It had been a challenging two weeks at best. A series of disappointments and challenges had collided with my plans, work was heating up, the holiday ‘frenzy’, and my teen’s college application process that continued to grab every one of my spare moments, all rose over me like a Harry Potter Dementor and sucked my life force away. By new years day, I was so thin on the ground, that everything was becoming a ‘problem’.
So I did what any New Mexico gal would do, and took off into the icy mountain trails with my faithful dog Pablo. Somewhere into the second frost-laden breathless hour, between the first and second creek crossing, I found myself again. By the time I came off the mountain, I was not only found, but surrounded with enough reserves of resilience that I could meet my life with clarity. And as familiar as this scenario is, I am always startlingly astonished how different I am and how different my world looks when I take good care of myself. So, being new years day and all, I made a few 2014 pacts with myself to support me to have more days like these.
It’s one thing to make new year’s resolutions, and many tout that making them is a useless waste of time. But its quite another to use the birth of a new year to prompt oneself into imagining the kind of life you want, and crafting steps—baby steps—towards that end (admittedly, any time of the year is the right time). So, I thought to share with you some of the great strategies I have learned to help create a deliberately lived year:
Find the ‘Why’ of your life – We spend our days on all the ‘hows’ – the to do’s, the endless errands. But take some time pondering the real meaning of your life – what gives it spirit, passion and lift? What informs your desires and dreams? It is your meta-reason behind many things. For me, lifting up and showing people their wholeness, is my ‘why’. What is yours?
Dream, baby, dream – Schedule some you-time, an hour or so, to dream. Let your ‘Why’ navigate what you might imagine for yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and nestle into your favorite chair, or take a walk in your favorite location. Set no limits for yourself on this one. Don’t edit yourself in terms of what you imagine ‘is possible’ or what ‘is not possible’. What kind of life do you imagine you want? What would you do? And just as importantly, what would you not do? Who would you spend time with? What risks might you take? What dream might you go for? Then free-write everything down.
Based on what you write above, determine your year’s goals / desires – A life is made of years, which is made of months, weeks, days and hours. This year is the start of the rest of your life. To change your life, you can start by changing your year, your months, your days. What are some of the things you want to do this year that will lead you towards your destination? For example, do you want to start a blog? Do you want to travel to a particular place with your children? Do you want to invite a student studying abroad to live with you? What about more time with your spouse or partner? List them all.
Based on what you write above, determine five to seven broad focus areas of your year that will serve those goals – for me it is writing, family / marriage / friends, adventuring, building my business, health and wellbeing, and learning / education.
Make it effectively practical – Here is where the year is broken into the baby steps of your each and every day. After all, great things are accomplished through a series of small actions. Like this, each day becomes your building block.
Create a Word document (one page) that has between five and seven same-sized boxes (or if you are not technologically inclined, just draw the boxes). Take up all the space on your page for the boxes. At the top of each box write each focus area, leaving the rest of the box empty. When you are done, you should have five to seven boxes on one page, with one focus area per box. Print or photocopy dozens of copies of this, because it will be your blank ‘template’. Each day you will grab one of these templates, and fill it out with your various ‘to do’s’ for the day, putting a ‘to do’ item in each of your boxes. This is your daily ‘to do’ list. But instead of a random list of ‘to do’s’ based on whatever is screaming at you the loudest, the box format supports you to do things that support your focus areas, that serve your goals. You give yourself dominion, and literally steer your life towards your dreams.
For example, in my ‘Build my business’ box, I might have ‘Return Ed’s call’, and ‘Draft client proposal’. In my ‘Learning / education’ box, I might have ‘Set up appointment for training session’. But each of these seemingly small actions, is taking me towards a greater dream of, say, publishing my book, or running a successful visionary company.
Be realistic for each day, don’t over schedule yourself, and try as best you can to do something each day, or at least every two or three days, in each and every box. Use your long list of goals and desires to help you navigate towards particular outcomes. If you notice one box remains consistently empty week after week, do something to change that, or decide you aren’t really up for that focus area after all and erase it from your template. At the end of each day, evaluate how you did, and fill out a new sheet for your next day. For more information on how to work this incredibly effective system, see the website of Peter Bregman and his book 18 Minutes: Find your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.
Create allies – Have friends around you who know about your aims and believe in you. Illicit their active support in keeping you on track. One friend makes sure that we get out and hike every week. Another calls me every other week to see how I’m moving along on my client building. Also, keep in good company – be with people who are congruent with your aspirations, who help you keep reaching outside of your box. Inspiring entrepreneur, Jim Rohn said, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Who are the people you spend the most time with? Who would you like them to be?
Never email first thing in the morning – Email is a technological Dementor. It sucks your life energy, robs you of your dominion, and determines what you are going to do for the day. Plan a regular one hour ‘email time’ each day and stick to it. If you are like me, a lot of work happens through email, but guess what, a lot of ‘non work’ or ‘non essential work’ or ‘non immediate work’ happens there too. To cope with those who ‘expect’ you’ll be on email all the time, I let them know my email habit. I also designate five minutes (and five minutes only) at the first of the day to see if anyone has something really urgent (as in sliced jugular kind of emergency), or to see if there is a cancelled meeting. Otherwise, everything MUST wait until my designated email time. When you cut down, then only the essential rises to the surface. I promise. For more on how to do this effectively, see The Four Hour Work Week.
Create a morning sanctuary – Make it first thing. Make it sacrosanct. This is time for you to journal, meditate, and set your day on the right course. At first journaling can seem awkward and silly, but once you get in the habit of it, you’ll establish an intimate relationship with yourself that liberates wisdom and intuition throughout your days.
Schedule regular sabbaticals for yourself – You don’t need a grant or some long term plan of writing the great American novel to do this. Establish something that works for your lifestyle. Two weekends three times a year to be in solitude and away from technology is all you need to change your life. Our very own Wayne Muller wrote a best-selling book on this topic – Sabbath. And check out my blog on how to give yourself a ‘pocket sabbatical’, short, easy, manageable.
Learn the art of saying ‘no’ – Genuine kindness means having the courage to say what you can and cannot do.
Dreams don’t happen just by dreaming them; they require focus, attention, and small baby steps, done hour by hour, day by day. But with hard work and commitment, they help us to shape our life from one of ordinariness, governed by random external forces, to one of magnificence and wonder.
In that spirit, allow me to share a poem:
For a New Beginning
By John O’Donohue(1956 – 2008)
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
I hope your year is brilliant.
Other helpful resources: