Almost immediately after Christmas each year, I find myself targetted with ads for bathroom scales on sale, invited to groups entitled, “New Year, New You”, and noticing that the covers for this month’s magazines are peppered with invites to give up, shape up and buck up. Anyone else?
New Year is a great time to reflect on your past year, to think about what you might like to get out of the coming year and to explore where you are now, but all too often we are invited to ditch the ‘old us’ to make way for the new, improved version.
What’s wrong with the me I am?
How to you avoid being sucked into the temptation to set new years resolutions based on ‘should’ or the expectations of others rather than thinking about what might matter to us? Why does it matter?
Because the magazine covers that follow next month will be all about why new years resolutions have already crumbled, why we’ve given in to temptation, and why the new improved us will have to wait until next year. We set ourselves up for failure by basing our plans on the ideas of others and what matters to ‘them’.
That’s not to say that I don’t set intentions at this time of year. In fact, I am very likely to do so, but I use a series of tools to ensure that the intentions I set for the year ahead are based on the things that matter to me, that bring me joy, that cause me to have that little swell of butterflies in my tummy that you get when something feels outrageously ambitious and fills you with fear of doing it and fear of not doing it at the same time.
Let me share my process for setting new years intentions, and see if you can use it to get to a place where you have a plan for the year ahead that fills you with hope and anticipation rather than fear and the sense that somehow you know you’re going to ‘fall off the rails’.
The first thing I do is create some quiet time for myself (I can thoroughly recommend a divorce where parenting is shared for the ability to carve out a little quiet time!), an hour at least should do it. Where carving this out feels really hard, go and do the 168 boxes exercise from the Beating Procrastination Toolkit; I can guarantee you’ll be able to identify an hour in your week where you could put down the smart phone, step away from the TV or batch cook so you can heat something up instead of preparing from scratch one weekend.
Gather the things that will remind you of what you’ve done over the year. For me, this is my paper diary. The photos on your phone from the last year are also a really good reminder. You may have a memories box where you throw postcards, travel tickets, etc. Whatever it is, you’ll need it close by because you’re going to use it to remember all the brilliant things that have happened, or that you’ve done over the year. People you’ve spent time with, places you’ve been (even if that’s just round the block or to a local green space in the current pandemic times!), ways you’ve spent your time. Capture ALL the good stuff, no matter how tiny or unimportant you feel it might seem to someone else. This isn’t FOR someone else.
Next look for the themes. Did food light up your life? Time with others? A certain craft or hobby? Making time for adventure? When you stepped out of your comfort zone? What brought you joy, made you feel proud, or floods you with light when you remember it?
These themes will form the basis of your intentions for the year ahead. Go ahead and capture them. The next step is to create some ambitions against each theme. For example, it might be that your theme is ‘Friends and Family’ and that your ambitions are to ‘visit family at least once a month’, ‘create a friends night six times this year where I get together a group of friends and host them for a relaxed dinner evening’ (that might tick off the ‘cook a different recipe every month’ intention from a different theme too…). You’ll want 3-5 ambitions under each goal and certainly no more than about eight.
During the year, you’ll remind yourself of these, and each week set three mini goals that will move you closer to achieving each of these.
I am so enamoured of this process as part of the way I set my intentions that I run this as a live journalling experience every year, making sure to complete my own at the same time.
This is a very simple step introduced to me by the wonderful Dr Gemma Munro, and inspired by the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. You simply write a sentence at the top of your page (write this somewhere you won’t lose it – a journal or diary is ideal) and then just flow. Are you ready? Set your timer for 10 minutes and start your flow with “It’s <insert date exactly a year from today> and here’s what’s happening…”.
You simply let your imagination take over your hand for 10 minutes (or until you’ve filled a pre-determined number of pages; I usually go for two). Reading it back can be powerful and enlightening bringing to the surface desires that you haven’t actually acknowledged before.
Using your essential intent and your themes and ambitions from your retrospective, create a vision board. This is basically a poster that is filled with images and words that you connect to your dreams and intentions which you display somewhere that you will see it, and be inspired, daily. If you’re not sure how to do this, you can grab my How To…Vision Boards download.
This process for me takes several evenings. One flicking through magazines, one placing and tidying up my snipping and one gluing. All done with some lovely music and a glass of something! For you, it might be one evening, but don’t rush this. Take your time and enjoy the creativity of the process. There is something about a stick of glue and some scissors that unlocks the child in all of us! We did this activity in the Your Life Less Ordinary Weekender and the women sat and chatted for three hours doing this (they were free to leave after one!).
Now, you have in front of you, a set of intentions for the year ahead all based on the things that bring your joy, that fill your heart’s desires and that feel real and exciting for you. If somehow something has made it on the list that is a ‘should’, really scrutinise whether that is something you want to spend your precious and limited time and energy on. After all, it will be taking time and energy away from those intentions that are based on your needs and what makes you smile.
As for keeping on top of these, well you have your vision board to remind you and your list to inspire you. Other great ideas to keep you moving forward are for you to join me for Three Things Sunday every week over on instagram (@quiet_the_hive) and set three mouse steps to move you closer towards your eagle vision.
You could also join the Quarterly Personal Review which runs once a quarter to look back and the previous quarter and set your goals for the quarter ahead. Come and join the next one.
The final recommendation I’d make is to get into the habit of blocking out time in your diary once a month to review your themes, intentions and mini goals. Put it in your diary, you can always shift it if need be, but don’t cancel it. A great method shared with me by Harriet Minter is the meeting with Pam. She ensures she has a meeting with Pam once a week; everyone assumes it’s a real person but it really stands for Planning and Maintenance and she uses it to reflect on her week gone and her week ahead. Genius!
I’d love to hear how this works for you as a basis for setting intentions for your year ahead. For me, using this process every year ensures that I am always reminded of where I want to get to and what matters most to me. Not only does this make it feel like I’m filling my life in a way that makes the most of it, but that I have a clear way to define whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to something. If it doesn’t move me towards where I want to be, or doesn’t fit into one of my themes from The Retrospective, then I know that it should probably be a ‘no’. Getting good at that is a whole other thing…!