Six days from now, it will be my birthday.
Seven days from now, I will be on a plane, leaving the environment and routine I’ve created over the last 3 months here in New Zealand to the “old” routine and environment of my home in Portland, Oregon.
Every year on my birthday is when I “Take Stock.” It’s when I check in with where I am this year and where I am going.
Think of it as a fun, big-picture version of planning (I do).
The focus isn’t on goals. It’s on vision, on how my life is feeling, how my body is feeling, what fun things are most urgently lining up to be on my plate.
(And on keeping that plate just full enough, but not overfull. On maintaining a nourishing plate where there is space for giving what’s there the attention it needs.)
This year, the overlap has me changing things up. I’m not just looking at the usual big picture and intentions, but also what specifically do I want to bring with me back to my “old” environment. (We’re talking routines, schedules, mindsets, attitudes, habits, lessons. That’s about all my overstuffed suitcase has room for.)
It feels like it calls for a bit of a different perspective.
So, I’ll be doing all this while also taking a few days out of my usual routine. Relaxing by soaking in hot pools and enjoying a nice dinner out with a good bottle of wine. After three days of hiking, being out in nature and sort-of roughing it in sleeping bags.
Who says vision has to be hard work?
Who says being intentional and designing your life is all deep thinking and no play?
Crafting your ideas of what fulfills you, designing your plan of where you’re headed, building your personal foundation – and checking in with yourself on where and whether you are on track – is a process to enjoy and to savor.
Let it be authentically you. Let it nourish you.
Make it fun and inspiring. And useful.
Here are a handful of very simple, time-tested “tools” to do just that.
Theme. Anybody who’s planned with me knows I love a good theme. It’s part of my vision and new year planning. I use it for project planning and What’s Next work with clients. Of course, I didn’t invent the concept, but I’ve been road-testing it for 10 years. It works.
How you might use it: For me, this year’s theme is GROW. It’s all encompassing. From the expansion of my business to head-on embracing new situations in my personal life to enhancing my fitness and getting over my completely irrational aversion to driving a stick shift, there’s growth all around. And I intend to be fully on board for all of that.
Can you see an umbrella theme that captures what matters most to you at this time? It’s a great focusing tool. Every plan and goal must fit the theme. Or it can wait.
The Big List. An old favorite tool from many years ago, it’s been a while since I’ve played with this. But I have resurrected it this year, and I’m having a blast with it so far (and so are my clients). It’s a master list of everything I can think of that I want to do this year, be this year or have my year otherwise include. I like to use 100 as a good round number because for most people (including me), 100 is a good stretch.
How you might use it: When you’ve got a list of 100 activities, ways of being, things to do, places to visit, that intrigue or excite you, you will never be bored. Whenever I catch myself wondering what to do, or needing a motivational jump start, the list is my go-to place. It’s all at once a whole bunch of ideas and a reminder to go create your life instead of letting it happen to you. Just today, one of my clients called it “GoodReads for the soul.” And I think that sums it up nicely.
Calendar. I’m an Outlook fan from way back, and it has yet to not serve my needs. I also like to do big picture planning on paper calendars and in calendar books, where I can block out swaths of space. But there are a million ways to put things on calendars, set reminders, and make sure they happen. They’re like magic.
How you might use it: Anything that is a priority goes on the calendar. Period. (This includes daily exercise appointments with myself.) People often ask me how I take as much time off work as I like to do. Honestly, if it didn’t get put on my calendar early on, it would be quite unlikely to happen. I also color block out my ideal schedule. It’s not set in stone. It’s a framework. And it’s right there in color blocks, reminding me of what I said I wanted. Try it.
Top 5. These are the top 5 priorities that I choose for my time, energy and money– and if it’s not on the list, it’s basically a no. Personally, I tend to work better with broad categories that give me some maneuvering room– so 5 priority areas can cover a lot of ground. Be sure to review them once a year, or if a major event creates a need for change.
How you might use it: When it comes time to make a big decision, choose a course of action, take on new professional or personal projects– even spend free time– you can mentally check it against the list. If it fits, it’s a yes. Otherwise, an easy no. Before it became a habit, I used to keep my Top 5 written out where I could see it, on the bathroom mirror, at my desk, on the fridge. Now, it’s second nature.
Personal Foundation. I first came upon this idea back when I trained as a coach, and it so resonated me with that I devoured it — and built some very new structures for myself. I think of it as structural engineering for your life — your unique growth plan for critical elements such as needs and values, healthy boundaries, your definition of success and integrity, strengths, personal standards.
How you might use it: I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t benefit from a well-built foundation. It requires a bit of excavating and building upfront, but once that’s done, it simplifies life dramatically. At birthday time, I sit down, pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and give myself the 10-15 minutes it takes to skim through and see what wants shoring up, or what new levels might want to be built right now. It’s a beautiful coming back to self.
Reflection. There are numerous studies backing up the science of gratitude’s role in well being. And a recent study showed a 15% reduction in stress in workers who took time to reflect on what went right at the end of the workday. Personally, as an intuitive feeler type personality who also happens to love science, I’ve been drawn to reflection because it feels really good to acknowledge others and to shift your focus towards that which is going right. Mind. Shift.
How you might use it. I’m a huge fan of the Gratitude iPad app because it’s simple, colorful, easy and fits into the things I am already doing at the end of the day (reading a Kindle book and winding down). But a simple pen and paper will do. You could even just share your “what went right” with a friend or family member. I don’t use this tool every day. I use it a lot. And I always make gratitude and reflection a part of my birthday check-in.
These are just 6 ways to take charge of what you say you want, be reflective and at the same time, fueled for continuous action. They’re practices that change awareness, create possibility and impact your daily experience of life.
(This isn’t theory. It’s real life.)
Can’t wait to hear what you’re creating. And how.
Photo Credit: Dave Lawler