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Whatever it takes

As the nights start to draw in and winter draws closer I am tempted to tuck my head into my chest and go into hibernation like several other creatures in nature do at this time. Or perhaps drop a leaf or two like the trees in my garden and in so doing, lose the stress of looking intact over winter. None of these are an option, so I guess instead of allowing life happen to me, I can choose to take the reins and determine my steps. It’s interesting that what is winding down season for much of nature isn’t the same for us as human beings; while December may signal the beginning of winter, it is also the end of the year and therefore time to start making plans for the following year.

I know. I can almost see the panic on your face at the thought of adding planning for the next year to your already overwhelming to-do list. Most of us are more reactive than proactive when it comes to deciding what we want out of life – whether that is work, play or relationships. Little wonder we sometimes get to the end of the year blindsided by what happened – or didn’t happen as the case may be. Even for those of us that are planners by nature, we don’t often take time to dream when we plan, rather we plan what we know is likely to happen, therefore limiting the benefit that planning can bring. And for those of us who don’t like planning because we think it somehow takes away the spontaneity we value so much, life has a way of happening anyway, and not always in a way that is favourable.

Que sera sera is an overused cliché and does not have to be the mantra by which we live. Several studies have shown that when you make a well-thought out realistic plan, you are more likely to achieve it than when you don’t plan at all. One of my clients told me recently that she was amazed when she looked at her aspirations for the year written at the start of the year, and discovered most of it had happened. She wondered why she didn’t do it more often – write down her goals and work steadily to achieve them. What she noticed is only a confirmation of what has already been proven time and time again – the people that get where they want to are usually those that are intentional in what they do – and what they don’t.

So when is a good time to start planning for next year? Now, I would say. Aside from the frenzy of Christmas (which by the way you don’t have join), most establishments usually start to slow down around this time. It’s a good time to take some time out to reflect on the year that has gone and decide on what you would like next year to look like. I strongly believe we don’t reflect enough as a society. We always seem to be onto the next thing. Or is it that we are afraid that reflection will bring with it some disappointment at the things that didn’t go how we planned or imagined? We don't want to re-live the losses we incurred, the pain we went through. Reflection can be very positive though, as we can also reflect on the things that went well, the surprising highs, the moments of delight however fleeting. And most importantly, reflecting helps us determine what worked and what didn’t; what was really not as important as it seemed at first and where our priorities should lie in the future. It helps us see where we were strong and where we needed help; the people who helped us succeed, or endure the tough times.

We don’t stop at reflecting on the past though, otherwise the exercise is incomplete. Our past must inform us for the future. The things (or people) we decide to pursue next year will be determined by what happened this year. There will be things (and people - and I mean that in the nicest way possible) to drop, others to carry forward and new things to pick up. And this cannot be an exercise you undertake in your head alone, it must be written down (or dictated into a smart phone if you prefer) after all last I checked, the shortest pen is still longer than the longest memory.

Once written down clearly (and this could be done in one day or over several), this plan needs to be shared with someone you trust. The same studies that showed written goals were more likely to be achieved than unwritten ones also showed that accountability is a necessary ingredient for success. Telling someone means you cannot fail to do what you have said you would in secret. Someone other than yourself, someone who hopefully will call you up regularly to see how you are doing, needs to know what you plan to do and when you plan to do it by. There are several tools online that can help you formulate a structured plan for your goals in every aspect of your life. Find one that resonates with you and take some time to complete it.

It may have been said too many times but the people who fail to plan, really do plan to fail. But iit is a truth that bears repeating. Neither of knows what tomorrow may bring, and we may need to alter our plans many times due to unforeseen circumstances, but a moving train is easier to steer than a stationary one. As long as you remain flexible and hopeful, you can change plans as you need to, in order to weather whatever storms may come. Interestingly, creating a clear plan for your future somehow has a way of keeping you hopeful and optimistic. Try it and see. The bottom line is, you can't afford not to plan. Decide that you will do whatever it takes to create a plan and work diligently on it; you might be surprised by the end of the year at how far you’ve come.

“The best way to predict your future is to create it". Abraham Lincoln

If you would like some help creating a plan for next year check out these resources below:

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