I’ve always loved this period between Christmas and the New Year. The days are cold and short but home has that relaxed and precious post-Christmas vibe of fallen pine needles, half-eaten Toblerone bars, simmering turkey soup, and gratitude. This handful of blissful bonus days is perfect for focusing on what matters. Some years, that means pure relaxation with the latest Xbox game as my family members and I take turns trying to beat the boss. (Hey, fun and relaxation matter!) This year, whether I’ve finally succeeded in transitioning to adulthood (unlikely) or there just weren’t any new games that interested me, I decided to focus on personal development.
Just to be clear, personal development and coaching are not the same as counselling or psychotherapy. I read (listened to) three books this week and the braggadocious expert stance of these authors was a stark reminder of the distinction between the two worlds. Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy this genre. However, the tools and strategies offered by the many gurus of the personal development and coaching fields can be an invaluable complement to psychotherapy, providing practical ways to apply and consolidate your new ways of relating to yourself and the world around you.
It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this post as the time of New Year’s resolutions is fast approaching. Some people are opposed to New Year’s resolutions and I think that’s unfortunate. If you are already a person who spends time annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily reflecting on what is most important in your life, setting goals, and creating action plans, then you probably don’t need to create a New Year’s resolution. But for those of us who don’t, it’s easy to live an unexamined life of latent potential. I think it’s far better to evaluate priorities and set goals once a year than not at all out of fear of failing or appearing cliché.
That said, my holiday gift to you is a bit of a cheat sheet for any New Year life planning or goal setting you may choose to embark upon, based on the best parts of three popular books, The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and Atomic Habits by James Clear.
This will take about an hour to complete, so go ahead and make yourself a cup of tea. All you need is a pen and some paper, although markers, highlighters and a journal or planner might make it a little more fun.
Step One: Evaluate your life right now
It’s time to get brutally honest with yourself. Draw a circle and divide it into 10 wedges. Label each of these wedges with an important area of your life. The Miracle Morning suggests the following categories:
- Family & friends
- Personal growth & development
- Significant other/romance
- Fun & recreation
- Physical environment
You might need to make some modifications based on what’s most important to you. Parenting, professional development, or recovery are just a few areas you may want to swap in.
Once you’ve created and labelled your circle, imagine a line from zero to 10 beginning in the middle of each wedge and extending to the outer edge. Rate your current life in each of these areas from zero to 10, where zero means you’re a long way from your ideal and 10 means you are living a fully realized life in this area. Colour each wedge accordingly. The resulting diagram, which should resemble a pizza that is being eaten from the crust inwards, provides a visual representation of your life right now and makes it easy to identify areas for improvement as well as our areas in which we are already flourishing.
Step Two: Define your vision for your life
For each of the ten key areas that you identified in step one, take a moment to brainstorm exactly how you would like this part of your life to be. Write down all of your ideas. When you’re done, distill them into one sentence that really sums it all up. Phrase this as an affirmation. For example, “I love and care about others and they know this because I show them.” When you’re done, you should have ten affirmations—one for each important area of your life.
Step Three: Find your ONE Thing in each key area
Now that you know how you’re currently doing and you’ve identified your vision for your life, ask yourself the focusing question from The ONE Thing. Specifically, for each of these ten areas of your life, ask yourself “What’s the ONE thing I can do [in this area of my life], such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.”
Here are some examples:
- Family & friends: Call mom once a week
- Personal growth & development: Read for 15 minutes every day
- Spirituality: Join a church group
- Finances: Set up an RRSP with automatic monthly contributions
- Career/business: Create a resume
- Significant other/romance: Schedule a monthly date night
- Fun & recreation: Buy a fishing pole and tackle
- Contribution/giving: Join the PTA
- Health/fitness: Track my food
- Physical environment: Do one load of laundry each day
Step Four: Commit
Now that you’ve identified the single most important thing that you can do in each area of your life, it’s time to commit. Do you need to schedule time each week for a phone call, meeting or visit? Then pull out your planner and get it done. Do you need to create a new habit? Make it as convenient as possible and set yourself up to succeed by stacking new habits with existing positive habits. Atomic Habits suggests tracking your new habits with an x on a calendar, or even finding an accountability partner to keep your motivation alive.
Step Five: Recommit daily
Remember those ten affirmations from step two? They provide a vision for your ideal life. Read those affirmations daily to remind yourself what you are creating and why it matters. Adding visualization (seeing yourself living that life) makes this an even more powerful strategy.