According to science, if you want to actually keep your New Year's resolution, it's better to start it February first. Why? Because the hubbub of celebrations and back-to-work chaos in January often gets in the way of thoughtful commitment to our goals.
Whether you take that advice or not, it points to a powerful truth. The holidays are actually a lousy time for serious reflection. There are just too many distractions. It's a fact I've been reminded of this week. As the festive period ends, I've felt a creeping need for deeper consideration of the year just past and the one just starting.
What changes do I need to make? Am I using my time well? Are my values lined up with my actions? These are the types of questions that are tiptoeing into my head as things quiet down. But what's the best way to dig into these tough but important matters?
Thankfully, my job offers me the perfect excuse to comb the internet for the best questions to spur deep and valuable thinking about how to position yourself for real success in the coming year. Here are some of the best I turned up:
1. What advice would your 80-year-old self give your current self?
Several coaches and experts suggest variations on this question, but perhaps its most famous proponent is Jeff Bezos. He decided to leave a lucrative career in banking to start Amazon by considering what his 80-year-old self would think of this life-changing decision. He concluded that while his imagined elderly Bezos would regret not giving his youthful dreams a shot, he wouldn't be much bothered by trying and failing (science backs up Bezos's intuition). Maybe imagining your future self can yield similar insights.
2. What one event, big or small, in the past year are you going to tell your grandchildren about?
Not all reflection is about goal setting. Sometimes what you need isn't to change your life. Instead, it's a new perspective on your current one. Was that horrible, terrible, really bad thing that happened to you this year actually as big a deal as you first imagined? Did the things (or purchases) that you expected to bring you joy actually do so? Are the things that you spend most of your time on actually the most important things? Answering this question -- from the unlikely source of a fashion blog -- might prove insightful.
3. What do you need to stop doing this year?
Adding goals is great, but for every additional minute you spend pursuing one thing, you're going to have to spend one less doing something else. If you want to have any realistic chance of making space in your life for new accomplishments, experiences, and emotions, you're going to need to prune back those that aren't serving you well. Identify what to trim with this question (then bone up on how to get good at saying no to distractions and unwanted commitments).
4. What are your most important relationships? How will you nurture them this year?
Success and happiness don't happen in a vacuum. The good life is almost always a function of good relationships, so if you really want to have an amazing year, you need to focus not just on self-improvement but also on improving your relationships, notes the Art of Simple. It's a great and, again, repeatedly scientifically verified point.
So don't just ask yourself about your own goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Also devote some time to pondering what you can do to better support your most cherished relationships and strengthen your bonds.
5. What will people say about you at your funeral?
That's creepy, some might respond. But imagining your funeral is actually a very powerful (if not incredibly cheerful) way to dig deep into the question of values -- what do you want to be your legacy? What are the most important things for you to accomplish here on earth?
You could just ask yourself, "How do I want to be remembered?" but actually imagining what your loved ones might say about you after you've passed (and reminding yourself of the finite time available to you) is a much more visceral way to force yourself to face whether how you're currently spending your days is actually aligned with the mark you hope to leave on the world.
6. If you were guaranteed to succeed, what would you do?
What holds us back from realizing our most fundamental dreams generally isn't logistics; it's fear. How do you conquer that fear (of failure, disapproval, or even success)? One way to snake your way around your brain's many crafty justifications and obfuscations is to ask this question from author Brian Johnson. It instantly reveals what you truly want to do if you could just beat back your terror. And knowing what you really want, deep down, can be the first step to pursuing it.
7. If you had all the time and all the money in the world, what would you do?
If you're biggest hang-up really is money and time (rather than fear), try asking yourself this variation of the question above. A business coach friend once did this to me over dinner, and I was totally startled by what came out of my mouth. It might be just as revealing for you.
8. Whom do you need to forgive?
Hurt, rage, and suppressed bitterness don't just hurt your relationship with whoever wronged you. They also siphon off your energy and hurt your chances of success in life. Do yourself a favor in the new year and forgive whatever grudges you've been holding onto. Not for the sake of the other party but for your own.
9. How you spend your days is how you spend your life. How do you feel about that?
You've probably heard this truism before, but when is the last time you've really sat with it and observed how it makes you feel? If this old adage makes you uncomfortable -- if you find yourself resisting it with justifications and "Yes, but ... " -- it might be a sign you need to change the composition of your days.
10. Are your shoulds getting in the way of your must?
"Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It's all of the expectations and obligations that others layer upon us," Luna has explained. On the other hand, "must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It's our instincts, our cravings, and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us." Which has guided you more in the past year? Which will take the reins in the next?