My New Year’s Plan

I am not a fan of new year’s resolutions. I didn’t make any this year, or for many years. But I’m a big believer in mindful changes — actively reflecting and thoughtfully committing to new habits.

So, on new year’s day I sat down and made a list. I used a 3 x 5 index card which is one of my tools I often use when I’m not writing in my bullet journal — trying to keep it small and simple. And I created five columns.



In column 1 is a list of topics that are areas of my life that I want to pay attention to. I have chosen eight because I want to look at many aspects of my life. But if you choose to do this, you might want to just start with 3 and go through the process to get you started. In some cases there is overlap between the topics, such as partner and family, or physical activity and health & wellness. Here are the EIGHT I used:

  1. Work — what you do for a living (for pay or not)
  2. Money — your financial well being (income, expenses & investments)
  3. Partner — your partner in life that you have or want
  4. Family — close or extended family
  5. Friends — close & casual friends, local & long-distance friendships
  6. Physical Activity — anything involving movement
  7. Health and Wellness — about food, physical and medical issues
  8. Interests/Hobbies –what would you do with free time

As you can see, the list of eight covers much of my life. How I want to be, in each of those areas (or in which direction to move) is what the second column is about. I call it “essence.”

The essence column

ESSENCE in about a way of being. I like simple one or two word answers about the way I want to be for each of these categories. This closely relates to what James Clear calls “identity.” In his book “Atomic Habits” Clear suggests that there are three layers in behavior change:

  1. change in outcomes (your desired goal),
  2. change in habits and systems (the new behavior you will adopt), and
  3. changing your identity (your thoughts and beliefs about yourself).

So, if you really want to get more done in the morning, then you should start to think about yourself as “an early riser.” Or, if you want to stop being late, start thinking of yourself as someone who always arrives early. Of course, if you think you’re an early riser, then you have to think about how an early riser would behave — then you might start to go to bed earlier, turn off technology earlier, and eat dinner earlier and so on. And over time, you might just start actually being an early riser. But the first step is a way of being, or what I call “essence,” and I apply this to each topic.

The word(s) you choose for essence should be something that inspires and guides you as to your way of being related to this topic. I offer lots of suggestions below on filling out your own table.

The day column

In third column is the “day” column where I write a practice, routine or way of being that serves as a guide to my daily behavior — yes, daily. Some of my examples:

  • In work I want to be grounded and effective every day. That doesn’t specify WHAT I do everyday, but guides me to be centered (grounded) when I work, and to be organized enough to be effective.
  • With money I want to be aware which means mindful of what I’m spending money on
  • In friends I want to be connected — since the best way to connect it to be present and engaged, this daily guide means I will be “present” with whomever I am with
  • My interests are baking and reading and every day I can commit to cooking with time (setting aside enough time to cook the food I planned so I enjoy the process and can even start to experiment a little). In reading I can commit to reading one page — which is a micro commitment but what means is that I will always have a book on the go and that reading will be part of my daily life (even is it’s at a micro level)
  • In wellness I am committed to 30 minutes a day of stretching and strength training. I know that if I do this every day (or almost every day) as a way of being, that I will be gaining strength and flexibility. This 30 minutes is duplicated in the activity column since it overlaps well and is the one commitment that I can stick to on a daily basis

If this is sounding like a lot, then feel free to REDUCE the number of topics. Three might be a good number to start with. EIGHT it right for me because I have been doing this kind of inner development for sometime — but THREE might be better for you.

The year column

One the day is done, I jump to a year. The year column is where I put goals or outcomes that I will be able to measure or observe at the end of the year. Some examples of what I want to do, have or be are:

  • I want to be an accomplished vegan baker
  • I want to have advanced Enneagram skills and certification
  • I want to scale a difficult rock climbing wall

In 10 years

I have a “10 year” column because we over estimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. For some, a five year horizon might be better – -that may depend on what stage of life you are in and how much is changing. New companies, careers, relationships and families can all be started in a year — but they can be created and developed more fully over a number of years, or in a decade.

I won’t share all of my “10 year” column but to give you a sense, it can be about how you see yourself in the long run. It’s not really about what you do. So, in my decade column, under “activity” I have “strong, straight and flexible” meaning that I want to be stronger than I am now, I want my spine to be straight (or even straighter) and I want to be more flexible. If I do all this, while I age another 10 years then that will be a significant achievement. This long term vision becomes a filter — any physical activity I undertake should be accomplishing at least one of these facets of my fitness.

Below is the skeleton of my table. The words are minimal, and I’ve left some boxes blank because my intent is only that this serve as a partial example, and because some of the words that make sense to me might just be confusing. The real work will come in building your own.

Workskilledgrounded & effectiveskillsaccomplished
Partnerlovingquiet time
Familytouch points
Activityvarious30 min. routineclimb wallstrong, flex…

I hope I’ve given you enough details to help you understand my table and inspire you to try your own. Here’s a few more suggestions.

Filling out your own essence column

Here are some sample words to ponder for your essence column (for all eight, although you might choose to start with 3):

  • Work: Change (new job), skill (gain some), transition (moving somewhere), invest (investing in your career), ease (finding joy and peace in work), income (more), and re-launch (new)
  • Money: tight, generous, charitable, thoughtful, frugal, savings, and debt-free
  • Partner: kind, loving, patient, clear, communicative, therapy, laughter dancing, active
  • Family: happy, civil, harmonious, unified, caring, connect (plus all the others from partner)
  • Friends: Many, few, deep, connected, helpful, (similar to partner and family)
  • Activity: energizing, daily, calming, strengthening, challenging, inviting, aggressive, multi-purpose (the last one is mine — I like my activities to be soulful like my yoga class or social like my hikes and rock climbing)
  • Health & wellness: worry-free, active, dairy-free, mindful, meditative
  • Interests: read, bike, play tennis, bake, hike, bowl, dance, documentaries, bridge

I am always happy to hear from you, with any insights from my writings, or just to connect.  You can reach me through my about page or find me on LinkedIn.