The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” I thought about this saying a great deal in the closing weeks of 2020. Every year brings new challenges and changes. But this past year, in particular, I found myself struggling as I tried to make sense of things. So many of the goals and plans I’d very carefully laid the groundwork for the previous year had been destroyed. What did I want to achieve this coming year? Had my goals changed? Had I changed? What would this next year even look like?
As I contemplated 2021, I was struck by the certainty that, now more than ever, Heraclitus was right — I’m not the same person, and these wouldn’t be the same goals.
Every year has the potential to throw a wrench in the gears or send us down an unexpected path. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s a journey of growth no matter what comes our way. And, more often than not, adversity can be an incredible teacher. One that helps us fine tune our skills and home in on what matters most.
If you find yourself at a bit of a crossroads, use the following to help tackle the year ahead.
Find a Word and Create a Theme
We’ve discussed resolutions before, and the best ways to build a foundation to make them happen. But if you’re finding yourself unsure about making resolutions with the uncertainties of the upcoming year, try picking a single word that represents what you want for 2021 instead.
Unlike a specific resolution about actions you may take or goals you may achieve, this word can function as a theme or inspiration for the year. For instance, the word “creativity” leads down a number of avenues. Maybe it means tackling a new project, taking an art history class, or figuring out new ways to spend time with family. Or maybe the word you want to go with is “growth.” There are limitless ways you can grow! From learning to bake taking on a new role at work — the world is your oyster.
By picking ONE word as a theme for your year, it gives you the wiggle room to realign goals in new ways should things get interrupted. Maybe the art class you wanted to take gets cancelled – that’s okay! There will be other, creative ways you can find to explore your word for the year and bring it to life.
Use the Lessons from 2020
Another great way to figure out what to do with your 2021 is to take stock of what you learned in 2020—and we’ve all learned something. Many of us have learned one particular skill this past year: resilience.
Resilience is most often defined as being adaptable despite facing adversity, and it’s a quality all of us can achieve. In essence, it’s our ability to withstand outside stressors. According to Penn State’s Positive Psychology Center, there are three main categories of skills that, if fostered, can help us build and maintain resilience:
- Learn to support mental and emotional well-being
- Understand and cultivate your strengths
- Work on building strong relationships
For me, one of the things I learned to help me stay resilient was creating new meaning for myself. I’ve never been particularly content to lounge, and always had a busy schedule. I tended to manage my time around my responsibilities or activities. Roller derby? Set aside some time on Wednesday for practice. A new chapter to write? Time block an hour on Monday. But when all of my side projects and activities were suddenly cancelled, I found myself struggling. Without all of the outside distractions, and more time on my plate than I’d anticipated, I found myself reevaluating what I wanted to do.
I created new morning rituals like meditation, implemented a strict dress code for “work” versus “play” time, and started creating new ways to
Ask Some Good Questions
Sometimes if I find myself uncertain about my next steps, I like to start with work my way back. As the writer Zora Neal Hurston put it in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and year that answer.” But how do you know what questions to ask?
Asking smart questions is an art form, and one that can help us illuminate more than we initially thought. As we put it in The ONE Thing, “The quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question.” When it comes to asking good questions, make sure you do the following:
- Find the right type of question. You don’t want to be too small or too broad. Instead, craft something that’s both big in scope and specific enough to be measurable.
- Create the right environment. Make sure your question comes from a place of creativity and openness.
- Let go of your assumptions. Don’t come equipped with what you think the answer might be. Instead, leave your assumptions at the door and be prepared to spend time in deep thought and research to find the answer.
- Make sure they’re open-ended. Don’t rely on yes or no questions. Yes or no questions don’t engage our minds and lead to dead ends. Instead, look for questions that ask “why” or “how” something will or should get done.
- Ask follow-up questions. Don’t stop with the first question. Keep asking more questions and engaging with your thoughts and ideas.
For instance, if you want to figure out what you want to accomplish in 2021, ask questions like:
What do I want my 2021 to look like at the end of the year?
If the answer is “A successful year in writing”, I need to figure out what, exactly, that means.
If I want 2021 to be a successful writing year, what does “success” look like for me?
What things would I need to learn, or what goals would I need to accomplish to reach that definition of success?
If success for me is compiling a collection of short stories — well, I’d better set some goals around my writing time. From there, I work backward to figure out what my first domino will be. If a collection is ten to twelve stories, I need to write at least one story per month. If a short story is around 5,000 words on average, that means I’ll need to write 1,250 words a week. Which means I’ll need to write around 180 words a day.
By asking questions that are both large in scope — having a successful year of writing—and being specific — ten to twelve stories — I’m able to create measurable goals to make that happen. From there, I can build time blocks and form habits that will support my goal.
What are some of your goals or plans for 2021? How do you plan on sticking to them? Let us know on our Facebook page!