A new year is a matter of ritual. It’s a little reminder to take on the next chapter of our lives with a little more agency and awareness. Ultimately, a new year is just a really good excuse to become more intentional about the kinds of experiences and stories we are creating for ourselves.
New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense don’t usually work for most people because they are too detached from our daily experiences. A few years ago I started doing this exercise where I take some time to reflect upon the year that just passed. From there I decide what I want to focus on changing for the coming year.
This has worked well for me because it is integrated with the continuity of my daily life. It doesn’t assume that the new year comes with a reset button, but it builds on my strengths and deepest needs for change.
For example, at the end of 2012, in my ‘looking back’ I realized I had had tons of ideas that got me really excited but that I never took any action towards. I realized I was being paralyzed by many fears, and I set out to learn to cope better with that fear. This turned 2013 into the craziest, most fun year I have had in my life. That year I committed to doing every single thing I felt scared to do, big or small. It was thrilling… and exponentially more fun, liberating and interesting than ever.
If you want to try it out for yourself, take two pieces of paper and something to write with. Maybe ask some friends to join in and do the exercise together!
Take a moment to visualize this past year. Quickly review any random moments of each month of 2016… observe whatever comes to mind.
What were you worried about? Happy about? Striving for? Struggling with?
Browse your mental folders for January, February, March… and so on.
(Take note of anything that surprises you.)
Now take a look at what you wrote. What surprises you? Do you see any patterns emerging? Anything you didn’t expect? Or maybe something you are getting really tired of repeating?
It can all start with simply asking yourself what you want.
For each of these goals, take a minute to visualize what each specific one means to you. How do you want it to look and feel? Why do you think this goal is so important for you right now? And most importantly, what do you need to get there? What attitudes, people, and patterns will you need to let go of? What resources will help you in this process? How will you stay focused on this throughout the year?
It has been my experience that saying “I will do x every day” sets me up for failure. So I try to make my goals into themes I will remember throughout the whole year. This way I can seek out books, courses, activities and people who will help me cultivate the area I want to grow in. (Fear, travel, electronic music, tolerance, etc.)
The trick is to choose something that really ‘sparks a fire in your belly’ and to dive into that rabbit hole. Explore, try things out, learn more, talk more, let it push you forward and lead you where you can’t yet imagine you’d love to go.
Sharing your goals & commitments with others is usually a great way to keep the momentum going. It can be great to have friends at each step who will ask about them, help you move forward and get excited for you.
If you can gather some friends to do this exercise together, great! If not, send your commitments to your mentor or best friends. Maybe try and start some kind of mastermind group. Different forms of support work for different people & different times. The point is to never underestimate the power of finding the right social support.
Some more reflections for later (because January 1st is only the beginning).
**Dorothy Zablah **is an expert in alternative education. She is an advisor for Collective Academy’s pedagogic model and a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.