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13. On Being a Thermostat

I thought about writing the obligatory “New Year, New You” blog post to kick off 2017. I didn’t, which is why I’m not posting this on January 1st. I thought I’d try and phrase it in such a way that would encourage you, Dear Reader, to take any New Year’s Resolutions you may have made more seriously than most people take their resolutions.

For as we all know, 2016 left many folks feeling broken and disheartened. A lot of famous people died. Brexit happened. The United States elected Donald Trump to succeed Barack Obama as the President of the United States, and no matter how you feel about that, there’s no denying that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s election campaigns were vicious, divisive, and cruel to the opposing side. The idea that we can all turn over a new leaf in 2017- that perhaps we can all be better versions of ourselves by year’s end- is a positive one, and I’m all for positivity to balance out the constant stream of cynicism that seems to pour from every orifice of our environment these days.

But here’s something we all need to recognize about how the media (social and otherwise) framed 2016: just because some bad things happened around you in 2016, doesn’t mean you were required to have a bad 2016, too. The media, your friends, and even your environment should not dictate how your year went (I recognize that there are external forces beyond some folks’ control, and it’s okay to be upset sometimes, but bear with me). As Senator Cory Booker said regarding Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks on The Daily Show: “Going through life, you can either be a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer changes with the temperature around it. As a thermostat, you set the temperature.”

We all need to take that lesson to heart, no matter what political party you endorse or what your background is. Ultimately, when you add up your accomplishments, your money, your relationships, your health, your life as a whole, you need to set the temperature, not let the world around you dictate it.

I’m not a perfect person, or even close to it. I didn’t have a perfect year- I’m sad that Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher died, and I fell for the election's hatefulness and the media’s overblown stories like everyone else. I, like most Americans, forgot all about the idea of voting for a candidate based on policy proposals and fell into the lazy way of thinking that results in our broken two-party system. I got into arguments about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's personalities, and I hated myself for it. But it was easy to not think. It was easy to get outraged at whatever nonsense the news was spewing. It was easy to be a thermometer- which is why most people are.

The problem with wasting your energy and outrage on these things is that you cannot control them. Elections, how other people act, or the death of a celebrity you liked are all things beyond your control. Yes you should vote, and yes you should encourage others to be good, wise, and loving people. But what you should be focused on first and foremost, Dear Reader, is you.

This way of thinking will change your life, guaranteed. It did for me. It's why I had a great 2016- it was the best year of my life, in fact- while so many thermometers around me had a horrible 2016. Sure, a few unfortunate things happened in the wider world, as they often do, and I relapsed more than once. But for the most part, 2016 was fantastic for me, and it's because I've learned to be a thermostat.

In 2016, I became a full-time employee at T-Mobile, meaning my income last year was the highest it's ever been. I had a fascinating, eye-opening experience as a Legislative Intern at the Colorado State Senate. I went to Universal Studios. I got into running- not as consistently as I’d like, but more than in the past. I read several books- not as many as I’d like to have read, but a few good ones. I saw a bunch of great movies about superheroes and wizards and space rebels. I permanently broke my addiction to soda and energy drinks. I beat bipolar disorder- I got off my medication last summer for the first time in 9 years, and I feel incredible.

I picked up a new hobby- listening to podcasts- which I enjoy immensely. I paid down over $8,000 in personal debt from credit cards, a financed smartphone, a car loan, and student loans. I’ve made a ton of progress in just 7 months learning to code in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS at Bloc, and I've really enjoyed meshing my love of writing together with my newfound passion for coding on this website. I’ve learned a great deal from my Bloc mentors, both about programming and about life.

And best of all, I spent the whole year with the love of my life, who I proposed to in December. She said yes- and no matter what nonsense is being reported on the news right now, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Much of this- I won't say all, but certainly most- stemmed from being a thermostat, not a thermometer. If I had let cynicism bring me down, I never would have insisted on being full time at T-Mobile, I never would have believed I could change my habits, my diet, and my own mind, I never would have signed up for Bloc, and I never would have taken a chance on another relationship after the disasters that came before this one (some of them were doozies, let me tell ya). 2016 helped me recognize that allowing the media to turn you into a thermometer is a recipe for failure, while listening, learning, growing, and focusing can help you become a thermostat. I watched others on social media complain their way through 2016 and do nothing but tread water while my life, if you add it up, is better in just about every measurable way than it was a year ago.

I don't say this to brag- I say this because I used to feel like I had no control over my life, too. I used to be cynical, negative, broke, and surrounded by broken relationships. I was normal.

So my advice for you going into 2017, Dear Reader, is to stop being normal and start being a thermostat.

Here's to 2016, and an even better new year.

Dan RiceComment