Welcome friends to Episode #90 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. As we begin a new year, we often evaluate what we want to have more or less of in our lives. It’s a great time to reflect on who we want to be and set some concrete goals for ourselves. It can be challenging, however, to see what is possible to actually achieve and change in your life without some guidance. If we already knew what to do and how to do it, wouldn’t we have already done it? We also might feel so stuck at times, that we don’t want to dive into examining what’s next. In today’s episode, I’ll give you some landmarks to help you get started on ideas on how to create a fulfilling life, without feeling overwhelmed.
Let’s define what fulfillment means before we get started. I think many of us may think of fulfillment as something that is arbitrary and hard to achieve. Something similar to enlightenment or nirvana. However, I’ll challenge you to see it as actually something so achievable that we no longer have an excuse NOT to live a fulfilling life.
Fulfillment means the “achievement of something desired, predicted or promised” – as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. Yet, the word fulfilling in the Oxford Dictionary means “to make someone satisfied or happy because of fully developing their character or abilities”. When we think of a fulfilling career or life, we think of whether or not we’ve fully developed ourselves.
This is why goals and intentions matter. Not in the way that New Year’s resolutions are defined, which are often a reaction to what is a known behavior in the previous few months – such as I’ll eat better in the new year. Goals and intentions matter because we set them to ask of ourselves if we are fully developing our character or abilities.
Creating a fulfilling life, then, isn’t an exercise in something that is entirely undefined – it is asking you what kind of person you want to be and have the ability to be – and living into that person.
Step 1: Review this past year for highlights
How do we know what character or abilities we want to live into?
One of the first steps in the exercise is to look for clues for what lights us up. Many of us have created new careers and lives and had so many changes that we forget who we are and what we love. So look back into this past year and evaluate the highlights. I literally write down all the things that occurred that were moments of great happiness or joy or excitement – or even just pride from accomplishments.
I also write down moments and situations that created stress, worry or less positive emotions in my life – and not just leave it there, but ask myself what I’ve learned from these experiences. Usually that’s what the highlight is, a moment of learning or growth from a challenge. Maybe it’s a habit you no longer want to have in your life.
Highlights aren’t just things you experienced like a trip – they can also be a learnings you’ve had about yourself, your family, other people. While these may be harder to capture in a photo or to share with others, these can be just as important as places you’ve been or things that you’ve acquired.
If you have a hard time remembering, you can go chronologically through your calendar week by week or month by month to remember what occurred. You can also look in your photos to see what’s happening each month that you might have missed or forgot. You can also think back through bigger conversations or moments of connection that happened with the important people in your life.
Step 2: Observe themes across these highlights
What do we do now with all these highlights? We observe themes. We ask ourselves, “what patterns or themes did we notice across these highlights?” I have noticed that what it comes back to for me is this idea of people. We spend so much time doing things on a to-do list and checking off boxes and forget that some of our most important memories are the things that aren’t on the to-do list. It’s a sense of relaxation, love, playfulness, fun, or connection that isn’t something to do, it’s something for us to be. I love that about these themes.
We notice, for example, the reason travel is on our list is because we experienced adventure or relaxation. We notice that we are proud of a specific professional accomplishment because it means something like we’re finally stepping into a different part of ourselves and our abilities. These are fulfilling because they expand our sense of self and identity, showing us we are more than what we do or have done.
Step 3: Brainstorm goals that develop your character and abilities
The next step is to actually take all these learnings and themes to the next level by creating some ideas of what we want to accomplish in the next year. Maybe we really enjoyed our new healthy habits and we want to extend this into the coming year with another set of goals, whether it’s about consistency or improving the quality of our habits. This is helpful when you have another person to bounce ideas off of or a thought partner to help expand your thinking.
I also like to see them in my calendar. If it’s possible, I’ll schedule as many of these things into the year ahead of time so they’re essentially done. It’s amazing how we can create a 2022 that we are already looking forward to by doing these simple things. I love this process because it’s easy to see what the year ahead looks like when you’re intentional about what creates fulfillment in your life.
Some of us resist setting goals because we don’t want to set ourselves up for failure, but whether or not we state our goals out loud, we do have goals. They may be accidental goals that haven’t been questioned or they may be silent goals we haven’t articulated, but they exist all the same.
Many times, people are unsure of what they are doing now and what they want to achieve next, but even with no goal – there is a goal – and that might be to maintain the status quo. No matter where you are on the goal spectrum, this exercise I shared isn’t about setting new year’s resolutions. It’s about creating time and space to really think about what creates meaning in our lives. It’s about understanding ourselves a bit more deeply so we know what kind of character we want to build and what our abilities even are.
I remember the first time I did this exercise, I was visiting my husband’s family in Canada during the Christmas holidays. I had a lot of changes that were occurring for me career-wise. I felt like I no longer wanted to do what I was doing, and was contemplating quitting or making a shift. This exercise really helped me set the roadmap to what was a more meaningful and fulfilling life. All areas of my life improved and since then, I realized that this was one of the catalysts for making that kind of improvement to my quality of life.
Take an hour out of your day and do this exercise. You can even do it with family or friends. You can do this with your team professionally as well, to really set the stage for what you want to accomplish in this coming year. Either way, it brings us back to focusing on what’s most important, creating a personal and professional life that we’re proud of and that we enjoy. One that’s based on our own definition of success and appreciating big and small moments every single day.
I’m wishing you all a beautiful start to your new year. Let me know how this exercise works for you and what it sparks.
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