For more than twenty years, I’ve had a ritual of bringing one year to a close and opening up a new one through a process of review, insight, and creation. For many of those years I’ve used Jinny Ditzler’s wonderfully simple Your Best Year Yet process; more recently I’ve gone through a less formal but no less informative process of my own.
Over the past week, my team and I have re-created our business for the year ahead using this process; over the next two weeks, I’ll go through it for myself. Today, I thought it might be helpful (and hopefully fun!) to share the key elements of the process with you so you can invent a version of it for yourself to go through. You can absolutely do it by yourself, but I can tell you from experience how enjoyable it is to do it with others, both on shared projects and as “parallel players” with family members, colleagues, and friends…
1. Reflecting on the year just gone
Spiritually minded people sometimes hear about “the power of now” as an injunction against ever reflecting on the past or day dreaming about the future. By way of contrast, many of us spend so much time in our past and future thinking that we nearly miss the now altogether.
For me, I often get some of my biggest insights while looking back over my life with the benefit of “hindsight”. I also know that my life is happening right now, and my feelings are being created by thought in the moment, not by past experience or future events.
There’s no conflict of interests here – simply the freedom of mind to explore all areas of your life without restriction.
I like to use a few simple questions to guide my reflections – you can use the list below as a guide for creating your own:
- What were some of my favorite things that happened over the past year? Why were they my favorites?
- What were some of my least favorite things? Why?
- What did I enjoy the most?
- What did I enjoy the least?
- What did I accomplish?
- What were my biggest disappointments?
- What have I learned?
- What were some of my biggest insights?
- How is my life different because of them?
At the end of this reflective process, I tend to write up a set of touchstones and reminders for the year ahead.
Here are a few that have made my list for 2017:
– When in doubt, rest in the quiet of Mind
– Do less better
– Let life do the heavy lifting
2. The big questions
I like to also take some time to ask myself “the big questions” – who am I, why am I here, and what matters most. While my answers to these questions don’t seem to change much from year to year, there’s a kind of self-intimacy and a profound settling that seem to emerge from the process.
One of my favorite ways to do this is an exercise I call “the happy deathbed”. If you want to try it for yourself, take a few minutes where you can let your imagination take you on a journey…
Imagine you’ve come to the end of your time here on earth and you’re truly, deeply content. What is it that you’ve realized about life that underpins your contentment? What are you glad that you did or didn’t do during your life? What did you enjoy the most? What are you most grateful for?
The first time I did the exercise was more than 20 years ago, shortly after the birth of my son. The insight which came to me was that I was most grateful that I’d been around to share my life with my kids while they were growing up. It was so impactful to me that I turned down a number of potentially career-making opportunities early on in the game which would have taken me away from home and forced me to prioritize things other than hanging out, playing games, watching cartoons, eating together, and being an available ear for teenage angst as and when it arose. I’ve never regretted those decisions, and my relationship with my family is still my proudest “accomplishment” and deepest joy.
3. Creating the year ahead
I like the metaphor of “creating” for future planning, as it seems to me to accurately reflect the realities of how life works and how results happen in the world. Unlike goal setting, which throws the bone of contentment and happiness out into an uncertain future and leaves us feeling at least somewhat driven to chase that bone through whichever yard it may have landed in, what I intend to create can only unfold moment by moment, right where I am sitting now.
Here are five key points about the creative process that might prove helpful as you pipe dream possibilities for the year ahead:
- Everything comes from nothing. By its very nature, you can’t see all the steps in advance when you are creating. Things occur to you as you go and new opportunities only become visible when you’re a few steps further down the road. What the recently departed novelist E. L. Doctorow said about writing is true of all acts of creation:
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go… It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
- What you actually create will be more like a painting of what you imagined than a photograph. One of my favorite stories is of a wealthy businessman who found himself sharing the first class compartment of a train with the abstract painter Pablo Picasso. He took advantage of their chance encounter to share his disdain for the unrealistic nature of Picasso’s art. When Picasso asked him to explain, he took out a photograph of his wife from his wallet. “This is my wife, as she is”, the businessman exclaimed. Picasso examined the photograph and then looked at the man wryly. “She’s very small, your wife. And a bit flat.”
- Now is the moment of creation. You can only wield the magical paintbrush of thought onto the blank canvas of consciousness in this very moment. After enough moments, a picture begins to emerge from what at first may have looked like a series of disconnected brush strokes. And as what at first existed only in your imagination begins to come into form, other people begin to see it as well and become enrolled in the possibility of your creation.
- Are you inspired? Whatever finds its way onto my list of possible creations for the year ahead, I like to take some time to double check that I’m truly inspired by the idea of it coming into being.
While our feelings of inspiration can easily get covered over by thinking about how unlikely or difficult it will be to bring something new into the world, if my level of enthusiasm begins at less than an “8” on a scale from 1 – 10, chances are I’ll give up long before the flywheel of momentum and the invisible giants of creation have a chance to do their work.
- Trust the power of intention to guide you. Here were my top seven intentions from my Creating 2016 list:
- To develop my insight into and evolve my relationship with creation and the creative spirit
- To boost my levels of energy, strength, fitness, and health throughout the year and move beyond “tired but well”
- To see what emerges when “really helping people” becomes our number one business goal
- To re-brand the business and develop my dream team
- To launch “The Space Within” into the world and write “Creating the Impossible”
- To spend amazing family time throughout the year
- To launch a really cool podcast, online magazine, and/or other creative outlets
While everything on this list actually came to pass during the year, I had to go looking for the list in order to share it – I haven’t actually laid eyes on it since December 30th, 2015.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan your work and work your plan – it just means that your own clarity of intention will do more to guide you than the most detailed plans and schemes.
I wish you well in your year-end planning and would love to hear what you come up with in the comments section below!
With all my love,
PS – If you want some help in your own creative process, I’d love to be a part of your support team. As well as a limited number of spaces to work with me one on one or in small group intensives, you’ve still got time to join us for Creating the Impossible 2017 beginning in January!
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