This psychologist’s reflection exercise will help set intentions for the year

Throw out that to do list. Jacqui Maguire shows you how to make a plan for 2021 that will be truly meaningful with this simple self-reflection exercise.

The world can’t wait to see the back of 2020. Lots of people have been saying they’d like to erase the year from their memory banks and start 2021 with a fresh slate. No one can deny the challenges many of us have faced.

Illness, loss, unemployment, separation from loved ones and business closures have caused grief, worry, loneliness and low moods – stressors we wouldn’t wish on friend or foe. And, on a lighter note, there is nothing I would love more this January than to whisk my family off on an international holiday or, at the very least, have a sense of certainty about what lies ahead.

However, I believe that simply forgetting all that’s happened and starting 2021 as if it were a blank slate is inherently flawed. Firstly, there is no indication that our current Covid-19 circumstances are likely to dramatically shift in the near future. We must continue to adapt and make meaningful lives in our “new normal”, remembering that it’s living in the present moment and our small daily actions that can have the most significant positive impact on our wellbeing.

Secondly, if we charge forward without taking time to reflect on what we have experienced, we will miss a golden opportunity to enhance our self-knowledge and retain the silver linings that often come with challenging times.

In January, New Year’s resolutions are made and too often broken before the month is over. Some of the reasons resolutions fail are: focusing on external motivators, attempting to stop old habits rather than add new habits, choosing behaviours not linked to your values, and setting unrealistic time frames.

This year, I’m going to invite you to do it differently. Throw away the to-do list. Instead, take the chance to quietly reflect on the year that’s been and envision 2021 through an internal lens. How do you want to feel during this year? How do you want your worth to be defined? If you took external achievement or praise out of the equation, what would a successful year encompass?

So, grab your favourite beverage and find yourself a pen and somewhere peaceful to sit before completing the exercise below. I hope it gives you the opportunity to make purposeful decisions guided by your values, which will lead to an enriched sense of purpose, self-compassion, worth, connection and satisfaction.

I also hope it provides an alternative template to the over-hyped New Year’s resolution. Best of luck. For 2021, I am aiming to feel … energised, calm and centred.

Reflection on 2020

1 Three words to sum up my experience of 2020 are…

2 My biggest personal challenge of 2020 was…

3 I have managed to cope with this challenge by…

4 New strengths I discovered about myself in 2020 were…

5 What positively surprised me about 2020 was…

Planning for 2021

1 Aspects of 2020 that I want to take forward into 2021 are…

2 Picture yourself at the end of 2021, reflecting on the year that’s just been:

  • How do I want to have been during the year? (Choose three words.)
  • How am I going to live during 2021, or what needs to happen in 2021, to make this happen?
  • The benefits of feeling like this during 2021 would be (for you, for others, at work)…

3 Make an action plan for 2021. Below are some helpful thought starters:

  • In order to feel __ during 2021 I am going to…
  • Aspects of my life I can control that will help me feel this way are…
  • Changes I need to make are…
  • I want to invest time and energy on…
  • I’d like to minimise time and energy spent on…
  • People in my life who support me to feel like this are…

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