Looking Back, Looking Forward

As I write this, it’s the end of November. Already. And that means that the new year (yes, 2022) is just around the corner.

This makes it the ideal time to start thinking about the year theme for the year to come.

What is a year theme? I explore the topic more in this blog, but as a refresher, a year theme is an idea or direction for the year ahead. It can be a word or a phrase. It is something that indicates where you want your year to go.

For 2021, my theme was ‘the year of order’. I wanted to put systems in place for my life and my business and to feel calmer and more peaceful by the end of the year. I wanted, if it was at all possible, to feel a little more under control.

That’s been a really good direction for this year. I’ve experimented with various ways of organising things and put a few new things into practice. And yes, I think that I feel just a little more under control now than I did in January. 

Now you may be wondering why I’m bringing this up now, rather than in the new year when everyone is making resolutions. 

The thing is, I think that a year theme requires a little thought. A little mulling over.

I mean, it’s something you are aiming to hang on to and work towards for a whole year (mostly – sometimes more, sometimes less). You don’t want to make that decision on January 1, when you’re exhausted from the party and fireworks the night before. You want to have a theme that actually relates to your life and the direction you’re going.

So today I thought I’d give you a couple of tools to help you look over the year that’s been, and think about what direction you’d like for the year ahead.

One tool is something I’ve pulled from Daniel Sih’s book Space Maker and the same idea got sent to me by a friend. It’s an activity I did while I was recently away on my retreat and it involves post-it notes.

Post it notes, coloured pens and highlighters
Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

To start with, you take your post-its and you brainstorm, writing down the significant people, places and events in your life from the past few years (or even over your whole life). You write one idea on each sticky note. These are things that have happened to you, or things you have done. Good things and bad things. Things that have shaped you. I wrote down events like the publication of my books, jobs gained and lost, my thyroid illness, moving house. Just write anything that you see as significant.

You then arrange these sticky notes in a logical sequence – a chronological sequence, or maybe in life stages, or any order or set of segments that seems right to you. I arranged mine in clumps according to approximately when they happened.

You can use a different colour of sticky note for the painful or bad things that have happened so that the good happenings stand out a bit from the bad ones.

When you look at this sequence, you can start to see patterns. You can see how your life has been tracking. You can see how God has been transforming you, and how he has used different situations in your life to bring you to who you are now.

From there, you can dream about the future more effectively. Sih recommends that you write your dreams and ideas for the future on more sticky notes. Once again, just brainstorm. There are no wrong answers here. 

This will give you direction, and from that direction you can put together some goals, and maybe even a year theme for next year.

Another activity you can do with these sticky notes is to write a story – your story. You don’t have to worry about getting the chronology correct in this story, or even to have all the details in there. But you can write about the significant times in your life. You can think of yourself as the main character and write how these times changed your direction, or helped you to grow. How you made key decisions or gained key insights. 

Again, this gives you some idea of where you’ve been and where you are going. It helps you to see the next step on your journey.

Alternatively you can review or reflect on specific areas of life. The areas I’ve noted below were shared with me by a friend who does this mapping exercise once a year. She says that it helps her to discern what’s next in the Lord’s plan for her future. And I think these are excellent questions to ask ourselves. I’ll be spending some time with them in the next month too.

Broadly we want to review:

Relationships. Are there specific relationships that are life-giving right now? Are there relationships that are draining? Is there something you can do to change or help with those relationships? (For example, visiting a particularly draining person with a friend.)

Serving opportunities. What serving positions is it time to let go of? What positions would you like to take up? Is it time to take up a position on a committee or a board? Is it time to stop helping out on a particular roster or being part of a particular group?

Significant projects. How many projects are too many? Are there projects you’ve been hanging on to that really need to be dropped in the coming year? Is there something you’ve been thinking about that you’d like to take up?

Self-care. Now is the time to book in holidays for the coming year. To book in intentional time with God, with family, with yourself, or with a significant other. This doesn’t have to be expensive. You can have a retreat at home or negotiate to use a friend’s place. And remember those Sabbath days once a week too.

And finally, is there something  new you want to take up. Is this year the year to branch out to a new idea or hobby or ministry?

Another podcast on this kind of thing used these six categories. (I wish I could tell you which podcast, but at the time of listening, I just noted the categories on a sticky note and kept moving.)

The categories are:

  • Work/vocation
  • Health and wellness
  • Relationships
  • Community 
  • Money 
  • Home

Some of these categories overlap with those above, which makes sense. Our lives are made up of these things. I’m not really coming up with some stunning new way to look at life. I’m just suggesting that we be a bit intentional about actually doing it. Whatever the categories you use, I suggest that you brainstorm what you have in each category now, and then really look at those things and see if they fit into what you want your life to be in the future.

As we look into the future, it can be helpful to look beyond just the next year. I guess this is why all interviewers ask you to tell them your five-year plan. Michael Lindsay in his book Hinge Moments quotes Dave Evans, the EA of Design Thinking at Stanford. He says that you should have not one, but three five-year plans.

The first is a plan for where you’ll be in five years if you keep following the path you’re on now.

The second, is a plan for if you take a sharp right turn – a job that’s related to what you’re doing now, but in a different direction.

And the third, is for if you do something wild. If time and money were no object and you knew you wouldn’t fail. What would your five year plan be then?

Having these three in your mind will help you to make decisions as opportunities present themselves. They’ll help you see opportunities that you didn’t know were there before.

So you can see that there’s lots to think about and mull over. I hope that you can make time to stay intentional about your life, even as the Christmas rush starts. And if you can’t even think about things like this right now, I hope that this blog will give you a head start on your January thinking. I hope and pray that it is helpful to you. And if you think it will be helpful for someone else, feel free to share this blog (or, if they prefer listening, let them know about the podcast).

A (very late) New Year Post

This blog post was written in early January. If you go to http://www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast you can hear the chat I had with Scott on Ultra106.5 about it at the time. I know I’m posting it on here a little late, I guess it is just another of those things that I’m slowly getting into order.

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It’s that time again. Time for new year’s resolutions. Time for new year plans. Time to think ‘new year, new you’ or some such thing. 

We do it each year, and as John Dickson says, it’s not really a bad thing. Resolutions are built on hope, he says. And hope is better than the alternative. Living hopefully is a good thing.

So I’m not pooh-poohing resolutions. But I am going about things slightly differently this year. 

I’m going with a Year Theme.

I got this idea from the podcast, Cortex, hosted by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. They have been doing themes each year since 2016 (I think). And Grey has done it for a lot longer.

OK, what is a Year Theme?

It’s an idea, a thought, a direction that you want the year to go. It’s a bit like having a word for the year, which is another idea I have seen around the place. But with a theme you are not limited to one word, so you don’t have to do the extreme hyphenation I did in 2019 when it was the year of  give-it-a-go.

It is not a goal, or something that you cross off. So in that way it’s not like a resolution. It’s not ‘lose 5 kg’ or even ‘exercise more’ or anything like that. It’s an overarching idea that you can use to measure your activities against and see whether they fit, whether they are something you should be doing.

Your year theme could be something like, the year of adventure, or the year of diversification, the year of stabilisation, the year of less, the year of fun, or the year of prayer or worship.

What is my theme for this year?

My theme is ‘The Year of Order’.

Last year was quite chaotic for me. Both my children got married, for one thing. And for another, we renovated our house to make a little home for our son Caleb and his new wife. And there were other things as well (of course) that added to the chaos. 

I decided back in November that I wanted 2021 to be much more ordered. Calm. Peaceful. 

I am using this theme to help me decide what to do and how to do the things I do.

OK, we’re two weeks in to the year, so there’s not a big sample yet. But here are some things I have done so far because of the theme I have put in place:

I have taken control of what I do on the church roster. Up until now, Moz and I have just gone with what we were given on the roster, unless we had some big prior engagement that meant we couldn’t serve in some way. This year, we looked at the months in advance and blocked out some Sundays when neither of us are on any jobs, so that we can just sit in church and enjoy each other’s company.

I have sorted out some cupboards and given things to the Salvos. Part of this is due to not having as much storage space now that we’ve renovated. But partly this is due to my year theme and trying each day to do something that adds order.

I have organised my calendar so that I have one day a week to work on my creative projects. A day with no coffee dates and no day-job work. And I’m trying to batch the other things I do each week so that my focus isn’t continually changing.

Daily I am asking myself in my intention questions (more on this later), ‘Have I done my best to create order today?’ And I’m keeping track to see how I’m doing. I hope to keep you updated as the year goes on.

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It’s never too late to put together a year theme. Unlike new year’s resolutions, you can come up with one at any time and apply it to any block of time that you like. It can be a year theme, but a quarterly theme is a really great idea too.

We’re heading into the second quarter of 2021 as I write this, and I’d like to let you know that I’m still following the theme. One of the things Moz and I have done as part of this is to plan out each quarter in advance, booking in times to work on our house, times to go away on adventures, and occasional Sundays when neither of us is on a church roster so that we can actually sit together. And I sorted out my filing cabinet yesterday. So this year’s theme is really working for me.

Do you have a year theme? Or has this post made you think of one? I’d love to hear what yours is. Let me know in the comments, or email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or visit me at https://www.facebook.com/RuthAmosAuthor