September has always marked new beginnings for me. It feels like a month of preparation, of gearing up for the last quarter of the year, but it also feels like starting over. Maybe it is the “back to school” energy in the air, or the fact that ancient peoples considered it to be the beginning of the new year. Whatever the reason, this time of the year makes me want to take stock. If you feel this way too, here are four ways to reflect on the year and forge a new path for the one ahead.
1. Celebrate Your Gains
I used to have a quote hanging in my office that said “stop thinking about what could go wrong, and start thinking about what could go right.” What has gone right for you this year? Where have you made gains, big or small?
Did you make healthier choices this year, or kick a bad habit to the curb? Honor it. You are living life intentionally and your actions had measurable impact. Celebrate the things you are able to do. Every win is important.
2. Forgive Your Losses and Neutrals
Three things I know to be true: (1) nobody does everything right, (2) bad things happen, and (3) sometimes we make no progress at all and stagnate. As the French say, c’est la vie. Such is life, and it is inevitable. Let’s take these in order:
(1) Nobody Does Everything Right
No person on this planet does everything right. Nobody. Not your boss, not your neighbor, not even Hugh Jackman, who seems able to do damn near anything. What we all have in common as a species is this: our imperfection. Sometimes you will misunderstand, fail, make the wrong decision, or say the wrong thing. Messing up is a guarantee, so cut yourself some slack and know that you’re in good company when it happens.
(2) Bad Things Happen
For many of us, there are things we wanted to have happen this year that did not come to pass. We are still not through the Covid crisis, politics are deadly, and the world is literally on fire. The impact abounds. Maybe you are isolated and overwhelmed trying to work full time and homeschool two kids. Perhaps you are a frontline worker. Maybe you lost a loved one and are just trying to make it through the day.
When bad things happen, our lives are disrupted, and it is important to take that disruption into consideration when measuring our results against our goals.
(3) We Make No Progress
Periods of stagnation in life are normal, but it is distressing to find yourself on a plateau with no ladder in sight, especially when you have important things you want to do in your life and you aren’t getting there.
You can look at this two ways:
(1) I am running out of time to do what is important to me,
(2) The beauty of tomorrow is that it is a new opportunity to do what is important to me.
The first keeps me up at night, fretting. The second encourages me. We always get to begin again.
3. Reconsider Your Commitments and Goals
Is what was important last year still important this year? There’s an exercise I learned from a friend that I like to do to figure this out. Imagine you have five batteries to power your life. When all the batteries are fully charged, your life is rich and fulfilling. When a battery is not fully charged, the quality of your life diminishes. What should each battery represent? What do you need to have a fully charged life?
For example, one battery may be relationships with your family and friends. Another might be your spiritual life. Once you’ve identified your five batteries, aka, your priorities, consider the current state of each one. Assign each battery a voltage on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the lowest charge and 10 being the highest. Where are you at? For instance, if your family and friends battery is at a 4, what could you do to bring it up to a 10? Make a list. Are these things you want to do, and if so, how should you go about it?
4. Strategize for the Future
When you know where you want to make changes, you can develop a strategy for moving forward. I highly recommend James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. He distinguishes between a goal, and the systems that are in place to help you accomplish that goal. Focusing on the systems (the habits) is key.
What do you have to do to get where you want to go? I approach this backwards. For example, let’s say you want to start a business that will become your full-time job. Once you have a clear idea of what product or service the business will offer, work backwards to see what it would take to get there. Let’s take a start-up for example. The company needs funds to create its product or service. One way to make this happen might be to set up a business credit card with a bank. However, to do that, your business will likely need to first be registered with the state.
Once you register with the state and get your business credit card you can use it to invest in growing the business by creating a product or service and attracting new customers. In doing this, you might have to learn new things, research, and experience trial-and-error.
Breaking down a goal into several projects or phases with actionable steps makes it more realistic and easier to complete. Build yourself a roadmap to your desired destination and get started. You likely will need to strategically account for other aspects of your life, like your day-job, spouse, kids, friends, and very importantly-self-care. But you can do it, you can weave the fabric of your own life and create something beautiful.
Leave me a comment: what will you create this year?