We’re very close to the time of year when people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. There’s just something about that blank calendar (or at least more blank than your end of 2014 calendar) that makes hope spring forth that the coming year will be different in the ways that matter most. It’s a good exercise for sure. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” It makes sense to set some goals for a new year and to reverse engineer back from those goals to identify the specific actions that will likely get you there.
I’m going to lead you through a process for doing that on December 29, the last Mindful Monday of 2014. That process will be based on my new book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative (which is now out in an audio edition – perfect for those who are too overworked and overwhelmed to read the book and just in time for those holiday road trips!) In the meantime, though, I want to encourage you to take some time to reflect before you project.
Between now and the end of the year is a great time to look back on 2014 and do a lessons learned analysis. I’ve come up with a few short questions (think of it as a virtual coaching session) to help get you started. So, when you’re ready, grab your favorite cup of coffee or tea and take a half hour or so to take some notes on these questions.
What went right this year? – There’s almost always something that’s going right. How can you acknowledge that, celebrate it and build on it? Make a list.
What am I proudest of, most grateful for or happiest about this year? Out of all the things you listed, which ones most warm your heart or charge your batteries? What steps did you take to help make those things happen? Get as specific as you can about actions you took, behaviors you exhibited or habits you set and followed through on. Connect the dots in reverse from the outcome back to the sequence of decisions and actions that eventually led to those outcomes. What patterns do you see that inform your goals and plans for 2015?
What changed this year? – Of course, there are lots of factors in our lives that we can’t control. List the big changes in your life this year that seemed to be more out of your control than in your control. That’s all of the extrinsic or external stuff that was going on around you. Once you have the list, we’ll move on to a more important question.
What was my response to the big changes? – Now we’re into the things you can control and that’s your response to all of the big changes that occurred this year. Focus in on three or four of the biggest changes and take an honest look at your internal or intrinsic response to them. Did you do happy dances and victory laps when good things happened? Did you freak out and throw a pity party when bad things happened? Did you stay more or less even in your response no matter what happened? If you graphed your range of responses or reactions would it look fairly steady or more like a seismograph during a big quake? No matter what the shape of your graph is, consider what impact your responses had on your actions and subsequent results this year. Does your pattern seem to be working for you or do you need to make some changes next year?
What did I start doing this year that I want to keep doing next year? – All of us human beings learn by doing. When you look back on the past 12 months, what have you started doing that seem like good things to continue doing in the coming year?
What habits or routines have I had this year that don’t serve me and my goals? – And, of course, you want to take a look at the flip side. What have you been doing this past year that, when you take a really objective look at it don’t serve you and your goals? Take a few notes on the most important things you want to do differently next year.
When you boil it all down, what do you have? –One last step for now. Mentally step back and take a look at everything you’ve written down. Look for the patterns and connections. When you boil it all down, what do you have? My guess is that you have a greater sense of clarity about what worked and what didn’t work as well in 2014.