December is the punctuation mark in a phrase of our lives - a natural pause when we reflect on the past year, celebrate successes, integrate lessons, and look ahead. It’s that time of year when, somewhere between overeating and opening gifts, many of us make new year's resolutions. Or maybe you prefer intentions. Either way, if you’re like most people, they probably won’t feel like they have much to do with your real life by the time you look at them again at the end of next year.
I've refined my own process over the years and have created an annual ritual that I love. I've nicknamed the output of this ritual my NYE (Next Year's Evolution). This is something that I genuinely look forward to doing every year. And looking back at my NYEs from past years, I can map my own journey of personal growth in them. I'm going to share the three parts of my NYE process with you, then give you three pointers to help you move your vision from paper to practice.
The vision that I create for myself is a three-story house. I build it from the ground up each year, and in my little house, each level is secured and stabilized by the layer below.
1. Qualities of life (themes)
Start by identifying the top few qualities and values that you see as the cornerstones of your best life. If you're familiar with The Desire Map, you might call these “core desired feelings” but in my view, it goes beyond how you want to feel… I describe it as defining the way you want to live. I call these qualities and values your year's themes. Focus on 3-5 themes. For me, one theme (Learning) tends to be a constant, while others rotate in and out of my Top 5 from year to year. For example, Trust was a big theme for me in 2016, while Focus is becoming more important for me in 2017.
Think broader than ego-driven goals and accomplishment wish lists. What are the big ideas that are central to the way you want your life to expand next year? Examples include Freedom, Creativity, Joy, Discovery, Pleasure, Peace, Security, Connection, Challenge, Influence and Service. There are an endless number of qualities that you may want to thread through your life. Resist the urge to choose too many themes. Prioritize and pick the ones that are most important to your path right now. Choose the critical few.
Write a phrase for each one-word theme, to describe and clarify what that theme means to you. Here are a couple of examples: Freedom = unapologetically making choices aligned with my own innermost desires rather than external obligations or expectations. Creativity = focusing energy on what I create and contribute instead of what I consume. In many cases, your life theme descriptions may naturally include from-to statements, or this-not-that statements, which point to the shift that you're looking to make by inviting more of this quality into your life.
2. Massive multi-step goals
For each of your themes outlined in Part 1, define one or two big things you can do in the next year to live into that theme. These are massive, multi-step to-dos… specific one-time achievements that you can look back on next December and see whether you actually did them or not. Examples of goals could be attending a conference, completing a course, quitting your job, having your own gallery show, running a marathon, or buying a house. They should be specific and time-bound.
Again, don't write too many of these massive goals. These are those big, messy, ugly, hairy things... things that are hard to do, whether it's emotionally, mentally, physically, or financially. One or two per theme is more than enough. And if these are the big deal goals that really matter, it is likely that some may end up spanning several years. Go for quality, not quantity.
3. Habits and rituals
The third part may be the closest thing to making traditional resolutions. Here is where you define the habits and rituals that you want to establish. These tiny actions, if you do them repeatedly, will create conditions that make it more likely for you to achieve the massive goals you set in Part 2.
Habits and rituals are regular practices, like doodling for 20 minutes a day, drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, calling your mom every Sunday, or rebalancing your investment portfolio on the 15th of each month. These can be daily, weekly, or monthly rituals. Any frequency is fine.
Define at least one habit or ritual to support each massive goal. The fact that there is this link that goes back to your goals, and in turn your life themes, is what makes these different from traditional resolutions. It keeps your HOW and WHAT connected to your WHY. What matters most is not maintaining 100% adherence, but having the resilience to try, try again when you fall short.
Now you have your three-level NYE vision built - there are a few critical life themes, which are served by specific goals, which are in turn supported by habits and rituals. Great. That makes a neat PowerPoint slide, or five. But how do you use that to transform your life? Don't skip this part. Take a few actions to breathe life into this and make it more than just a theoretical exercise.
1. Make it visible
The danger is that once you complete this exercise, it goes out of sight, out of mind. Now that you have your NYE all mapped out, you need to make it front of face, in order to keep it top of mind. Put together a slide and make it your computer's desktop wallpaper. Make a photo collage and hang it up on your refrigerator. Create a post-it note version and stick it to the inside of your journal. Whatever you do with it, put it somewhere where you will see it often.
2. Find a buddy
We all know the buddy system from grade school fields trips. You find a friend whose job it is to make sure you don't get lost. Well the buddy system works for adults too! If you want to make sure you do something, tell someone, and ask them to ask you about it. You may even have your buddy to help you define your NYE and vice versa. Maybe you're having trouble narrowing down your themes or figuring out what rituals will best support your goals. Your buddy can help you.
3. Schedule check ins
Put a future date or several dates on the calendar to check in with your buddy. A month from now, three months from now. It doesn't matter when it is. Just don't let it go until next December. Your check ins are a way to bring your attention back to those well-intentioned intentions that you had, in part to see how you're tracking, but also to make adjustments as you go.This isn't something that you do and then file away for 12 months. It is a living, breathing document. As we learn and grow and evolve throughout the year, our perspective and our priorities will certainly shift. You may find some habits and rituals more useful than others. You may abandon some of your massive goals and replace them with others. The importance of certain themes will ebb and flow from year to year. Allow that to happen with grace and gratitude.
Regardless of what you do to envision your year ahead, use it as a guidebook and not as a rulebook. Guidebooks are most helpful when well used... Highlight it, mark it up, tear out pages to lighten your load. It's not meant to be used for self judgment or self punishment, if things don't go according to your original plan. Don't cling to a plan that is so rigid that you miss the serendipitous discoveries along the way. Think of it as a roughly drawn map that will help you adapt as things change. Even the best tool is determined as effective, or not, by the skill of the user.
Wishing you lots of freedom, flow, and on-purpose action in the new year!