By Suma Varughese
Now that we are almost at the end of 2003, it’s time to cross your Ts and dot your Is. In other words, complete the unfinished business and come up to date with your life so you can transit into the New Year footloose and fancy free.
The year is almost at an end. A significant slice of your life has been lived. How has it been? How have you changed? In what areas have you grown? What fresh skills, goals, achievements, experiences have you acquired? Any hard knocks and bruises? Any learning through the path of pain? Or, lucky you, through the path of joy? How is your health? The state of your relationships? Finance? Career? Family? Personal life? Are you a better person or the worse for the year that is about to pass?
December is the month for reflection. For taking stock and coming to terms with all that has happened. For letting go of hurts and resentments. For resolving conflicts and confusions. For letting go of unrealistic dreams and ambitions and for creating achievable goals. For forgiving yourself for the messes and moving on to a better tomorrow. For completing all that is incomplete so that you can enter the new year with a clean and clear heart, soul and mind.
It’s all a part of good housekeeping, this spring cleaning of your mind. Brushing the cobwebs off the little visited areas of memory, mending the fraying threads of relationships and reinforcing them for greater wear and tear. Throwing away the refuse of the past and putting away what is no longer needed. Ventilating the contents of the mind and polishing little used faculties and skills. It’s about bringing your life into the present, unhindered by the past. It’s about shrugging off the year’s accumulated baggage and scampering freely into the new.
Like spring cleaning, it’s no picnic. Buried things must be brought to light. Unpleasant events must be faced and action taken. Hard work is called for. But like spring cleaning, the relief is exquisite.
That apart, taking stock of your life and leveraging your discoveries is one of the secrets behind the effectiveness of highly successful people. As an author once remarked, the life unexamined is a life not worth living. Successful people know this and they periodically review their lives to see if they are on track with their life goals, if all’s well with the inner world, and above all, to learn from their mistakes and use them to move towards greater growth and success.
Sheilu Sreenivasan, President of Dignity Foundation, a Mumbai-based organization offering composite services to the elderly, has an annual ritual that begins on the 1st of December. “In the whole of December during my spare time, I go through my daily diary and I learn plenty about things that have not worked. I leave what works well alone, and concentrate on the mistakes. Then I ask myself, ‘Therefore what needs to be done?’ In answering this question, I solve many problems and also create the goals for the next year.”
Her creative problem-solving ability has enabled her to successfully transform what was a magazine for the elderly called Dignity Dialogue to a movement for senior citizens that included liaising with the government on security issues, finding jobs for those in need, providing counseling services and helplines, and various other services. “Getting advertisements for the magazine was difficult. So we developed other services and projects, of which we now have 14. And although staying afloat is never easy, we are managing.”
Her habit of introspecting and reflecting have accessed truths that make it easy to live in the flow of life. “Adversities open doors. Invariably I have found that if someone resigned from the company, the replacement is even better. I can now say okay to people who want to leave.
Relationships and their relative health is another area Sheilu examines scrupulously at the end of each year. “I look at the people, including staff, with whom I have clicked and see if there are patterns there that I can learn from. I have also learnt to let relationships that have not worked go, instead of making them a bigger mess. One cannot dwell too much on the past. One must simply learn from it and let it go.”
Find out which area needs attention in the coming year. One year it could be your professional life, and in the next it could be personal.
So what are the areas that need looking at when making an annual review of your life? NLP and personal growth trainer Nandan Savnal suggests that you look at four segments: personal, professional, social and spiritual. Personal life is to be further divided into the roles one plays so that justice can be done to all. Make sure you take finances, health, and relationships into account. He suggests that for maximum effect, review the year every quarter. “Unless you maintain a log, a year is too long a timeframe.”
Savnal advocates goal and target setting within a specific timeframe for maximum effectiveness. “When reviewing most people want to know why they have gone slow in one area and so swift in another. Reviewing and working on targets allows you to realize your infinite potential. Even personal changes like eliminating undesirable habits such as thinking negatively can be achieved within a specific timeframe. Psychologists say that most habits can be changed within 21 days.”
And what if you cannot meet your targets within the timeframe?
“Extend the timeframe. Maybe eventually you will achieve your target in six months and not 21 days, but unless you have a schedule, nothing will change.”
Savnal also suggests that you factor in flexibility and adjustment while planning your goals. “Find out which area needs attention in the coming year. Maybe one year your professional life will need more attention, and in the next, your personal life will take the forefront. To make your life work in all areas, you must learn to be flexible and dynamic and mediate constantly between the four areas of your life as well as between the endless tussle of the urgent and the important.”
I ask myself, ‘what needs to be done?’ In answering this, I solve many problems and also create the goals for the next year.
Others have a more philosophical approach to life introspection. Minnu R. Bhonsle, a practicing counselor and psychotherapist, uses death as her stock-taker. “Death is the greatest teacher and I have never left its companionship,” she says.
Introspection, far from being an annual exercise, is conducted every night. “I imagine that this could be the last night of my life and I review it from that context. Am I complete in all areas? The day I began this exercise many years ago, I went about completing all unfinished business and unresolved conflicts. And since then I have kept evaluating to see that I retain that sense of completeness.”
Using death as the yardstick for your life review, Mince says, puts your life and lifestyle in perspective. “You ask what is meaningful, and what isn’t. You evaluate every step to see that it is aligned to your ultimate goal. If any action creates unease or takes me off-track, I will abandon it.”
Her own goal is to be a friend to those in need, an agenda that, as all who know her will testify, she practices sincerely and compassionately.
Rooshi Kumar Pandya, the well-known motivational speaker, has a similar approach to evaluating his life. He says: “Every evening before I go to sleep I take stock of the day. What did I do? What did I not do? I may not wake up the next morning, so are there any loose ends? If there are and correction is in my power, I will do it. If not, I ask for forgiveness.”
Pandya pays particular attention to relationships. “My strength and greatest asset is my network of relationships, so I examine how I have maintained and nourished them through the day. Of particular importance is to value people and to deliver on your promises.”
Health is another area of daily inspection. “If there’s anything amiss, I take prompt action, and I think positively. I don’t worry or obsess about the problem.”
Keeping abreast of life in all areas allows him to look forward to the new day with joy. “Life is very exciting,” he beams.
Writer, poet and workshop holder Rohini Gupta uses her daily journal for annual clarity. “For me the year changes at my birthday, the time of my annual review. There’s no such thing as mistakes and upsets, they are only opportunities,” she points out. “I work out what to achieve on the work front, what classes I want to take based on what areas I want to explore. You get a clearer idea of what you want to do with this exercise. It also helps you to let go of things that are ending. You can move on in the realisation that each year is new and different.” Rohini advocates the adoption of a daily journal to help you keep track of the year. “It gives you clarity like no other system does,” she says.
Yoga teacher Ajay Lagoo is yet another believer in the power of daily stock-taking. “Every night before going to sleep I think of the highlights of the day. What is the best thing I have done? I thank God for it. What is the worst? I ask God for the strength not to do it again. Then I offer thanks to God for the whole day.”
Every evening before I go to sleep I take stock of the day. I may not wake up the next morning, so are there any loose ends?
-Rooshi Kumar Pandya
Short and sweet and to the point. A vigorous looking senior citizen, Lagoo exudes peace of mind and an unspoilt sweetness of disposition. This then is one of the rewards of being complete with your life. Your energies are not blocked up and scattered throughout the year. Energy is not invested in the spat you had with your husband which you did not resolve and still smoulders. It is not tied up in your burning desire to win a lottery ticket or wanting your child to make it to the IIM. It is not blocked by your deadend job that you long to leave but are too afraid to. All your energy is right with you this moment, enabling you to pour yourself whole-heartedly into the moment.
Exercises to Complete the Year
- Make a scrapbook of the year, using words, photographs, bills, pamphlets, letters, drawings, cloth pieces, etc. Review the year chronologically. A health upset? Stick photos of yourself in the hospital, or zeroxes of medical bills and prescriptions. What did you learn from it? What steps do you still have to take? Write it down. A family gathering that left sweet memories? Write about it, particularly what it was that you liked so you can reproduce it again. Flowers that came for your birthday and the blast you had? Paste some memories. Also, your increment-promotion letter, letters of appreciation sent by friends and colleagues, trips you took and festive occasions. Emails from your friends and lovers. Meaningful experiences that touched you deeply. Write them down. And so on through the year, documenting the triumphs, sorrows, gains and losses. Transfer all that you have to do based on this review into your new year’s journal. Now put away the scrapbook and refer to it periodically when you want an upper.
- Take a large piece of paper or better still, a notebook. Review all the areas of your life systematically including career, finance, relationships, health, spirituality, social commitment, personal growth. Enter each area on a fresh sheet of paper. What were the major events/accomplishments of the year? Acknowledge yourself for the achievements. How can you take this forward? Write down the ideas that come to your mind and enter it into your New Year’s goal book. Now move to what did not work. Why not? Write down the reasons and inquire into how you can make it work. Underline all solutions and action steps and later transfer into your New Year’s journal for goal-setting. Now look at your goals for the year in this area. What did you achieve? Acknowledge yourself. What did you not achieve? Review these goals for feasibility. It may be that you were far too ambitious. Eliminate goals that are no longer possible or don’t attract you. If you are past 40, you can safely cancel that goal to become a hot cine star. Examine the goals left behind and inquire why they did not happen. Ask yourself what you can do about it and write the answers down. See how many are possible within the next year. Write them down and transfer them into your New Year’s goal book.
- Complete the incompletions. Make a list of all your hurts, upsets and conflicts through the year. The poor increment that you still resent, the birthday party you threw and no one came for, the health scare that has left you feeling fragile. Write letters to each of the parties involved including the illness and speak your heart out. Put down everything that has simmered within you about this issue. End the letter with this line: ‘‘Having told you all that I want to, I now resolve to put this issue behind me. I hold you no grudge and take the relationship into the New Year unblemished by the past.’’ Now burn the letters. How do you feel? Has there been a shift in the way you feel about these past events? Learning to let go of justified hurts and wounds gives us freedom to move on. Nursing grudges ties us to the past and limits our energies and choices. Assert your godgiven right to your freedom by letting go. Most important, write a letter to yourself, pouring out your own feelings about the mistakes and failures of the year. Write it all down and then forgive yourself and reaffirm your faith in yourself. Yes, you goofed. So what? All the more reason to move forward and focus on success.
- Relationships: Pay particular attention to your relationships. Even if you don’t agree right now, know that it is the most important part of your life, one which will give you better and better dividends as time goes by. Examine each one turn by turn. Have you nurtured each or neglected some. Write out a list of the latter with what actions you can take. A phone call, or an email or a visit are not too taxing. Before the year ends, complete all the action steps so that your relationships are up to scratch. There may be a few that don’t work any more. You might want to review them. If you don’t wish to continue with them, respectfully let them go. Use your discretion in doing this. In some equations you don’t have to do anything overt. They die by themselves. In some you might have to consciously let them go. What new relationships have come into your life? What are you learning from each of them? What are you giving them? If you can be conscious of the learning that happens with each relationship, you will value it more and allow the learning to happen faster.
Exercises to Greet the New Year
- Talk to the Year. In her book, Romancing The Ordinary, Sarah Ban Breathnach suggests a charming New Year’s ritual. She writes: ‘‘Curl up in your favourite chair, listen to some soothing music, sip something festive and bubbly, and slowly light 12 votive candles-one for each new month. As you light the first candle, ask the month of January, are there any old desires you need to relinquish in order to move on? Ask February, what new-to-you ‘ordinary’ ritual can you begin integrating into your daily round or week that will be self-nurturing? Perhaps ‘it’s leave your desktop clear of clutter at the end of each day’, but it could just as well be ‘take a nap on Sunday’. Ask March what new dream is seeding itself into your imagination? Be fanciful, curious with your questions. When you ask each month its question, whatever answer pops up, be it whimsical or practical, act upon the suggestion and notice how you feel later. Keep a record of your experiment in a journal.
- Here’s another suggestion from the same source: ‘‘Pretend you’ve never been given the gift of a new year before. Dame Good Fortune has swept in with her arms full of presents just for you. In a little book that I cherish, Ceremonials of Common Days, written by Abbie Graham in 1928, she describes her annual visit this way: ‘‘I open the door. The gorgeous guest from afar sweeps in. In her hands are her gifts-the gift of hours and farseeing moments, the gift of mornings and evenings, the gift of spring and summer, the gift of autumn and winter. She must have searched the heavens for boons so rare.’’
- In her book How to Master Change In Your Life, Mary Carroll Moore gave an exercise called To Dream Your Dream, which I have adapted. Take a moment and imagine the New Year. How would you like it to be? What are your goals? Find a new job, get married, go on a foreign tour, learn a new language, make new friends, buy a house, what new qualities you want in you, etc. For each of these, do the following: Close your eyes and get a good feeling, image or sense of it. Take five minutes and write or draw everything you can about this image. Especially important, include the qualities the image brings, how it makes you feel. Now put the paper away for six months. In six months look at what you wrote; you may be surprised at what has happened to your dream.
- Turning Points. Another exercise from the same book by Mary. In the centre of a clean sheet of paper, write the word or phrase that describes your turning point. This is the seed idea. (In this case write down New Year). Begin to free-associate, writing new words or phrases around that seed word or phrase, drawing strands from the centre to link the new words you write. Use these as seed words in their turn and expand into associative ideas. For instance, the first ring around New Year could be all the areas you want it to impact you, like health and finance. Then you could explore all these areas in terms of what you want to do. Each action plan can be a seed idea of its own as you explore it in greater detail. Make sure you link each ring to the centre by drawing connecting lines. This exercise can allow you to explore ideas and issues in great detail and allow all that simmers in the background to come out in the open. You can do this exercise to face any new change you are facing.
Okay. You’re all set. You’ve done your job and deserve to enjoy the festive frolic. And to stride into the New Year with shining eyes and bouncy gait. You’re sure to have a great year.
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