I started 2020 with the greatest hope and anticipation. I rang in the New Year with a new boyfriend. I had thought ahead and planned out some good, intentional goals. I was developing projects to grow in my writing skills and creativity. Then a global pandemic hit. Everything I had plotted out and was ready to tackle very quickly changed.
Now, as 2020 winds down, my world looks much different than it did a year ago. I am watching my dad slowly die of a rare neurological disease. The writing project I hoped would turn into a book deal was denied. I broke up with a man who turned out to be emotionally unavailable and am putting myself out there in online dating yet again.
And all those great goals I imagined for myself? Well, let’s just say the year went very differently from how I imagined it twelve months ago.
Maybe your 2020 was a year of flourishing and personal growth. Perhaps you had breakthroughs on some of your goals, dreams, or creative pursuits. But maybe this last year was hard and lonely, as it was for many of us in the human family.
Regardless of what our last twelve months looked or felt like, here are five questions to help you think, reflect, and look ahead to a focused 2021.
01. What worked well (and did not work) for me in the last year?
A piece of self development and growth is having an awareness of what has (and has not) worked well. What were things in 2020 that worked well for you? What were the things in 2020 that did not work so well for you?
Spending time answering both questions can help you flesh out what you want to work on in the coming new year. Reflecting on both of these questions is something writer and entrepreneur Lara Casey offers women of all ages through her intentional goal planning sheets, Powersheets.
Casey offers people a refreshing, focused way of setting intentional goals that can help you live your best life right now. A part of her highly effective process is spending time preparing and reflecting on the last year: what worked, what did not work, your successes and failures, the blessings and sorrows. In her books Make it Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live on Purpose and Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life Casey offers readers practical ways to live life on purpose with boldness while also sharing personal stories that meet you right where you are on your journey.
When we can honestly look at the last year, however it turned out, we can face the future with more courage and bravery.
02. What new things did I learn about myself?
Life goes by very quickly. If we are not paying attention, we can miss the ways we grow, change, or develop as an individual. For example, I grew a lot this year emotionally, in understanding what my emotional needs and wants are in a relationship with a man. I learned that sometimes in dating relationships that I am more there for the other person than they are for me. I also learned a lot more about attachment theory, what my own attachment style is, and how that has played out in different relationships in my life. I have learned how my own attachment style plays out in dating relationships and how it affects me when I am with someone who has a more wounded attachment style. I have learned (yet again) how little actual control I have in my life. The things I do have control over are my own thoughts, perceptions, and reactions.
What new things did you try and how did they help you learn about yourself? What is new and different about the 2021 version of yourself? You might be surprised by some of your answers, I know I was.
03. How have I personally grown?
A smaller “growth moment” has been waking up earlier each day and at the same time. Several years ago I read for the first time Laura Vanderkam’s popular book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. While I have always been a morning person, this is a great resource to help build up habits that lead to happier, more productive lives. Having recently re-read it, Vanderkam’s words helped give me the boost needed to re-engage with how best to use my early morning hours for what is most important in the right now.
But the big growth moments are important too—we do not know where we need to grow as individuals if we cannot recall or celebrate the progress of our growth in the past. While some of my goals this year fell flat, there were some ways I grew that surprised me. I also grew in my own voice as a writer. I am learning what it means to accompany someone who is dying, as I watch my dad continue to decline and suffer.
At some point during quarantine last spring, I re-read one of my favorite Brené Brown books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. After a year like 2020, it can be so easy to focus on what is imperfect or less than ideal about life. I really relate to that. However, Brown’s wit and insight yet again reminded me that living my best life does not mean living the perfect, pain-free life, but, rather, embracing a perfectly imperfect life. How does one do this? By embracing vulnerability, acceptance, and showing loving kindness to ourselves. To look and deeply find gratitude in our lives, even when life feels hard or less than ideal. For me this has been a gracious and simple way to love myself well over this last year. We have to celebrate the growth along the journey of life; every little win matters because it helps us to become a more free and whole version of ourselves.
04. What resources helped me grow?
While learning more about my own attachment style in relationships, this year I finished the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. We all know that trauma is a fact of life. Much research has been done on how various kinds of trauma literally reshape both the body and the brain. Often until we start to work through and process our individual trauma, it will get stored in our mind; often preventing the healing and resilience we seek. This book is an excellent resource for people beginning the deep work of facing and working through the trauma of their own life.
I have also begun to listen to The Irresistible Woman Podcast by the female empowerment dating coach Madeline Charles. This particularly has been a great resource for me having a healthy mindset and perspective as I begin to date again. I am being reminded of important lessons I have learned before, and I am learning some new things to put into practice as I connect with men and go on dates.
Take time to reflect on what you have learned and how you are healthier for what you have done or learned. What helped you thrive in and not just survive 2020? What do you think are some things that will help you live a more focused 2021? What people, books, resources, or podcasts have helped you grow over the last year? Consider whether the resources that helped you grow in 2020 can continue to help you in 2021, or whether there are related themes you need to further explore.
05. What do I want to do differently in 2021?
Part of living an intentional, focused life is looking ahead to the future, specifically what you want to do differently in this next year.
Maybe 2020 felt like the world’s biggest dumpster fire to you. Perhaps it felt like the year you grew and stretched yourself in ways you never imagined. Knowing what you want to do differently will help you press forward with more focus on your goals and what you hope to achieve.
What needs to change in the next year to make 2021 your most focused and intentional year yet? Do you need to take the time to go to therapy or focus on your personal healing journey? Do you need to make more time to cultivate certain friendships or relationships? Is there a creative project or passion you want to focus on? Take some time to sit and think on what you want to do differently and what will help you live the life you’re aiming for.
2020 may not have been the year any of us imagined, but that does not mean it was all a waste. If we take time to reflect and look at all we learned from this year, it can help us live with more focus and intention as we head into 2021.