I love the end of the calendar year, and not just because i get to buy a new diary and calendar (what IS it about opening those new diaries, calendars and journals that takes me back to childhood?!).
I find this pre-Christmas and New Year period such an exciting, ‘liminal’ time between the old and the new. You get to reflect, assess, recap…and prepare for change. If it’s been a tough year, you get to control how you frame it, and if it’s been a great year, you get to celebrate and stay in the vibe.
There’s a number of rituals I’ve been doing for decades, and they all involve journaling. But this year (WHAT a year) I’ve gone even deeper, assessing the year in detail month by month. I don’t just look at ‘achievements’, because I find this gives an incomplete view of personal growth.
Because even if you didn’t meet your ‘goals’ for the year (and I didn’t) or achieve the big dreams you visioned last year, you can be certain you grew. As long as we’re alive, it’s impossible not to! This deeper ritual helps me to have more empathy for how and why I may not have achieved the goals I set, become more conscious of how I’ve spent my time, energy and attention, and understand what I learned and how I grew instead.
“Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans…”
On ‘FAILING’ to reach our goals
A student in my Memoir programme emailed me this morning to say that despite signing up early in January, she has only completed a few chapters because of a personal issue that has taken much of her energy and focus. She sounded down on herself for not achieving this big goal, and I know I can too easily beat myself up for the things I ‘failed’ to achieve which i wrote on a giant list at the beginning of the year, or things I perhaps invested in which haven’t yet bought a return.
But this is the thing – if we don’t reflect on WHY we didn’t do the thing… we will either beat ourselves up for no good reason and / or keep repeating the cycle. AND – perhaps what we did instead was more meaningful and significant anyway? How will we know if we don’t take a look at what happened?
I like to be quite detailed in my self-reflection ritual, and this is why…
Reflection gives you context and empathy
Context is important in every story. I remember when I was drafting the sample chapters for A Letter From Paris, my agent at the time kept saying “make sure you include your point-of-view in those first pages…” because without this context of who I was when a specific thing happened, the story made no sense.
And this is why writing memoir gives us empathy for ourselves – because we look at the various contextual factors that have contributed to the decisions that might look ‘strange’ to the outside world, or the achievements that may have looked ‘easy’ to the outside world, or the supposed ‘failures’ to achieve a material goal when we were supporting a sick loved one 16 hours a day or working in a healthcare crisis during a global pandemic for 2+ years without a holiday or, in my case, living with such intense privacy and noise interference in my home environment from something I had no control over that meant I performed at 15% capacity and developed a severe anxiety disorder. After looking at my ‘data’, I’m amazed I completed anything at all!
Before you set your new year’s goals
So, before I set my creative goals for 2023, I’ve been working my way through assessing 2022. I go month by month, looking at my business, my personal life, my health, my daily habits, my creative / spiritual life (for me the two overlap!) and my relationships.
So, my pre-christmas gift to you is a glimpse at my end of year’s reflection exercise and rituals to plan for the new year:
BUT FIRST – WHERE TO FIND THE DATA?
If you’re are not sure what you’ve been spending your time on, and you don’t keep a paper diary, take a look at your bank statements. These are ILLUMINATING! If you’re writing a memoir and can’t find records of that time, look at your bank statements. You’ll see how you ate, what you bought, and where you went…what you were doing in certain months! Data doesn’t lie!
WHY AN END-OF-YEAR AUDIT?
I know, it sounds so ‘dry’ and corporate, but like anything, it’s important to get a clear view of where you’ve been, what you have, what you’ve dealt with, where your time is going. Most of us set completely unrealistic goals, and not because we can’t achieve amazing things in this lifetime, but because we aren’t looking at the context in which we’re living.
When I look at the years I achieved seemingly impossible feats it’s usually been because of what i said NO to and let GO of, just as much as what i did.
And i couldn’t have known what to let go of, drop, refuse or cut back, without an honest assessment of where my time, energy, focus and fulfilment lies.
HERE’S WHAT I DO:
Create a google sheet and list each month of the year along the top – here’s how mine looks, I find it helps to break it up into quarters – here’s the top of mine:
Then, going month by month (referring to your diary or journal or bank statements, if you need to!) make columns along the left for the following:
☞In one column, list your income sources for the month [if you’re self-employed, like moi, break it into product or offer creation, delivery, promotion and marketing]
☞In one column, list your business expenses for the month – from software to travel to all the expensive toasted sandwiches you buy because you’re miserable working for the Government (sorry, just having a flashback to 2016!)
☞In one column, list your working hours for the month [if you know them. I haven’t been tracking mine, but I’m going to start using an app called Toggl to get this info. If you’re self-employed, like me, it’s important to know what’s taking the most time etc.]
☞In one column, list your creative work for the month [eg. wrote a first draft of an essay, pitched to an agent, followed up with an agent etc.] This might overlap with your business, it totally depends on what your ‘main’ job is.
☞ In one column, list any self–education or coaching or reading or courses you completed
☞In one column, list any big purchases that month [again, bank statements will help if your memory is poor!]
☞In one column, list any personal issues things that came up that month [if you’ve blocked it out, look at your diaries and bank statements! This is so important!] THIS MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT COLUMN!!!
☞In one column, list health issues or achievements that month [eg. quit sugar, started new medication, saw a naturopath or went to hospital, etc.]
You can add different things to your columns depending on your life and your business, this is what worked for me. Because I run an online business, I also included new courses / products created, marketing created, ads ran, audience growth, and more stats on those numbers. I think next year I want to break the health stuff up into more columns, because I have to get regular blood tests for an issue and i want to track those improvements.
AFTER YOUR AUDIT – JOURNALING
I find that looking at the year laid out like this, helps me make much better decisions when planning the year to come.
Also, importantly, LOOK AT YOUR PERSONAL COLUMN MONTH BY MONTH – this is where you’ll get your context and empathy and pride for how and why you didn’t ‘achieve’ certain things or what you did achieve!!!
After doing this exercise (and yes, it will take awhile!) I then go through the list / data and start a new clean document.
WHAT FULFILLED YOU?
Start by writing stream-of-consciousness with your overall impressions on the year that just was, and the most significant things that stand out to you after completing your audit.
When you’ve put those important things down on a clean document, work through the following questions, and you could even create a new audit reflection document with the following…
- What new content / products did I create (I break this up into specifics, like blog posts and book drafts and you-tube videos, but yours will depend on your business creative life) ?
- What went well?
- What was I up against that perhaps I haven’t given myself credit for?!
- What didn’t work / do I not want to repeat? What did I learn about myself from this?
For me, it was pitching and launching too many things rather than focusing on one thing, staying in that apartment WAY longer than was healthy, and winding up in the hospital emergency room more times than I’d like to remember. This all taught me that I am super sensitive to noise, my physical environment and other people’s energy, but rather than fight it, which I tried to do, I need to work with it. Simple as that.
- What were my BEST most useful purchases and time investments?
This might surprise you! I’m always surprised when i go through my finances and see what was an incredible purchase, it’s not always about the cost. My new phone and a subscription to an esoteric reader on patreon were my top purchases. The new phone was almost $2000 but the subscription was only $120. I love listening every week as i do my planning and cooking. It’s like food for the soul!
- What did I finish this year?
This could be relationships, jobs, projects, life cycles… tax debts… anything, big or small.
- What coaches / educators / courses / books made a positive impact on me?
- What was a waste of time or money or a use of time and money that left me feeling lacklustre, uninspired or unfulfilled?
- What interactions and events made me feel empty / dissatisfied?
- What were the most meaningful and significant events of the year and why?
- What relationships were significant and fulfilling, and why?
- What special things were said that I’d like to remember?
- What were my top 3 highlights of the year?
- What fun creative thing have I started that I always wanted to do?
Eg. french lessons, gardening, guitar…
- What am i SO ready to let go of and why? What will I need to say ‘no’ to, going forward?
- And then…. What will I do differently next year?
For me, I want more ritual and routine and consistency. The wild rollercoaster spikes and troughs in my creativity and output were directly linked to my health and stress issues. Daily routine MUSt come first, for me. This is why I’ve always loved this quote and i include it in my writing course while guiding writers through setting the stage for success with writing a book draft:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
It’s important to do this exercise before you start planning your new year goals and intentions, because we so often kid ourselves at what’s fulfilling, how much time things take, and what is satisfying!
I’ve been reflecting on some of my most satisfying and fulfilling years and usually, they’re the ones where i did LESS, but focused more. Like the year I got the book deal for A Letter From Paris, which I could not have done had i launched / created / started multiple other projects. And the next year, when i wrote it! I said ‘no’ to so many things to achieve both those goals.
I’m wrapping up this exercise today, before the new moon in Capricorn tonight which is the perfect time to set goals and plan the new.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ME
Speaking of the new, I started growing my own vegetables from seed about a month ago, which I’ve never done before. It’s intensely therapeutic and surprisingly creative! My Christmas present to me is time on the porch with said plants, listening to the kookaburras and watching the sunset (while spritzing myself with aeroguard because the mosquitoes are enormous this year thanks to La Nina!).
You can’t force a thing to grow. You can’t interfere with it. It’s all hidden. It’s all unseen. You just gotta wait ’til it pops up out of the ground. Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong enough. Strong enough to break the earth even. It’s a miracle.
Sam Shepard, Buried Child
WHAT I’M READING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
I ordered Jamie Beck’s intensely beautiful photographic memoir of moving to Provence months ago and it arrived this week – I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I had a quick browse and there’s something for everyone – recipes, photography, France, and memoir…I might pop her Provence playlist on the speaker before I open it up !
I also ordered myself a letter-writing kit from Feather & Nest. These are hand-curated boxes and remind me that when I’m happy, I write letters. If i’m not writing letters? Something needs to change!
Happy end of 2022 everyone. Here’s to an amazing 2023 full of growth, miracles and creative fulfilment.
To your success,
Beautiful and inspiring, thank you. Blessings to you for 2023 and beyond xxx
Thank you! Blessings to you, too