Thursday, December 23, 2010

The New Year: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we bring each year to a close, it is important to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and learned, and to create intentions for what we want to be/do/have in the coming cycle. This can be done at the calendar year and/or the solar year (your birthday), since recognition of what it took to get us here is just as crucial as planning for what we want our lives to be in the future.

This is not about creating “resolutions,” as I believe they set us up for failure and feeling sh**ty about ourselves. The resolutions people make are usually about fixing themselves and their lives, based on “there is something wrong here” or even worse, “there is something wrong with me.” We are powerful, creative, resourceful beings that are traveling paths that bring wisdom crucial for our ongoing development as humans and titans in our own corners of the world. Shoulding on ourselves has no place here.

I created a three-part exercise called Looking Back, Looking Forward that is about clarity, choice, commitment, creation, and celebration. I believe it important to set yourself up to win by 1) creating closure for the ending year and celebrating all we did and did not accomplish and learn, and 2) designing a living, breathing plan you will continually revise and update throughout the coming year.

So, let’s get started. You can do this on your own, or may consider working with someone close to you for part or all of this exercise to capture things you may be forgetting and to brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas. Whether flying solo or with another, find a quiet spot to write or type without interruptions. This may be in your home, a peaceful location where you feel calm and centered, or even a coffee shop. Breathe, relax, and reflect without judgment.


We so often want to charge ahead into “what’s next” without taking the time to consider all that it has taken to get us here. Who were we being that allowed us to create the successes and lessons? What did we do that gave us all we have? If we don’t take the time to acknowledge this, we miss out on honoring ourselves and our actions…and feel like we are always pushing ahead toward an elusive finish line that never shows itself.

Reflect. Begin by reflecting on what you have accomplished and learned this past year, so that you can powerfully complete it with honesty and celebration. Consider these questions:
  • What did you accomplish that you intended to accomplish?
  • What did you accomplish above and beyond what you intended?
  • What didn’t you accomplish that you intended?
  • What did you learn this year?
  • What would you like to be acknowledged for and by whom?
Below are some topics that you may want to include so that you can broaden your scope beyond the usual sectors of career, money, and health. Try to write down at least 2-3 items in each of the following areas, but you may find yourself putting down dozens of successes and lessons:
  • Career: your real expression, not necessarily your “job”
  • Money: includes both your finances and your “job,” if it’s not your “career”
  • Health: mental, physical, emotional
  • Relationships: friends, family
  • Love: romance, partnership, dating
  • Personal growth: learning, development, expansion
  • Spirit: relationship to self, universe, higher power
  • Community: contribution, involvement
  • Physical environment: home/work space, clutter, living location
  • Fun and recreation
  • Time/energy management: how you spend/utilize your time, what you say yes/no to
  • Communication: style, frequency, with/to whom
  • Miracles: something amazing and unexpected…
Celebrate. Then choose to celebrate the year in some way. It can be something like purchasing a gift for yourself, or it can be an action that doesn’t cost a dime. Whatever way you choose to recognize what you have achieved, the most important part is you consciously take the action with celebration in mind. Some examples may be taking a bath, making a toast or a special meal at home, or even going for a long walk.


Instead of focusing on the usual corrections and repairs, get clear about what you really want, not what you feel you should want. Base it on your values and sense of personal purpose/meaning -- and then set objectives and intentions for what you want to do/have and who you want to be in the coming year. These include tangible goals, objectives, and activities, as well as intangible intentions around who you want to be. Don’t be afraid to dream big. This will always be a working draft document, and can/will be revised throughout the year.

Then write down, in each of the areas listed above, a few intentions and objectives for the coming year. Some will be continuations of what you have already been focusing on (keep smoke-free, maintain my yoga practice, continue practicing patience with my kids), and some will be brand new (be open to taking risks, take a vacation, launch a blog). Don’t get too bogged down in the “how” just yet. Just allow yourself the space to be creative and think outside the “fixing” and away from the "more, better, different" point of view. What does your heart truly desire?

Some tips:
  • Create concrete SMART goals that include both a clear, concise description of what you want to create/accomplish, as well as a time-frame or “by when” date.
  • Be realistic by setting achievable goals. Winning the lottery, for example, is out of your grasp.
  • Describe your goals in specific terms. Instead of "I don't want to be lazy," opt for "I want to exercise regularly" or "I will cut down on my television watching." Consider boundaries and what you may want to say "yes" and "no" to.
  • Break down large goals into smaller ones. For instance, commit to losing weight by resolving to join a gym and improve your eating habits.
  • Find alternatives to a behavior that you want to change, and make this part of your plan. For example, if you want to quit smoking, but have smoked to relax yourself, consider: What other forms of relaxation are available to you?
  • Above all, aim for things that are truly important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you.

You have reflected on the past year, you have celebrated and put it to bed, and you have created intentions and objectives for the coming year. The next step is: action. Remember, these are not New Year’s Resolutions; rather, they are part of your short and long term plans based on who you are and what you really want. Now is the time to jump in. Here are some suggestions for initiating and keeping your goals alive for yourself:
  1. Just pick something and start. You will not take on all your goals at the same time. Pick the top 3-5 that you can start making a dent in right now, and begin practicing. You may even want to take on the easiest ones first, so you can experience immediate success to get you motivated.
  2. Declare it. By keeping key friends informed of what you are doing, you are setting yourself up with a support system. Share your successes and challenges. This will not only help you, but will also motivate others and help them feel like they are not alone.
  3. Partner with someone. Create structures or commitments to help keep you accountable. Find a workout buddy. Partner with someone to help you keep smoke-free. Hire a coach. You don’t have to go it alone!
  4. Use your calendar. Make sure you have time and space set aside in your day for your activities, goals, etc. If a competing priority comes up, reschedule that time – don’t just cancel it. By carving out the space, it is more likely to stay top-of-mind and you are more likely to do it. Also, plan your procrastination if that is a problem area for you.
  5. Baby steps. Break your goals down into small chunks. For example, if you want to lose weight or gain strength, set some targets for the next 3-6 months, then work backward to determine how you will achieve that target. Put in some milestones. Create some structures. But most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger goal; remember that you only need to focus on TODAY.
  6. Revisit frequently. Make sure you keep your Looking Forward plan in front of you, and update objectives and dates as needed. You can even do a Mid-Year Review to reflect on the first six months and revise your plan for the second half of the year. It is all about keeping this alive for yourself. When you do your Looking Back, Looking Forward next year, it will not only be an easier exercise (since you've been keeping track all year and will have a lot to report!), but you will have a whole year of successes and lessons to draw from for creating the following year's blueprint.

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