New Year’s Resolutions do not seem to work for most people. I have a lot of theories about this, which I will most likely share at the New Year. For now, let’s focus on today, which happens to be the autumnal equinox. Fall reminds many people of going back to school, a time to get new clothes, a new haircut, and new school supplies. It is a time of nostalgia, driven by the sound of crunching leaves and the scent of freshly sharpened pencils. We are burned out by the summer heat, enjoying the rain and cooler weather, and ready to turn inward as we head indoors for pumpkin spice everything and hot soup.
Every animal prepares for winter. “Winter is coming!” (Well, someone had to say it). Traditional people would take this time to repair the roof, lay aside firewood, make warm clothes, and generally make sure they, their families, and their animals had a good chance of surviving extreme cold and lack of fresh food.
Modern people are fortunate to be able to avoid almost all of these concerns. Technology allows us to live each day as the day before. We no longer have a built-in rhythm to inspire regular life review. The benefits of strategic planning may have escaped us entirely.
Two of the most important factors in a happy life are living in reality and minimizing downsides. Any positive feelings based on a misunderstanding or denial of reality are destined to end in tears. High-risk behavior similarly tends to end badly. Periodically, we need to pause and examine the way we are conducting our lives, checking to make sure that our assumptions are being borne out. Are our actions delivering the results we had anticipated? Given the current trend line, is the destination actually where we had planned to arrive?
My favorite tool for life review is called a life wheel. I have been unable to discover the name of the person who first introduced this concept, but at this point, iterations are everywhere. Feel free to rename the categories to whatever feels the best for you. The idea is to rate your own satisfaction with each category on a scale of 1 to 10. Connect the dots, making a shape. This allows for a quick visualization of any imbalances or “living small.” In an ideal world, my shape would fill the circle of the life wheel completely, with 10 out of 10 in each category. In reality, what I tend to get is more like a jagged, deflated Beachball. Since this is based on my own evaluation of my own life choices, it is a little easier for me to accept the obvious message that there are areas where I could be doing better.
Health. Sleep, nutrition, hydration, physical fitness, mental and emotional well-being.
Finances. Income, savings, and investments.
Work. Creative output, contribution, career growth, and whatever you do to make money.
Romance. Loving someone, or making space in your heart and life to do so.
Family/friends. Being emotionally available for those you love the most.
Community. Volunteering, being a good citizen and neighbor.
Personal environment. Hearth, home, and anywhere you choose to spend your time.
Personal growth. Education, inner work, personal development, philosophy, spiritual growth, forgiveness, etc.
Many life wheels substitute the category of community for hobbies or recreation. I do not include a category for hobbies or recreation, because I believe almost everyone turns to this area as a default activity. Most of us are never going to forget to have fun. We are much more likely to burn through all of our free time in entertainment and downtime than we are to do strategic review or keep up on all of our responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with spending a certain amount of time screwing off, playing games, staring at the wall, reading, or what have you. There is something wrong with neglecting our health, neglecting to save for our old age, abdicating our responsibilities, or procrastinating on serious legal, medical, or financial issues. Problems are a sign that we should be doing something differently.
I will now share some of my goals for each category, making my own life an example of how this process can be done.
Health: I have two backpacking trips planned this season. This is a big deal, because I have been out of commission most of this year due to my ankle injury. Recovery has been agonizingly slow and disappointing. I finally feel ready to tackle something that for me is a physical treat. Starting to be able to do real workouts again.
Finances. Focusing on paying off my student loan early. Due to precisely this kind of strategic planning, I have no consumer debt and my credit score is over 800.
Work. I have an absurd amount of projects in the pipeline right now. My weakest area is in executing and moving these projects to completion. This is when I look at how little is left of 2015, and anticipate how I am going to feel on New Year’s Eve when I look at the list of things I have not finished. Can I make the “Done” List longer than the “Not Done” list?
Romance. Perhaps what I’m best at. If you knew him the way I do, you’d love him too.
Family/friends. It is still hard for me to live so far away from almost everyone I care about. The backpacking trips and Thanksgiving should be great opportunities for me to spend more time with important people in my life.
Community. Coaching, and going to Mensa events.
Personal environment: I am starting to downsize again, with an eye toward hopefully buying a house next year. This will be my 28th move in my adult life, and I know it is easier when there is less stuff to move and unpack. I have made almost no progress in culling my book collection, the way I had planned to do at the beginning of the year.
Personal growth: Working on this block I seem to have about earning money from my creative output. Upgrading my foreign language study to include foreign-language media such as podcasts and TV shows. Reminding myself that I was going to study anatomy and geography this year.
This season, I am experimenting with a new practice. I am working on scrum as a work technique. This involves making a complete list of every project I have in mind, and scheduling progress in two-week sprints. This looks like a more effective way to make sure I make progress on all of my goals, rather than waiting for the turn of the year as I have done since I was nine years old. More on scrum later.
That’s my autumn 2015. What does yours look like?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.