Habits and planning for the year ahead

Two copies of 'The Year Ahead 2019 - 2020' lie on a table, with a blue pen.

For me, I find two things make a difference in achieving what I set out to do. These are:

  • maintaining set of habits that enable me to tackle the ups and downs of life and business and;
  • setting aside time to reflect, plan and set a direction for the year ahead.

As we ease into February, I can report that my plans for this year’s have hit a couple of speed bumps already. Talking with friends and colleagues, this seems to be a common theme with challenges following early successes as the year build momentum. This being so, I want to share two tried and tested techniques that have allowed me to remain resilient and keep things heading in the right direction.

Build and maintain a foundation of core habits

Last year, I set aside time to work on myself, finding and trying ways to help me maintain resilience, be more content and tackle the inevitable ups and downs of life. Below are six science-backed practices (via Shawn Achor and James Clear) that I have adopted and consistently work for me:

Replay gratitude – write down three things from your day for which you are grateful. This could be big stuff like landing a new job or simply the perfect cup of tea your friend made you. For me, in recent weeks these have included fish and chips on the beach with friends, being given a lei by a client and simply having options in my life.

Put one foot in front of the other – get out, about and moving for 15 or more minutes each day. In my world, this looks like walking the dog (no phone/earphones), hiking in a regional park or, on office-based days, simply lapping the block three times a day to increase my heart rate and my step count.

Look for the positive – take three minutes each day to write down as much as you can remember about a positive experience in the last 24 hours and how it made you feel. Recent examples for me include a hearing a great podcast episode about gratitude, having a meaningful chat with a daughter and finding pleasure in the flavours of a meal.

Practice kindness – when there’s no-one to help across the road or comfort through a tough time, we can simply take a few minutes each day to send a text, email or direct message to thank, praise or lift up a friend or colleague. Last week, I baked and shared cheese scones with the secretaries in the neighbouring office, much to their surprise which made me smile all day.

Small talk is healthy – strong friendships and professional networks are great but ‘weak ties’ – those fleeting interactions we have each day – can boost our mental health too. Swapping pleasantries with staff in stores, bantering with your barista and saying ‘Hi’ to strangers in queues can reduce loneliness and help us feel connected to the wider world.

Quiet your mind – do a short meditation each day to slowly build your mindfulness ‘muscle’. Having struggled with this in the past, I have found that apps like Smiling Mind, Calm and Headspace have really helped me learn how to meditate without feeling like a failure when I have to scratch my nose.

Use a reflective practice to plan the journey ahead

When I lived in London, I used the cold dark winter holidays between Christmas and New Year’s Day to think about what I had accomplished over the year past and what I wanted to do in the year ahead. Although I now celebrate Christmas during the hot and sunny New Zealand summers, I still find the holiday a great time to plan and have found a great resource that works well.

For the last four years, I have used YearCompass to review and close out the old year and then use those reflections to imagine and plan the next one. First developed in 2012 by a group of friends and colleagues in Budapest, it comes in the form of a printable PDF. This contains a great set of questions that assist folk to reflect on the last 12 months and use those insights to guide their future plans.

I have found that looking back before planning ahead has allowed me to keep my mistakes in proportion, remember and celebrate achievements and milestones and draw a line under past events I needed to leave behind.

What next?

If you have a favourite way to be present, stay focused and remain on track to accomplish your plans, why not practice a little kindness right now by sharing your tips and tools in a comment below. Alternatively, if you’d like some help yourself, please drop me a line to see what we can do to make 2020 a year to remember.