Do you remember how long 2020 felt in the moment? Yet now it seems like a distant memory. We are constantly being pulled into the past, feeling depressed or nostalgic, or being pulled into the future, alongside anxiety and excitement. If we do not intentionally slow our pace and sit to explore what was, while making room for what can be, we fail to cultivate space for what is.
In previous years I’ve done simple reflections based on Sprint Retrospectives — Start doing, Stop doing, Continue doing — and for the most part they’ve been useful, but this year I decided to go deeper and use a template that Ali Abdaal shared in a recent video.
The template is split into 3 sections, Reflection, Planning & Action, with each step building on the previous. After ~6 hours of reflection and planning, here are my key takeaways:
Step 1 — Reflection
Experience is the best teacher, but her greatest weapon is reflection. We must reflect on our lives — the ups and downs, the failures and learnings — as failing to do so is the same as panning for gold with a large holed sieve.
There is often more to be grateful for than we realise, especially once we look at our lives from a higher vantage point, reflection offers us this perspective.
These few hours spent on reflection are among the best I’ve invested in the past few years; it’s often the smallest of experiences that pack the greatest life-changing impact. Here are the 10 questions I found impactful to answer:
1. What were the ‘difficult’ things this year?
2. When have you felt proud of yourself in 2020? what were you doing?
3. If you had to teach one thing you learnt this year (that would improve one’s quality of life) what would that be?
4. What 3 people are you the most grateful to in 2020 and why? How can you thank them? How can you find more people like this in your life?
5. What new habits did you create in 2020? Which ones would you want to keep?
6. What things did you stop caring about in 2020?
7. What do you feel you’ve gotten a lot better at in 2020?
8. What did you rediscover pleasure in in 2020?
9. When you felt at peace in 2020, what were you doing?
10. At the end of next year, if you are drastically exceeding your expectations, what would you be doing?
As they say, comedy equals tragedy plus time, so do lessons in life.
Step 2 — Planning
Imagining a better life for yourself takes great amounts of courage. What I can promise you is that once you’ve dared to imagine a different life, you’ve done half the work.
Having goals and plans does not in itself guarantee success, but, not having goals does not help you avoid disappointment. Goals are there to give us direction, but once they’ve been selected it’s important to put them aside and focus on the work of moving forward.
The planning exercise begins with a Visualisation Exercise; How do you imagine an Ideal Ordinary Week 5 Years from Now, and again a Year from now? It’s important to imagine as much detail as possible; where do I live? How do I spend my mornings? What things are important to me? These details are important because they make it easier to translate that 2026 vision into its 2022 counterpart.
The visualisations serve as reminders and inform which plans in each sphere of my life will move me closer to the life I dare imagine. Once the visualisations are completed, I split my planning into 3 spheres; Life, Work & Bucket List.
I have a history of neglecting my personal needs, so I begin my planning with Life — Life consists of Health, Relationships and Happiness. These are the critical areas in my life that take care of everything else if they’re taken care of, and they also often get de-prioritised, so I make room for them first.
Work is made up of the things I do between 9 to 5 and the other activities I do under the moonlight, which move me closer to my goal of autonomy over my time.
“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” — Gloria Steinem
The Bucket List houses the things that add flavour and excitement to life. I try to pull a few things from my bucket each year, to make sure I’m leading the life I’ve always dreamt of.
Step 3 — Action
If you fail to reach this step you might as well not attempt this exercise.
“The trajectory of your life bends in the direction of your habits.” — James Clear
Now is the time to pick the hopes and dreams you wrote down in the previous step and turn them into Plans! Each goal will be interrogated by the following questions:
- Why? Why do I want to do this?
- Habit? What habits can I install which will ensure regular progress towards this goal?
- What are the possible 3 reasons for failing at this goal?
- Who can help me achieve this?
- How can I stack the deck in favour of my success?
- Action! What small thing can I action now, today, in order to make some progress?
At the end of the exercise you will have a template similar to this:
It’s time to execute — Remember to be patient with your progress, but relentless with your actions.