Happy New Year!
Early January is the time for reflecting on the past year and planning for the new year. The types of questions I have typically asked myself include:
- What are the goals I am going to commit to for the new year?
- What am I going to do differently and better this year?
- What changes will I make in my life?
This year I am approaching the exercise differently. I am writing down a series of principles that I can apply to setting goals and making future decisions.
Here is the list of principles that resonate with me.
Know my Personal Values
When the actions I undertake are aligned with my values, I experience greater satisfaction and meaning. So knowing my values and being able to refer back to them when facing a challenging or confusing choice definitely helps.
The first step each of us can do is to create a list of personal values. And ideally keep the list relatively short (maybe 5 to 7 values in total).
I did this recently and came up with the following personal values:
Open-Mindedness, Continuous Improvement, Learning, Fairness, Generosity and Gratitude.
I plan to use these values to help evaluate the choices I face, inform how I spend my time and influence the decisions I make.
Focus on the Feelings I Want to Experience Rather than Specific Outcomes
In the world of work, we are asked to commit to specific outcomes (often financial KPIs), encouraged to create SMART goals, and then are held accountable against outcomes.
However, in all other aspects of life, including as a manager and leader in the workplace, I recommend focusing on feelings. Understand how you want to feel while undertaking an activity. Optimize for actions that encourage that feeling instead of being focused on any specific outcome.
For example, feeling inspired can come from a walk in nature or learning something new. And feeling relaxed can come from a vacation at a luxury beach resort or from reading at home on a sunny morning accompanied by a warm cup of tea and a roaring fire.
Identity and Consistency Matter More than Perfection
One of my biggest takeaways from James Clear’s wonderful book, Atomic Habits, is about the importance of identity and consistency. Identity is related to bringing personal values to life. “I am a person who is [insert value.]” Having certain desired identities helps me choose behaviors. When faced with choices (assuming I am aware, which is not always the case) I can ask myself, “What would a [insert value] person do?”
Consistency matters to me much more than perfection. I have never been a believer in all or nothing (perhaps because I knew I would fail were I to set that goal). Some people need the discipline forced by all or nothing to remain motivated. And I respect them, but also realize it is not for everyone.
I know from my experience that I will rarely accomplish everything I set out to do each day. So consistency in the form of starting again is what I try for. And accepting days when I don’t live up to some of my ideals. Getting distracted, not completing the task, and then starting again when I recognize I am off course is a victory in itself.
Consistency over long periods of time will generally lead to results I am proud of.
‘Seize the day.’ By that I mean it is never too late to start something. There is always a first time for everything in our lives. I have found that out in spades over the past few years.
Consider the following. What have you been thinking about and evaluating whether to do for some time? If not now, then when? Often not knowing how to get to the eventual goal (whatever I define as success) stops me from starting at all. Almost universally for me that inaction has been a bad choice. So I ask myself what would the ‘future me’ think if I were to start down a particular path. Would that person be glad that I had tried even if I failed (didn’t achieve the initial hopes I had)?
I agree with many who say that we are more likely to regret the things we don’t do than the things we do.
Memento Mori or Accepting Impermanence
While it sounds macabre (the Latin phrase means ‘remember that you have to die’), the words are meant to help us appreciate the now. This concept is incorporated in many ancient philosophies including the two that most influence my worldview — Stoicism and Buddhism.
Memento mori serves as a reminder that there are so many more things that I wish to do (or paths I wish to take) than I will actually do. And that everything will change in ways that I cannot predict. So even on what seems like a terrible day (when I want to complain to others about life being hard), there are good things that happened. And I try to remind myself of those and appreciate them.
Life gives us lemons quite often. Our job is to accept reality and make the best of it. In finding the positive, we will ensure whatever happens in 2023 will have meaning.