I love this time of year.
It’s a great time to pull back, take a break, and reflect.
It’s also a great time to look ahead and think about what you want to accomplish in the coming year.
But what do you do when you’re in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic?
This pandemic has upended our way of life and society as a whole—and maybe even impacted our health or that of our loved ones.
Does it still make sense to look back at a year filled with so much pain and chaos?
And how can we plan for next year when we don’t even know what next week will look like?
In this week’s podcast episode, I address these great questions … what I’ve struggled with this year…and whether we can still set goals when the future looks so uncertain.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.
Before getting started, I should tell you that I don’t pretend to have all the answers.
I have some strong opinions about much of what’s been happening and what lies ahead. But even so, my opinions continue to evolve.
I’m going to be as open as I can in this episode. But I ask you to consider the context of what I have to say and not just soundbites.
Looking Back at 2020
If you don’t take inventory of the quarter or year that just went by, you’re missing out on a critical element of goal setting.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What went well this year?
- What are the most important lessons I learned?
- As I look back at the year, what am I most proud of?
- What were my biggest challenges?
- How did I address those challenges? (Be easy on yourself here.)
- If I could call myself on the phone this time last year … and I had only two minutes to say something to my December 2019 self … what would I tell him/her…and what advice would I give myself?
Taking Stock of Where You Are Now
Most of humanity is experiencing some degree of pain and loss right now. So if you’re feeling that way, you’re not alone.
An excellent article on this topic is “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful” by Tara Haelle.
The author explains that when the pandemic hit in March, most of us started tapping into what she refers to “surge capacity” to operate.
“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.”
She goes on to say:
“When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed. But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?”
The author also introduces the concept of “ambiguous loss,” which is any loss that’s unclear and lacks resolution.
When you experience an ambiguous loss, you share in the same experiences as someone who’s lost a loved one—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I’ve felt all those things this year. And frankly, I have to admit I’ve experienced a lot of anger.
It angers me that we’re not having an honest and balanced discussion about this. The narrative is so myopic. Because at the end of the day, this is really a discussion about trade-offs.
I’ll admit that getting stuck in anger mode is not healthy. It hasn’t been good for me.
Moving into acceptance (as best as we can), I feel is a good start. And I’m working on that.
With that, here are some good journal prompts to help you take stock of your current situation:
- What’s going well in my business?
- Where am I feeling stuck in my business?
- How can I start making some progress in those areas? Who could help me do that?
- Does the idea of ambiguous loss resonate with me? If so, which grief stage am I
having trouble with—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance?
- What small steps could I start taking to better deal with this loss, with the understanding that it’s not a race and I can only do what I can do right now?
I’m still angry at things I can’t control. And because I now see that I’m dealing with an ambiguous loss—which by its nature means that it’s unclear and lacks resolution—I need to focus more on the things I CAN control.
I can control my emotions. How I react to events and information. And what I decide to do about obstacles in front of me.
I’ve also decided to expect less of myself. As a high achiever, that’s very difficult.
But I’ve come to the realization that my surge capacity HAS been depleted. And I’ve started to work on this.
It means more and better self-care. More time for myself, which is something I discovered I gave up this year (not good!). More time in nature. More time away from work. More quality one-on-one time with my wife and kids.
It means giving myself time to just be. To grieve, to just sit there and relax and give myself a mental break.
It means working on new, creative projects.
It means taking better care of my health with more sleep, better nutrition, more consistent mindfulness meditation…and continuing my work on setting and upholding boundaries.
It means accepting my limitations.
It also means working on my most important relationships—which has been an important focus for me this year. I’ve done well, but I want to do even better.
Looking Ahead at 2021
I can tell you two things I’ll be doing a bit differently in 2021.
First, I’m going to be way more focused on developing habits and systems.
I’ll still identify outcomes I want to achieve. But rather than obsessing over progress, I’m going to be way more focused on identifying the habits and systems that will dramatically increase the probability of achieving those outcomes.
Second, I’m going to be much more focused this coming year on “who” instead of “how.”
After reading the excellent book Who Not How by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy, I’m more convinced than ever that I need to focus on finding people who can help me achieve specific goals rather (a collaborative approach) than focusing on how I can personally accomplish them (the DIY approach that most of us have been taught).
- If I could visit the future and look at my life one year from today … what would need
to have happened this past year in order for me to feel happy with my results in this area (or areas)?
- What one big project/initiative, if deployed properly, would have a massive impact on my business next year?
- What if I had a family or health emergency and could only work for two hours a day for the next few months. How would I spend that time?
- How could I be nicer to myself this coming year?
- What three habits would change my life in 2021?
- How can I make each of those three habits more obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying (i.e. James Clear’s four laws of habit development)?
- Who can help me achieve each of these goals or outcomes faster and with less stress?
- What simple action could I take TODAY to kick start that habit?
To say that these are difficult times is an understatement.
And that’s why now, more than ever, it’s so important to take a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to your planning.
But go easy on yourself. Your surge capacity is probably low or completely depleted.
Trust that all you can do is your best. And whatever comes from that will be good.
I hope you have a wonderful New Year and happy, healthy and prosperous 2021.
By the way… whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:
1. Grab a copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers.
You’ll discover a different way to think about your challenges during this crisis. Plus you’ll get clear recommendations to get you through the storm safely … and to come out the other side stronger than ever. — Click Here
2. Download a free copy of my book for writers who are NEW TO FREELANCING.
I’ll show you the 3 things you need to do to get your business off the ground safely and land your first paying client faster. — Click Here
3. Join my implementation program and be a case study.
I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories) … just hit reply and put “Case Study” in the subject line.
4. Work with me privately.
If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Just hit reply, put “Breakthrough” in the subject line, and I’ll get back to you with more details.