution. Now, if you missed last week’s opening episode in this special year end Bonus Reflection series, you’ll definitely want to cue that one up to listen to as well, because I share the basic model of what I call the Good Life buckets, which I introduced back in 2016. Actually in my book How to Live a Good Life, and we talk about why the good life buckets are so powerful in helping us both understand how the key areas of our lives are doing, and also giving us the Intel, the information needed to look ahead and make whatever changes or shifts we feel are needed in order to come back to life in all areas of our lives in order to live our best lives. And you can find a link to that opening year end episode in the show notes today, in part two of this year end reflection series, we’re diving into what I call the Vitality Bucket, asking what it can tell us about this last year, and then we’ll explore what I call the five clarifying questions that I’ll invite you to ask yourself and journal on.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:38] And then I’ll share my own personal assessment for my vitality bucket this year. And it has been a year of surprises for me on that front as well. So excited to share this second installment of our year end reflection series on the Vitality Bucket. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. Okay, so let’s dive into this concept of the Vitality Bucket. Now as you remember this model, good life is basically comprised of three buckets vitality, connection, and contribution. So what is this vitality bucket? What actually goes into it? How do we fill it? How do we look at it? How do we think about it? How do we top off our vitality buckets so that we’re feeling alive and well and just really ready to live our best lives? Well, the core idea behind the Vitality Bucket is it’s about optimizing your state of body and mind and want to take a beat just about what that standard is here. Notice I used the word optimize not perfect. And it’s really intentional. And the reason is this we all step into whatever season of lies that we’re in with different history, with different experiences, with different genetics, with all sorts of different things that we bring to this moment. And there tends to be this notion of when we talk about the body and the mind holding up some model version of that, that is ideal, that is perfect, that we all want to aspire to.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:12] But I find that that actually can be kind of frustrating for a lot of people who’ve been through enough of life where that model doesn’t feel like it’s really relevant to them, or maybe even attainable, and holding that up as the perfect model of I’m going to perfect towards this model, this standard. It’s actually more defeating than inspiring and empowering. So I use the word optimizing, optimizing your state of body and mind very intentionally here. Because what we’re talking about is let me do what I can do to bring my mind, my state of mind, my state of body to whatever is optimizable for me, whatever is optimal for me, given who I am, my history, my genetics, my experiences at this point in my life, what is actually within the realm of possibility. So that’s what we think about when we think about the vitality bucket is how do we create optimal state of mind and body, because that is what allows us to fill our vitality buckets. Now, one more thing to talk about here before we dive into really some of the elements, the ingredients, the fillers of the vitality bucket and that is that I use the word mind and body separately. But what we know now, science has made so crystal clear to us, is that there is no real separation.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:33] Most of us think about our body, and we think about the things that we would do to optimize our body. And many of us think about our mind, and we think about the things that we would do to improve or optimize our mind or our state of mind. But the truth is that they’re both part of one single seamless feedback mechanism. And when you think about that, it makes a lot of sense. If something is going on in your body that is causing illness or pain or dysfunction or disability, it’s a pretty safe bet that that is going to trickle up into your state of mind. And the same thing is also true if you’re going through something that is having a really powerful impact on your state of mind, whether that’s causing stress or anxiety or depression or just a sense of disconnection or isolation or loneliness, whatever it may be, that whatever is causing that state of mind, that very state is actually then going to connect to the various different physiological systems in your body, your endocrine system, your nervous system, your lymphatic system, your musculoskeletal system, all these different systems. And it is going to have a very real impact of them. What we know through research is that when you have an optimal or an improved state of mind, it is also going to help your body function at a much higher level.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:55] And when your body is functioning at a much higher level, it is also going to make it much easier to access a higher level of a state of mind. So there really one seamless feedback mechanism. We can’t just address one and hope the other will kind of either not matter so much or come along. We really need to think about both, because whatever we do to one, either positive or negative is going to have an impact on the other, and the net effect is going to make it either harder or easier to fill or refill our vitality buckets and feel alive and connected and well, and just able to do the things that we want to do from a state of mind and body standpoint. So what actually goes into the vitality bucket? What are some of the core ingredients or states that would allow you to help fill your vitality bucket well, on the mind or the mindset side, some of the ingredients or elements that I look at are awareness. And that to me, awareness is what I call a good life meta skill. But it also kind of falls under. In the mindset bucket because it is a quality of mind. And what I mean by awareness is, are you equipped with the skill set needed to regularly bring yourself present and make yourself aware of what is really going on within you, around you, and in between you and others.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:23] This ability to drop into the moment, to become aware of what is real, of what is not real, of what is and isn’t going on. This is incredibly powerful because awareness is the gateway to intentionality and a good life, at the end of the day, is an intentional life rather than a reactive life. But you cannot be intentional unless and until you are aware. So your state of awareness, your ability to sort of, at any given moment in time, drop into that present moment and become aware of what’s really going on, and then make decisions and take actions based on that. Awareness is a powerful, powerful part of what would allow you to actually be present in the moment, be grateful for it, and also make intentional choices around it and help fill your vitality bucket. Another state of mind. The powerful quality is what I call equanimity. Some people may think of this more as resilience, but equanimity in my mind is really. It’s the ability to find calm, to find a place of grounded ease almost no matter what comes your way, whether there’s adversity, whether it’s all sorts of things you want happening or not happening, it’s the ability to kind of come back. It’s the ability to ground yourself and touch stone. And no matter what’s happening with the circumstances around you, to know that your inner environment, your inner circumstances, your state of mind and body can come back to a place of grounded ease.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:52] So that capacity is really important in your ability to fill your vitality bucket. Another element on the mindset side is what I would shorthand as focus, right? This is the ability to direct your attention in whatever place you want to direct it, at any given moment in time. And granted, I am absolutely not great at this. At many different times, I’ll share a bit more of my reflection on all these different things a bit later in this conversation, but the ability to actually direct your attention to where you want it is critically important, because it really controls the quality of your moment to moment experience, and that affects your state of mind. Whether you’re happy, whether you’re sad, whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic, whether you’re anxious or present and joyful, whether you’re grateful or feeling a sense of lack, your ability to focus on the experiences and qualities and thoughts and emotions and feelings that are constructive and functional and helpful and engendering a vitality is critically important. And I also like to add, on the mindset side, um, possibility and wonder, my ability to access a state of possibility and wonder where I feel like I look at the world. Maybe I’m just even looking at this particular moment in time and I can find a reason, a sense of possibility and hopefulness, and at the same time, I have access to a state of wonder.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:20] This feeling that there is magic around me almost no matter where I am, even in really tough moments and situations, internal and external circumstances, I’d rather not be in that I still have the capacity to access a sense of possibility and wonder. On the mindset side, these are powerful potential pillars of your vitality bucket. Now let’s talk a little bit about what what about on the body side? What are some of the indicators, the metrics that we look at when thinking about filling the vitality bucket on the body side? And again, as I said earlier, it’s a bit of an artificial distinction, but I think because most of us think about mind and body and the qualities of them independently, I’m just going to kind of break this out for you a little bit more. So on the body side, I think about my level of energy, you know, like, am I energized and excited like throughout the day or am I dragging? Do I feel like I’m just depleted and I have no energy because you’re energized? That’s going to make it easier for your body to actually feel more alive and feel your vitality bucket. If you’re constantly depleted and have no energy, that’s going to be a drag on your system. Another quality that I look at is what I would categorize as just daily function. And am I able to do the things that make me feel good as I move throughout the day, whether that’s hiking or moving my body, or just sitting and thinking or listening to music, or helping out a friend doing something or driving and doing tasks and, you know, like, uh, um, my to do list, um, or being with people like the daily function things that would allow me to feel like I’m living a good life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:00] Is my body physically? Capable of doing those things on a level that makes me feel good. And again, no judgments here. This is all about just asking the questions and looking at a wide variety of metrics that might go into filling your vitality bucket. We all come to this particular moment in time, with different abilities and limitations and different history that will influence this. I also look at my overall feeling of well-being. How is that? And I often rate this on a scale of 1 to 10. I do this with all of these, actually, and and I’ll walk through that in just a bit of my own exploration of these qualities. I think also about the other side of this, which is levels of discomfort or pain or illness. And again, some of this we have control over some of it. We don’t, some of it we’re somewhere in the middle. But either way these things go into these are qualities that will affect your vitality bucket.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:54] So we want to be honest about them at any given moment in time. I also think about what I would shorthand as performance. And when I say performance, I’m not talking about being up on a stage. I’m saying basically, um, if I want to be able to perform physically and psychologically at a certain level because it makes me feel good to be able to do that. Maybe you’re a swimmer and you want to be able to swim 50 laps in your pool in a certain amount of time while feeling good. Um, maybe you’re a musician and you want to be able to actually use your mind and body to focus in on the music and then, uh, create something and then use your, your fingers on a piano or a fretboard to be able to actually perform at a level of competence and skill that makes you feel really good. These things will all fold into how full or empty your vitality bucket can be, and some of the things that affect all these different states and qualities are things like movement and mobility, meditation, mindfulness, nature immersion, nutrition, sleep. All the things that we’ve heard about. These are mechanisms that then affect the qualities. And those qualities are things again like energy, daily function, well-being, discomfort, pain, awareness, equanimity, all those qualities. Right. So these are the things that we talk about and that we think about when we’re talking about how we might go about filling our vitality bucket.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:17] And also for the purpose of this, we’re going to look at all these different qualities and kind of give them a score, because we want to create a little bit of a year end check in an assessment of where we feel we are with each one of those different qualities. And the way we do that, by the way, is by asking what I call the five clarifying questions. So for each one of those qualities that I just talked about, we’re going to go through them and we’re going to ask one, what level is it at now? And I’m going to say rank that from 1 to 10, one being not great at all, about as as as unhappy with the answer as you could be. And ten being like phenomenal, like fantastic. The second question is where has it been over the last year? And we want to kind of get a beat on a high, a low and an average over the course of the last 12 months or so. The third question is, what have been the main contributors to this level, both within and outside of my control? And these are really important to ask because it helps you understand where you have agency and where it actually might make sense to surrender a certain amount and just make peace. Right. And this is going to be individual with each person.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:33] The fourth clarifying question that we ask when we think about the the state of our vitality bucket is, am I content with both the ambient or average levels for the year and where I am now? Right. So we’re basically saying ourselves, am I okay with this? Like, you know, maybe it’s actually not where I would want it to be, but given the year that I just had, maybe I’m actually okay with that. You know, like maybe this was just a really brutal year. Maybe it was challenging in ways that I didn’t see coming, and it affected my vitality bucket levels. But given what I just went through, um, I’m actually pretty okay with that. And I know that I’ve done the best that I could do, and that I’ll keep doing things to improve it in the year to come. Which brings us to that fifth clarifying question. And that question is what, if anything, might I think about changing as I prepare or plan for the year to come? Right. And these are the five clarifying questions that we ask about the qualities that go into filling our vitality bucket, or the state of our vitality bucket, as we do this year in reflection right now. So that’s basically the core qualities of your vitality bucket and the five clarifying questions as they would relate to it. And just after this break, we’re going to come back and I’m going to pick and choose a couple of these qualities that I shared with you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:01] And. They’ll walk you through my own reflection. I’ll walk you through those five clarifying questions in the context of a few of these. So you can kind of have an example of how you might do it, and also get a sense of how I think about really responding to the state of my vitality bucket and using those five clarifying questions to really understand what this year has been about, how it affected my vitality bucket, and how I might think about making changes in the year to come based on this year end reflection. See you in just a bit. Hey. So we’re going to wrap this up as, as I’m going to with the following two episodes that will wrap up our year end reflection. Also with a little bit of my own reflection here, I want to show you how I think about walking through the different elements of my Vitality Bucket and in the context of those five clarifying questions. So I’m just going to pick a couple of these here to give you an example. And then the invitation at the end will be for you to spend a little bit of time, maybe 15, 20 minutes or so, just quietly journaling on your own, using an app, using paper, whatever it is that works for you to look at the different qualities and elements of your vitality bucket and ask those five clarifying questions in the context of each.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:17] And again, if you actually go down to your show notes, you will see a link for a PDF that will actually share the three different buckets and the key ingredients that go into each, and the five clarifying questions so that you can do this reflection on your own. You don’t have to memorize this at all. So let’s start out with just a couple on my side, and we’ll start on the mindset side of the vitality bucket. And then I’m just going to pick one quality. And then we’ll walk through the five clarifying questions. Then I’ll I think I’ll do one for the body side as well. Walk through the five clarifying questions so you can get a sense for how I would use those questions on two different qualities. So for me, why don’t we talk about the, um, the focus element of my vitality bucket. Right. So we’re talking about focus here, which is one of the big contributors on the mindset side of your vitality bucket. Now when we talk about focus now we’re going to go to the five clarifying questions. And first I ask what level is it at now. And rank that from 1 to 10. And this is my capacity to be able to really dial in my focus on the things that I truly value and believe matter the most to me, and sustain it there for a meaningful amount of time.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:35] So I would say right now, as I’m making this assessment, that I would rate that at probably about a seven out of ten. So maybe even like closer to an eight. Um, I feel like my capacity for focus is pretty good, which honestly surprises me now because there’s so much swirling around in my life, in my work environment right now, there are huge amounts of potential distractions and things that are coming my way. Um, but I do feel that at any given moment, I do have the capacity to really laser focus on the task at hand and discern what is actually the meaningful thing that I need to be doing right now, and focus my energy on that at a pretty high level. And I think if I think about that, that a lot of that has actually come from a very long standing mindfulness meditation practice. So the fact that I have had a devoted mindfulness practice for over a dozen years, that happens more or less every day, first thing in the morning, has allowed me to cultivate the ability to hyper focus my attention to where it matters for certain windows of time, even when the world around me feels like it’s swirling wildly. So that’s the first clarifying question I’d say it’s about, let’s call it an eight out of ten there. Now, where has my focus been over the last year? Sort of like the the high, the low and the average.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:07] And here I think there’s a little bit more variation because there have been times throughout the year where I have been really struggling, um, struggling psychologically, struggling physically, struggling with all sorts of different things. And there were moments where that really affected my ability to focus. So even though I have this long standing practice, um, things happen that sort of like, knock me off of that. And I would say that my low in terms of my ability to focus where it really mattered, is probably somewhere around the 3 or 4. I’d say my high is probably pretty close to ten, because there have been windows where I’ve been just really incredibly dialed in and gotten just, just absolutely amazing stuff done. And the average, I’d probably say is somewhere around a 6 to 7. So it’s a little bit lower than where it’s sitting now. And that brings us to the third clarifying question. And again, I’m just dealing with the quality of focus now, which is one of the elements that helps to fill or deplete your vitality bucket. That third clarifying question is what have been the main contributors to this level, both within and outside of my control? So when I think about focus, I think the main contributor to having a high level of focus that is within my control is, as I described, this, very long standing mindfulness meditation practice that has had a ripple effect in so many different areas of my life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:22:30] Um, dialed down reactivity, allowed myself to more effectively. Sort of like reject distraction and really dial in focused and attention to where I need it. Um, outside of my control. And this goes to another thing that really affected my vitality bucket is that in the middle of this year, I’m actually, um, of a of a certain age where I was ill. Um, where? Not something I talked about publicly. It’s not something that I shared, but it definitely affected me. I actually had shingles, um, which is basically the chickenpox, uh, virus, which has been brewing in me since I was a little kid, you know, like, um, and it came back and it came back in the form of shingles, which is incredibly painful, and it affects the nerves in your body. And that lasted for me for many months. And that had a really substantial effect for a window of time on pretty much every area of my life. But it definitely affected my focus because, um, when you’re in pain. And for me, that pain was on my head and face. Um, it makes it really hard to think. And even with my meditation practice, even with all like the things that I know about it and fantastic, like, like very privileged in my ability to access great medical help and resources, um, it affected me and affected my focus in pretty substantial ways for probably the better part of three months until, um, I was able to, like, thankfully, move through it and return.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:02] Um, so I think about this and I think, you know, like that actually really made a difference. And that, you know, in theory, I’m getting to the last part of this clarifying question where it says both within and outside of my control. So you would say, well, that was outside of my control. It’s something that just happened. But I’ve actually reflected a lot on this. Um, and one of the primary things that makes this happen is stress. And what I’ve realized is that there was a level of baseline stress, especially during that part of my year, that my mindset, skills and practices, um, were so deep and so sustained and so long that it, in a weird way, almost masked the level of physiological stress or psychological stress that was being imposed on me because of a number of different circumstances where I didn’t really realize in the moment how much stress was being piled on. So my body decided to tell me, by effectively allowing this thing to rise up inside of me and say, okay, if you’re not going to tune into this, we’re going to make sure that you’re tuned into it and you need to take a break and just let your body come back to a place of peace and ease and well-being.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:16] So that was a really interesting experience for me, one that really led me to reflect even beyond the immediate experience of it, to really try and understand what was happening here, where this happened inside of me. Which brings us to the fourth clarifying question. Am I content with both the ambient or average levels of my ability to focus my attention on where it mattered most during the year, and also from where I am now? And again, like in the middle of the year, if I was going to give a number to my focus during this sort of like bout, it would have been a 3 or 4. Was I happy with that at the time? No. Um, but upon reflection, did I do the best that I could do? Did I learn whatever I could learn? Did I honor my need to pull back and just allow my body to have space and time and support to heal? Yes. So am I happy that it happened? Am I happy that it sort of cratered in the middle of the year? No. But am I happy with how I moved through it? Am I content and knowing that I did the best that I could, and that I’ve recovered and I’m back to where I need to be now? Yeah, I think I am actually. So on a 1 to 10 scale, if I was going to assign a number to that, I’d probably say like eight ish there as well.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:24] That brings us to the fifth clarifying question. What, if anything, might you think about changing as I prepare to plan for the year to come? And again, this is in the context of just one of those vitality bucket fillers, which is focus. My ability to direct my attention to the things that matter most. And when I think about the year to come, like one of my mantras has always been fewer things better. I function at a higher level when I do fewer things better, and I wasn’t doing that for a chunk of this year. So when I think about the year to come, I’m already thinking about how can I reorganize the various projects, endeavors, tasks that I’m doing that I am excited to do, that I want to make happen, but make them happen in a way where it’s more one after the other rather than all at the same time, because that causes stress and complexity and mayhem, and it affects not just my ability to focus on the things that matter and do them at a level that feels genuinely, deeply meaningful to me. But it also piles on stress. It affects my awareness. It affects my level to find equanimity and peace and ease, and my ability to just pause and find that sense of possibility and wonder. And that also affects. My daily energy. It makes it more depleting and my ability to do what I want to do drops and my overall feeling of well-being, my my psychological stress often shows up in my body as physical discomfort or pain.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:47] So I really want to do more of what I would call single tasking, fewer things better as I think about the year to come. So that was how I would really just sort of pick one of those particular contributors to my vitality bucket and think about it now, the invitation for you is to spend 15 or 20 minutes thinking about your vitality bucket. You can think about those contributors. And again, we have a a link to a simple one pager in the show notes that you can download to make it super easy for you. It’ll remind you what’s in each of the three different buckets, and then share with you the five clarifying questions and then two different options here if you really, really inclined to do it. And this will take a bit more effort, but it’s it’s more valuable because you get more granular information. You can go quality by quality into all the different elements that contribute to your vitality bucket and asked the five clarifying questions. Or if you want to do more of a short and sweet version of this, just kind of like think about your vitality bucket in general right now and ask yourself the five clarifying questions like when I think about my vitality bucket, how full or empty it is right now, what the state of my vitality is, my mind and body, what level is it at now? Where has it been over the last year? High.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:57] Low. Average? What have been the main contributors to this both within and outside of my control? Am I content with both the ambient or average levels for the year and where I am now? And what, if anything, might I think about changing as I prepare to plan for the year to come? So that is the exercise that I’ll leave you with and super excited to hear about what’s coming up for you. And if you’re open to it, just record a short and sweet voicemail with your responses to the week’s prompts and email it to support at GoodLife And who knows, we might even include your reflections at the end of one of these very special episodes. Next week we will be diving into our third year end reflection episode, and the focus there is going to be your connection bucket, and I’ll go into what that is, what fills it. Some surprises in there too, I have to tell you. And as always, I’ll share a little bit of my walkthrough and then leave you with the prompt so that you can do your own reflection as well. I’ll see you here again next week for our third year end reflection episode. Take care.


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