As we approach the New Year, it’s an opportunity to step back and reflect on our journey. Are we headed in the right direction? Are we making the kind of progress that we would like to see?
For most of us, we approach this opportunity in a relatively granular and ad hoc way – we craft a set of resolutions for how we’re going to act in the New Year. And more often than not, there are usually a lot of resolutions (we seem to believe that the more resolutions we have, the more likely it will be that we can at least adhere to one or two).
But is that the best way to proceed on our journey? Maybe we’re not taking full advantage of the opportunity available to us.
Crafting a personal narrative
What could we do differently? Well, I’ve written a lot about the power of personal narratives. We all have one, but few of us have taken the time to articulate it to ourselves, much less to reflect on whether it’s a narrative that’s really helping us to achieve more of our potential. To determine that, we need to start by examining the key choices and decisions we’ve made in our life and seek to make explicit the implicit narrative that drove those actions.
What do I mean by narrative? As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the way I see it, a narrative has two key elements. First, it’s open ended – it’s driven by some view of an opportunity or threat out in the future that has yet to be achieved and it’s far from guaranteed that it will be achieved, but it is worth pursuing. Second, it’s ultimately not about you, it’s a call to action directed to the people you are wanting to reach – it motivates them to collaborate with you in ways that will help all of you to achieve something that’s really valuable.
So, what’s driving you? Is it hope about some opportunity that’s down the road or fear about some threat that lies in the bushes, waiting for you to get closer? If it’s a threat, is the threat really that real and is the fear preventing you from having more impact in the areas that really matter to you? And, if it’s an opportunity, is it really the opportunity that excites you the most and that will help you to achieve more of your potential? Those kinds of opportunities are unlikely to be achieved within a short period – if they’re really challenging us to be more of who we could be, they are likely to be opportunities that would take years, decades and perhaps even a life-time to attain.
And what about the others around you? Are you geared to facing this threat or opportunity on your own, without help from others? If you’re asking for help, what kind of help are you seeking? Is there some way that this threat or opportunity can motivate others to go above and beyond in providing the help you need because they'll benefit greatly as well?
Maybe we should use New Year’s Day to step back and reflect on our personal narrative. What is our personal narrative? Is it really the narrative that will help us to achieve more of the potential that lies within us?
And what about those resolutions?
But crafting a compelling and exciting personal narrative is just the beginning – we need to turn it into action, action with real impact. How do we do that?
Well, this is where resolutions may help. Your resolutions now have a context – a context that matters deeply to you and that will help to motivate you to do your best in pursuing them in the months ahead.
But, the key is to stay focused. Resist the temptation to churn out a long list of resolutions. Ask yourself, what are the two or three actions – no more, just two or three - that I could take in the New Year that would have the greatest ability to accelerate my movement towards to the opportunity that I’ve defined for myself in my personal narrative?
Here I’ll reveal my personal bias – opportunity based narratives have the greatest ability to unleash our potential while threat based narratives will tend to confine us. So, if you’re still clinging to a threat-based narrative, work hard to challenge whether that threat is as real as you imagine it to be and, if it is, whether there isn’t an opportunity that could ultimately neutralize that perceived threat and at the same time help you to achieve more of your potential.
And, as you’re looking for those two or three actions to focus on in the New Year, be sure to include at least one or two that will help you to more effectively connect with others so that you can get more leverage for your own efforts. Here, it may help to frame the actions as efforts to answer really interesting and important questions.
By focusing on questions, you do two things. First, you can potentially attract others who are very intrigued by the questions and motivate them to help you answer them. Second, you acknowledge that you need help – you have interesting and important questions, but you don’t have the answers and want help in coming up with the best answers. In this way you build trust – you are expressing vulnerability and asking for help. That helps to deepen your relationships with others and increase their motivation to join you on your journey.
So, what are the most important questions that need to be answered in order for you to make progress in reaching that opportunity out on the horizon? Perhaps your resolutions could be about finding answers to those questions with the help of others.
By adopting the approach that I’ve outlined above, we may find that New Year’s Day can be the launch pad of a much more productive and fulfilling New Year. It will help us to develop a tighter focus on the things that really matter, rather than compiling lengthy lists of random desires. It will help to motivate us by making more explicit what we are really striving to achieve and how our near-term actions can have a meaningful impact in helping us to achieve the opportunity that really matters. So, if one of these actions is not playing out the way we promised ourselves it would, we’ll feel a real need to re-double our efforts to act in a more effective way. It also will help us to learn faster because we’ll be reflecting on the impact we’ve achieved relative to the longer-term opportunity that’s the focus of our personal narrative and constantly striving to find new and more creative ways to increase that impact.
If we do this right, we may find that small moves in the New Year, smartly made, can set big things in motion.