The New Year is the perfect opportunity to reset and start afresh. You have a 12-month blank slate to achieve your goals, build new habits, and make positive changes. That reality can feel both exciting and overwhelming. Naturally, the motivation that comes with a fresh start begins to fade within the first few weeks. That’s why it’s important to approach the next 12 months with a clear, achievable strategy that is rooted in your values. In this article, we’ll share seven steps for planning a successful and fulfilling year ahead.
Reflect for Clarity in the New Year
It’s tempting to dive straight into setting new goals and promises. Especially if you’re not happy with how the last year panned out. However, it’s important to pause and reflect on the good, the bad, and the unexpected. You may not have reached some goals but your progress is still worth celebrating. By honestly reflecting on the last year, you’ll find things you want to improve on, maintain, or remove from your life.
You can start by reflecting on previous goals or start writing down key moments from the year. This could be in a list format or a journal-style entry. There’s no right or wrong way to reflect! Think about your achievements, things you wished to improve, what didn’t go well, and why. Try to do this with an open mind and avoid shaming yourself. You can learn from these experiences, cherish the good ones, and keep progressing.
If you find reflection difficult, you can use tools like the Wheel of Life. This is a visual representation of how you feel about various areas of life. It includes categories like family, spirituality, money, and more. You rate how you feel about each area and can create a visual overview of your current state. You can then use this tool to start reflecting more deeply on each life area.
Create a Vision Board
After reflecting on the previous year, it can help to do something creative. Vision boards are a fun and unique way to imagine the year ahead. What does your ideal life look like this year? This is particularly useful if you find it hard to communicate your vision in writing. The process of creating a vision board that represents your goals can help you to reflect on what matters to you.
Throughout the year, your vision board will serve as a reminder when you lose focus or motivation. In a world where we see the lives of others every day online. It can help to have refined your own vision to follow and prioritise. You can create a physical vision board using printed images or magazine clippings. Or, you can create a digital vision board using online tools like The Landing and Canva.
Set Value Driven Goals
It’s easy to lose steam and motivation for long-term goals. That’s why focusing on what you value can be a better way to achieve your goals. Your values inform the actions you wish to perform every day (or however often). Over time, these meaningful actions will help you to hit your goals which act as milestones. This approach allows you to enjoy the journey towards the goal and the accomplishment itself.
Most of the time, your goals focus on outcomes or things you want to avoid. For example, I want to buy a house, or I want to lose weight. These goals are based on our values. However, we haven’t acknowledged that. To find the motivation to work on these goals in the present, you need to understand what value they fulfil in your life. You can then align daily actions to bring this value to life and long term - hit that milestone. These values might be: I want to buy a house because I value providing for my family or value having independence. A desire to lose weight could be rooted in values around health and well-being. You can read more about the idea of values from Casey Rosengren, a coaching expert who uses acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Understand Habit Building
Habits are simply the behaviours we choose to engage in every day. So, why is it so hard to build new ones? Some habits are automatic like brushing your teeth in the morning. You might have even successfully built a few personal habits like daily walks or a morning routine without much thought. But how can you automate other valuable behaviours? More importantly, how can you break bad habits?
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, proposes that you can achieve self-improvement by improving by 1% every day. Likewise, 1% of bad habits every day can compound into negative results. Clear outlines that each habit is made up of a 4-part habit loop: cue, craving, response, and reward. These four steps form a habit loop that encourages you to keep engaging in the behaviour, whether it’s good or bad. Here’s an example: You hear a notification sound which acts as a cue. This creates a craving to see what it’s about. You then respond by picking up your phone to check. Your reward satisfies that craving, and this leads to you associating the notification sound with picking up the phone.
This cycle can be found in many of our habits. Based on this, Clear purposes that to form habits, we need to make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. This means finding ways to recreate those habits you keep coming back to. Likewise, breaking bad habits means making the habit invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. You can learn more in his book Atomic Habits, check out his blog, or find simple guides related to these four laws online.
Create a New Year Plan
You can now use your vision board, value-driven goals, and habit-forming knowledge to outline the year ahead. Be sure to dedicate some time to breaking down your goals and habits into a list of actionable steps. This might take some time but in the meantime, you can use those broad plans to outline the next year.
First, divide the year into quarters. It will be easier to maintain a sense of motivation and focus if you use a quarterly planning method. Each quarter will feel like a fresh start and be targeted towards a fixed set of goals and habits. Second, create a list of goals and habits for each quarter. You could also divide a large goal into four key milestones. This can be broad to start off with and refined later on. It’s a simple way to ensure that you’ve accounted for all your goals and habits in a sustainable way throughout the year.
Finally, you can begin making a more detailed action plan for each month. This can later inform weekly and daily to-do lists and plans. The best part of this approach is being able to plan in small chunks. You can focus on one quarter at a time and target a smaller sub-goal each month. For each quarter, you can also outline key life events related to work, family, or education. This can prevent burnout, maintain your motivation, and help you navigate your goals around daily responsibilities. If you like this approach and want some more structure, check out the 12-week year planning system.