Being clear about what you want your life to be about is the first step to taking the action you need to make it happen.
And there’s no better time to reflect on what you want life to be about than at the turn of the year.
Whilst traditionally we’ve used New Year’s resolutions – with greater or lesser success – to set our intention for the year ahead, there are in fact a host of different ways to get clear on what you want the new year to be about.
Today – in the first of five days of articles in the run-up to New Year – I’m looking at the practice of New Year’s letters.
It's something you can do with a partner, a willing friend, or even just to yourself.
For the past few years, my husband and I have exchanged letters to each other on New Year’s Eve.
These letters look back over the year that we’ve just spent together and reflect on what’s worked, what hasn’t and what comes next.
Life flows so quickly that it can be easy to move on without really stopping to consider the time that’s gone.
At the end of a year that might have been difficult, you might just want to forget and move onto (hopefully) better times, but pausing to cast your mind back over the previous twelve months has many benefits.
First, it helps bring to mind the good times.
It’s easy to remember the difficult stuff – our brains are programmed to be alert to danger and so they naturally foreground memories of the hard times at the expense of the good, to make sure we don't forget the dangers we need to be alert to.
Great when living in caves and needing to remember to stay away from sabre-toothed tigers. Less helpful today.
Sitting down for an hour to think back through the year just gone can allow you to consciously bring to mind what's been good about this year, ensuring that your account is more balanced than it otherwise might be.
Given that our emotions are created by our thoughts, consciously moving our brains onto good stuff is a way of feeling happier.
New Year’s letters also help mark the progress that you’ll inevitably have made and missed.
Any parents knows that it’s only when you see grandparents or get to a new season’s drawer of clothes that you notice how tall your kids have grown.
Seeing them every day means you don’t notice the incremental growth.
Life is the same.
Writing these letters forces me to think about where we started 12 months ago and where we’ve ended up.
It helps me think about what’s working and what isn’t, and where I want to apply my focus this coming year.
And it helps ensure that Laurence and I are communicating about where we each are in life and what our hopes and fears are for the future.
Finally, it’s great reminder that – no matter how much planning you do – life will happen in ways that are totally unexpected.
Both of us last year said that we wanted a simpler life:
‘This year I want to really start to spend within our means, reduce our environmental impact and live far more simply’.
A global pandemic and a rolling lockdown meant we achieved all of those, albeit in a very different way than we expected.
What better reminder to treat each day with the wonder that it really deserves, being really present and not getting lost in worrying overly about the past or future?
Over time, I hope that our letters will build into a record of our life together. For now, they’re a really useful tool to help us reflect, connect and consider what’s to come next.