I love this time of year. No broken resolutions yet and my goals are still dangling like ripe fruit in front of me, waiting for me to sink my teeth into. Every December I read through old journals and marvel at how far I’ve come. I plan, I get excited, and plan some more.
Another way I like to plan ahead is to look in my rear view mirror at the previous year. I list all the things that happened, both the good and bad. I contemplate how to make it better next year. What did I learn that can change things for the better? This questioning is me (the 44-year-old Hope) asking the 43-year-old Hope what she wants for the 44-year-old Hope. This works even better if you go back further to a younger you. When I read my journals from 2-4 years back, the contrast is so stark from where I was then to where I am now that it helps me see the big picture of life more clearly and plan ahead for how I'd like things to be different.
Examining the past also helps me reflect on my reaction to events or circumstances. In life coaching we learn that it's our thoughts about things that cause suffering, not the actual event. The event is over, it's done. However, we often choose to get ourselves worked up and stay worked up, which creates pain. Two years ago things that felt overwhelming according to my journal were, a hard class my husband was taking, my daughter’s braces causing so much discomfort or a possible diagnosis of ADHD for one of our kids. Doom and gloom thoughts about these events kept me worried and anxious at night. My journal also told how I was eaten up with fear and uncertainty about my career. I repeatedly wrote about not being able to sleep, especially if I was working the next day. It's only in hindsight I can see how clearly out of alignment I was. The younger Hope was was confused and distraught about why medicine had become a square peg in a round hole. She only knew she felt terribly unsettled and didn’t know what to do to move forward. Seeing how my journey has played out over the last few years gives me a huge sense of peace that I am on a path. We’re all on a path and it will work out.
If you tend to focus more on the future than the past, try this alternate exercise by neuropsychologist, Tara Swart. She says in a lovely British accent that when you’re facing a decision, dilemma, or a split in the road ahead, you should take 7 steps forward from where you're standing in a room and turn around. The seven steps symbolize 7 years. From your new vantage point you give yourself advice from the future you who is seven years older and wiser.
I did this exercise in my kitchen one day after listening to Dr. Swart on a podcast. I'd been stressing about my coaching business. I don’t love being on social media and reading the book, Digital Minimalism cemented why it’s not great for my brain to be on social media for hours a week. My stress centered around thinking I had to market and brand and that I had to be a presence on social media to get clients. The future me, who interestingly also had a British accent, said, “Oh no, don’t do that. Do you really want to look back on these last few years when the kids are still living at home and think, “Wow, I killed it on Insta, I doubled my followers and I got triple the views!” No. That sounds nightmarish. The future Me told me to enjoy coaching, don’t put pressure on myself to be successful in the world’s eyes, just do what I do how I do it best and the clients will come. She also told me to enjoy my kids, like really be there for them. Enjoy their personalities, talk to them, hang out in their rooms. And she reminded me not to forget about my husband. She said we’re both getting older but right now in our 40s we can still do so many fun things together, things we won’t be able to do with bad hips, bad knees, and other health issues that’ll crop up as we age. She told me to take sailing lessons and not wait until I retire.
With my split personality of my past self, my current self, and my british future self in mind, I'm writing out my plans for 2022, but I’m tweaking one other things this year. I’m going to try using the 12 week year approach based on the book by the same name. The point is to not lose steam after a few months. By making my goals bite-sized, they’re doable but they’ll also add up over the year. So a “year” will last 12 weeks, making every day and every week count. Accountability is key. I’ll have to look ahead at each week, refer back to my 12 wk goals, and mark out each weeks’ goals and make sure I check again at the end of the week to see what did and didn’t get done.
So I divided 2022 into buckets: career, family and personal, and then I divided the work bucket into podcast, coaching, medicine. Personal might get split into things I want to learn, things I want to do, and who I want to be. Family might get split into activiites, marriage, and kids or something like that. Into each bucket I make specific lists of what I want to happen over the next 3 months. Not the whole year, just 3 months. I might list things like who I want to interview, who’s podcast I want to be on, which publications I’d like to see my writing in, which mentors I’d like to connect with, what I want my family life to look like, how I want my relationships with my kids to be, where I hope to travel and when.
Before you start writing, I want to go over one more thing I’m trying to implement this year. Not being perfect and doing it messy. You can tell from my lack of podcast editing that I don’t mind doing it messy in some areas of my life. But in other areas, I’m frozen in fear by the thought of failing. One thing that’s been on my goal list for the last four years is to finish writing my book. It’s in the self help genre and the chapters have changed a little as I’ve changed, but I still can’t seem to make myself finish it. I had a coaching call this week with a fellow classmate and she helped me see what was going on in my brain.
Being a non-fiction writer, I often put pressure on myself to have it all figured out before I publish something. Like, if I’m writing about motherhood, I need to have had a good day with my daughter not yelling that she hates me. If I write about marriage and offer tips, I need to have had at least a week since fighting with my husband. If I write about burnout in my career, I should be working full-time and seeing a huge # of patients to justify being burned out. As I was thinking about it, I wondered if fiction writers also feel the need to be Ms. Perfect. Did the author of 50 Shades of Gray feel the need to practice a lot of shades of gray before she started writing? I haven’t actually read that book, but you get my point. No one is perfect at whatever it is they’re teaching or writing about. And being not perfect means you will mess up. Just like my readers or my clients. Even my trainer at my gym has cake and wine sometimes.
And so this year I invite you to embrace your mess, your non-perfection, your I’m-still-figuring-it-out. I will share how my own journey is going along the way. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to have it all figured out. I can be imperfect and still help people. When women hire me to coach them, they don’t expect me to be God and have all the answers of their future. They just want someone who can help them move forward on their path.
One of my favorite authors and life coaches, Susie Moore, wrote a book called Let it Be Easy. She says “I’m learning as I go and it’s not my job to be perfect”. Don’t stress so much about the HOW you’ll make something happen. It’s the making that gets stressful and sucks the joy out of a goal. What if you could let it be easy? How would that change the goal? For example, I send a newsletter every Sunday. I put tips, a book I’m reading, a quote, a health nugget, etc. I used to stress about it, but I decided to make it something I’d enjoy reading. I made my newsletter like a cliff note version of tips, ideas, and cool things. It’s pretty easy. I do it in under an hour Sunday mornings.
I used to push myself to have a blog post every single week. That felt too hard and unsustainable. I decided to have two a month. That’s easier, doable, and fun.
Speaking of easy, how many of you add things to your New Year's resolution list that fill you with dread? Ask yourself, if there's a way to make it fun. For example, I don’t love posting on social media about my coaching. I feel too salesy. But what if I let it be easy by telling followers what I’m up to? What I’m reading, what I’m thinking. It allows them to see what I’m all about without offering them a new package deal and it takes away my feelings of dread.
Also give yourself permission to pivot as you go. You're not going to jail if you change your mind or decide a goal no longer fits. I tried studying functional medicine for 2021, I mean, I spent 15 hours a week listening to lectures, participating in group calls, and taking tests. And guess what? I don’t want to do the 2nd year. I quit. I decided the year of material was useful but I don’t wan to practice functional medicine every day. I might use some of what I’ve learned to help patients, but I gave myself permission to pivot. In 2019 I spent 6 months and several thousand dollars getting my yoga teacher certification. I taught yoga, I even hosted a yoga retreat with a friend. And guess what? It was an amazing experience and I learned a ton about me and how to observe what’s going on inside me, I deepened my meditation and yoga practice, but I decided being a yoga teacher isn’t for me except on an as needed basis. It’s okay to pivot and not know. I know I love love love life coaching right now. It feels 100% right. But will I do it forever? I have no idea. I also love podcasting, but I honestly can’t say if I’ll be doing it a year from now. I will always ask lots of questions when I talk to someone interesting and I’ll share their story with others, but will i be sitting in front of a microphone in my closet next year? I have no idea Homework: Get a blank sheet of paper. Think about next year at this time, how do you want your life to look different? Write out your buckets. Family, Work, Personal, etc. Get really specific about what and when you're going to do the things in your bucket. If your marriage isn't like you want it to be, don’t just write, “make marriage better,” or “go on dates.” Write out specific ideas and times: "go on a hike by the end of January, ask my sitter to watch kids so we can take salsa lessons on Thursday evenings", etc.
To summarize, what would your plan for 2022 look like if you a) let it be easy b) accepted imperfection and tried something for the heck of it c) knew that you could pivot at any point d) asked your future (7 years-older) self what she’s like for you to focus on this year? e) What would your younger self want you to do/not do this year?