Is it just me, or has 2016 absolutely flown by? It's been a year of a lot of distractions for us, which has sadly meant we've neglected The Upward Spiral Project somewhat, something that we mean to change in 2017.
So my big challenge at the moment, and one I'm sure many other people are also wrestling with, is how do I make sure that 2017 is the amazing year I want it to be? How do I make sure that I achieve all the things I want to in all areas of my life? How do I keep focused and motivated even when things aren't going to plan? How do I balance holding myself accountable with being kind to myself? Sound familiar to anyone?
As I contemplate this my thoughts are inevitably drawn back to asking why I didn't manage to achieve those things in 2016, something that I'm sure I can't be alone in. In my case I think there are two primary reasons; firstly a lack of clear goals and secondly a lack of enduring positive focus.
It's not that I had no idea what I wanted to achieve, but just that I wasn't specific enough in defining my goals so that I actually had something to hold myself accountable to. In all honesty, I've never been big on goal setting. Primarily because of a fear of failure, or even a fear of perception of failure, if I committed to goals and then didn't achieve them. But in reality of course if you don't set goals you doom yourself to a much more fundamental level of failure.
When you clearly define and strive towards a goal you are guaranteed to learn from the process even if you don't achieve what you had originally set out to. Through those learnings you grow; you understand yourself better; maybe you realise that you were actually striving for the wrong goal, or maybe you gain some insight into what future actions you need to take in order to reach it, but all of those are positive outcomes. When you don't set a clearly defined goal you might still achieve roughly what you were hoping for, but if you don't you also don't have the clear lessons to help refine your goal or improve your next attempt.
The actual goals you set are much less important than just having some. Don't let worrying about the details...'I don't know, is that quite right, is that really what I want to achieve?'...get in the way of making a clear commitment to achieve something. You can always come back and revise the details of your goals once you're underway, the key is to get started!
Every good goal of course must also have a clear plan for achieving it; a defined set of actions you are going to take and measures you can use to monitor your progress. Once you have those in place the last big challenge is how you keep up the energy and enthusiasm for working towards your goal when real life kicks in. You know that kind of things I mean - you don't make the progress you were hoping to, things get busy at work, you get sick or an elderly relative starts needing more help from you - suddenly everything feels difficult. Which leads nicely into the second reason for my struggles in 2016 - a lack of enduring positive focus.
So what do I mean by enduring positive focus? So much of the stress and fear we experience in our lives is because we allow ourselves to become fixated on what we don't have rather than being grateful for what we do. And really it's no surprise that this happens, because it's essentially the way we're programmed from a very young age. Western society still largely promotes an attitude of scarcity, competition and consumerism. Every day we're surrounded by advertising insisting that we'll be so much happier if we just have this new *insert product or service*. Enduring positive focus is about finding a mechanism to bring ourselves back to positivity when things feel overwhelming. One of the most powerful ways to do this is through a gratitude practise.
Cultivating gratitude improves well-being and boosts your self-esteem and confidence by moving your focus from problems to successes. The most effective way to build a gratitude practise is by keeping a gratitude journal where every night before going to bed you take time to note three to five things you are grateful for that day. Actually writing the things down rather than just thinking about them creates a more powerful imprint in your brain, and doing this activity just before bed helps put these positive thoughts at the forefront of your mind as you go to sleep, which helps make that imprinting even stronger again.
When you're going through a particularly tough time it can be difficult to find things to be grateful for, but there is always something. Friends; family; the roof over your head; your ability to see, hear, smell; gratitude for the fact that this truly horribly experience you're going through is providing you with an opportunity to grow. If you can't think of anything start with being grateful for Google and search 'things to be grateful for' which will provide you with numerous lists of suggestions.
So that's my plan for 2017 - get specific with my goals so I'm clear what I'm trying to achieve and start a gratitude practise to keep me going through the tough times. How about you? How are you going to make 2017 your best year yet?