(Note: This ran early in January, but since it’s now mid-year, it seemed like a good time to ask these same questions.)
Happy New Year! Whether 2012 was your best year ever or one you’d rather box up and stuff in a closet, I hope you’re excited about 2013. New year means clean slate, a chance to let go of mistakes or missed opportunities and push your creative life to new heights. Let’s kick it off with my favorite quote from poet Mary Oliver:
If you don’t know how to answer that, you’re about to find out. First off, I hate resolutions – they’re way too drill-sergeant for my taste – and I’m guessing you hate them, too. So let’s not make any. Deal? But it is important to take time before the new year gets rolling to look back at the last one and consider three questions:
What went well? What didn’t? What do you want more of in 2013?
It’s tough to know how to go forward without reflecting on the past, so take the time now to get clear on where you’ve been. Revel in the good stuff from last year and learn from the less so. You had some successes, but some bombs too? Join the club. Live and learn, c’est la vie, you can’t cry over spilled Malbec. Move on.
Once you’ve done that, here’s an exercise to jumpstart yourself into wild and precious mode:
#1: Make a “Wouldn’t it be fun to…” list.
The items on the list can be small (sketching once a week), or big (publishing a novel). The only requirement is that they sound truly fun, not something you think you should be doing. Go a little nuts with your list, and don’t worry if it seems crazy.
#2: Worst-case-scenario test each item.
It’s important to define the worst-case scenario because repercussions are scary, even when they don’t exist, and they stop us from doing the things we want to. It’s that devil you know versus the one you don’t – taking your desires and needs out into the light makes them seem more doable.
Really, it comes down to one question: Will it kill you? If not, keep it on the list.
#3: Pick one item and commit to it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s small or big, but pick one you can start on now. Here’s what you need to remember: You have your whole life to do everything you want to. You don’t have to do it all at once. Pick the first thing, make it happen, then pick a second. Rinse and repeat.
#4: For the item you’ve picked, lay out the steps it’ll take to accomplish it.
Writing a novel? The first step might be doing a rough outline of the plot. Then maybe you’d write profiles of your main characters, or there’s historical research to be done. Just keep asking “then what?” until the novel’s ready for readers, step by step.
And these steps, even if they’re small, might seem overwhelming, so remember – one step at a time. Don’t look too far down the list, because you’re thinking big but taking small bites.
#5: Put the steps on your calendar.
This is key, because life is so full that even though it might only take 10 minutes to do a step, if you don’t give yourself a reminder it won’t happen, but it must. You owe it to yourself.
You could create a task on your phone with an alert, or on a wall calendar. It doesn’t matter. But make sure you block out the steps and commit to doing them.
It also helps to get an accountability partner. Pick someone you trust – not your snarky sister or anyone else not fully committed to your success. Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, and ask that they check in with you every week or so to see how you’re doing. They’d ask what you’ve accomplished, if you’re stuck how they can help, and what’s next on the list. Making your plans public is a great way to increase the odds you’ll keep going.
Remember, there’s huge power in daily action. For example, if you wrote a page a day, in one year you’d have a draft of a novel. It might not be a great draft, but still, you’d have a fat chunk of material you can craft into something great.
Lastly, if you’re not exactly sure what you want to make happen, know this: Motion is more important than direction, because direction will emerge if you stick with it.
First, motion: Throw stuff against the wall. Then, direction: Notice what sticks. What do you keep coming back to, or what do others seem drawn to when you do or talk about it? Then: Do more of what sticks, and watch as your creative life blooms.
What’s on your list this year? I’d love to hear.
This column first appeared in The Taos News. Photo credit: Tom Brakefield.
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