Looking Back, Looking Forward

Another year gone and a new year begun. I’m big on questions, retrospection, and plans. How can things turn out well if you don’t take the time to organize your thinking, your goals and your intentions towards a specific set of aims and outcomes? Not to say that you’ll reach them, but at least you can move in that direction.

Forget about New Year’s Resolutions. That isn’t what this is about. If some habit change is important to you then why the hell would you wait until January 1st to start on it. Go, start now. This is about milestones. Markers along the path. Whether you do it on New Year’s or on your birthday or on some equinox or solstice, it’s useful to have a time of year for looking back and looking ahead. To see what’s working in your life and what needs more effort. To determine what you want to accomplish in the year ahead (or years ahead if you have an ambitious long-range goal) and what you need to do across the seasons, months, weeks and days to make that happen.

What is going well?

Start with gratitude. What from the last year is working? Consider your answers from this time last year. Goals you accomplished, things you learned, habits you made better, milestones you reached. Then again, maybe this isn’t the best of times. Life is full of struggle and difficulty. There are tragedies we face both great and small. Even so, you’re here. You’re alive. You can step back onto the path and decide where it will take you.

What do I want to learn and experience?

We should always be learning and not fear being a novice. There is no other path to mastery than to experiment, to be a student, to be willing and eager to learn. Is there a new hobby you want to try? A new subject that has piqued your interest? There are a staggering number of tools available to help you, many of them free. Commit to working on something new. The same goes for new experiences. Our lives are built not on things but on memories of what we have done. So what would you like to experience in the next year?

How do I want to change?

We are not finished. The version of you reading this is not the best version of you that there could be. How could you improve? How could you be the more idealized version of you that you picture in your mind? How does the hero of your story need to evolve? You can be more capable, better connected, more creative, prolific, indispensable, loving, gracious, calm or formidable. It takes time and focus and discipline, but it starts with awareness. It starts with knowing where you can and should be stronger or better. And then doing something about it.

What are my goals for the upcoming year?

Imagine yourself a year from now. What does future you want to have done with this year? Maybe it’s finishing a project at work. Writing a novel. Deadlifting four hundred pounds. Taking your family on vacation. Paying off that credit card. What are the important things you want to accomplish? You will have multiple goals because your life has multiple dimensions. Even so, keep in mind that time is limited. We overestimate what we can do in a year (and underestimate what we can do in ten) so focus on three to five of the most important ones. Once the goals are identified, you can determine the tasks and processes that will help get you there.

By way of closing, I should say that these questions are just the starting point. It’s important to have answers and goals. What you value will inform your goals and the goals will in turn inform the processes you need to establish (those processes matter more than the goals). The answers provide a direction. Without intention and action, direction is meaningless. This set of questions and answers is the easy part. The hard part is doing the work. Good luck in the next year. I hope it challenges you.

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