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A holistic approach to setting meaningful New Year’s goals

I love the freshness of a new year; the feeling that so many possibilities lie wide open ahead.  The starting over, the energy, the resolutions.

But if you ask me what my 2010 resolutions and goals are, I’d tell you, “I’m thinking about it.” And that would be the honest answer.  Here is my non-conventional take on it:

1.  Winter is a time for setting not starting goals.

2.  When we identify meaningful personal goals, having a plan toward achieving them is essential for success.

3.  If winter is for reflection, spring is for action.  The planning and preparation that you do in winter, will naturally lead to the energy and focus of acting on your goals come springtime.

Perhaps January 1 comes on the scene too quickly after the rush of the holiday season, but I’ve found many of us halfheartedly repeat “popular” goals for the new year, without much time or reflection given to the process.

Don’t feel pressured to rush this process just because the calendar has turned its page.

Winter is a season of introspection, lower energy, and reflection.  I start the reflection process in January. I use January and February to dig inward, learn from the past year’s lessons, gaze ahead and consider where my energy should be directed.

When I honor myself with time and attention, I am startled at the goals I come up with.

Once I’ve set my goals and aspirations, I put in time to make a plan for achieving them so I can give myself the support and preparation I need to be successful. This action plan generally begins to really ramp up and pick up energy just as spring comes on the scene.   The freshness and new energy of the world around me fuel my commitment.

Where to begin?   This exercise is perfect for exploring what areas of your life may be unbalanced and need more nurturing and attention.

The Circle of Life Exercise

Photo by Lisa

1.  Draw a large circle with 12 spokes.

2.  For each spoke, write in an element that is important to you in your life.  Some elements to consider adding to your circle are career, laughter, fresh air and exercise, creativity, relationships, stable finances, social life, spirituality, home environment, beauty, education, healthy foods, or home cooking.

3.  Consider how satisfied you are with each area in your life.  Probe and ask yourself some questions about each area.  Think of the past year and the ways you did (or didn’t) attend to those parts of your life.

  • Do you have a desire to continue learning and intellectually growing?
  • Has it been a while since you’ve laughed?
  • Are you living on candy and caffeine to get you through the day?
  • When did you last spend time in silence or in prayer?
  • Have you struggled with money and budgeting without addressing it?

4.  Place a dot on each line that represents your relative level of satisfaction.  Putting a dot at the very center, where all spokes come together, means completely UNSATISFIED and the edge of the circle means completely SATISFIED.

5.  Connect your dots and draw your current circle of life.  For most of us, this is a bumpy circle, that visually shows the areas that are “depressed” or undernourished.  See where the greatest imbalances and needs are.   Reflect on it for a while.  These may be the areas that you choose to work into goals and aspirations for the new year.

I use this exercise throughout the year as a benchmark to see how things are going. It is simple, quick and surprisingly effective at revealing what parts of our whole-person are in most need of attention.

If you were to draw your circle of life, what elements would you add?– What areas are you most imbalanced in? Any creative ideas to start “feeding” that element in your life?

Reading Time:

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  1. Laurie

    I think this is a great idea. I’d like to see what types of things others put in their “circle of life”. How many did you end up with and do you mind sharing yours? These days my brain and my life is consumed with caring for a preemie special needs infant and I’m not even sure I’d remember anymore what is important to me in this life. I’m just trying to survive this season of life; knowing it will get better and with less work eventually. A few idea joggers would be helpful.

  2. steadymom

    I love this non-traditional approach, Lisa–thanks for sharing it with us!

    I’m not big into resolutions either. Instead I picked a key word for the year: anticipation.

    But I am big on setting goals and creating a purposeful mission/vision statement for where I am and where I want to go. It’s so exciting the way the new year is so full of possibilities!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Start the Year with a Child’s Heart =-.

    • Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

      Hi Jamie,
      I also love the “Theme” idea for a New Year– and there are times that in this Circle of Life exercise a theme seems to emerge when I consider the areas that all need attention and I can distill that out of it. Great idea!
      .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..10 Secrets of a Health Coach =-.

  3. Laura

    This seems like an extraordinarily useful tool, assuming that balance is the goal. And I am definitely going to sit down with this and see what I come up with. I usually have 3 or 4 areas that are getting whole-hearted attention, and the rest of my life tends to get ignored. For instance, I can see that I have been so domestically-oriented that I haven’t been taking time for myself, going to yoga classes, or spending time one-on-one with a friend.

    At the same time, though, there are definitely areas that are important to me that are marked “not right now” in my mind. It’s important to me, yes, but it wouldn’t be an appropriate priority right now. Like, world travel is just not going to happen with two preschoolers. 🙂 But in a sense I suppose that would still come up “satisfied,” since I’m 100% okay with not traveling the world right now. In terms of long-term goals, though, it’s out there on the horizon as one of the things that will be possible once all debt is paid off.

    Another way to think of this, too, is to consider not just personal satisfaction with each area, but how well that area gels with your personal long-term goals. Unfortunately, I’m all too “satisfied” with my current couch-potato-level of fitness, but I know I need to do something about it. 🙂 Very interesting exercise, I’m going to give it a try!
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..A Playful Start to the Day =-.

    • Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

      Hi Laura,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I totally agree and have the same situation– something like world travel is very important to me, but certainly not on my short term list right now as I’m preparing to have my third child in three years!!
      That being said, there are times when I wonder, what element of world travel could I possibly weave into my life right now?
      I talked about a way I brought something I loved in college years into my life now here:
      .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..10 Secrets of a Health Coach =-.

  4. Jess

    This is so true- that winter is for reflection and springtime is for action- but I’ve never heard anyone say it before. Great concept, and one I will definitely use this year, to spend more time thinking about my goals and hopefully actually begin to implement them rather than forgetting them by spring. Great post!

  5. Pot Luck Mama

    Great idea for structuring your goals! I also like that you encourage thoughtfulness and reflection instead of rushing into decisions. Check out Amber Naslund’s post on Four Words for 2010 (…I think a combination of your thought-processing steps and her “chords” concept are just the right mix for me, personally.

    I also noticed that you are a holistic health counselor…that interests me. I will definitely be checking out your blog!
    .-= Pot Luck Mama´s last blog ..Why I loved 2009 =-.

    • Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

      Hi Pot Luck Mom,

      Thanks for the link– I also resonate with a theme or word for the year and like you, think it works well with the circle of life exercise!
      .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..10 Secrets of a Health Coach =-.

  6. GayB

    What a wonderful concept! I’ve been thinking about goals for the year, but haven’t had anything really gel yet and I’ve begun to feel a little pressured. I mean, it’s already Jan 6! I love this concept. I am now going to take my time and really think about my goals and what I want to do. Spring is for action! Not winter when it is 17 degrees outside.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  7. Wendy

    Very nice post. And I agree completely, though I’ve never really thought about postponing it, especially the action. I especially like the circle exercise.

    Instead of starting with the goals of my life, I’ve created Guiding Principles. They’re pretty constant, year after year, and basically set the tone for the kind of life I wish for. They are also pretty wide open, so that many different goals and activities can fall under them, hopefully under more than one.

    Hmmm, I guess this is a post I really should do. Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Homemade Firestarters =-.

  8. shelle

    Thank you for the reminder that now is the time for goal setting, not starting. I needed to hear that as I haven’t written or reflected much on the end of 09 or new year.

  9. Corn

    I love the circle of life idea…thats fantastic and so important to reflect on those topics.
    .-= Corn´s last blog ..Day 5: Day of Fasting =-.

  10. Susan

    This post is very timely for me. At the moment I can barely think of what I’ll make for dinner, let alone my goals for the year. I have some things in mind, but after reading this post, I can actually put a name to how I’ve been feeling. What I really want/need is some time to myself to just think and reflect on this past year and the upcoming one. Its hard not to “rush in” with the momentum of everyone elses New Year’s resolutions, but I really like the idea of giving myself time to think things through, prioritize and get started a little bit later when my mind AND body are ready for action! Thanks, I’ll be trying the circle exercise!

    • Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

      Susan- I couldn’t agree more– perhaps my unconventional take on it is simply where I am in life– needing to honor the slowing down, turning inward process and gleaning wisdom from the past year before I rush ahead and try to plan, achieve and accomplish and run into overwhelm again. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
      .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..10 Secrets of a Health Coach =-.

  11. Erin

    I really like this idea as well. I will be trying this out later.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Lead Me Not =-.

  12. Emily

    Lisa, thanks for affirming the fact that we don’t have to start into our resolutions just because the calendar says 01-01. I too love to take the time and think about what aspects of my life are a little anemic and come up with a plan for the more active months. It is so helpful to see other women being intentional about their lives and sharing great ways to approach “a life well lived.”

    .-= Emily´s last blog ..30 Weeks =-.

  13. Annette

    This is a great visual tool. Thank you for sharing it. I love the categories that you came up with. I also imagine that it may take time to come up with the categories that will mean the most to each of us. It might be fun to keep some of the spokes empty until an “aha” moment occurs – reminding us of another area we are interested in working on. Thanks again!

  14. Jennifer D.

    I love this!! Thank you so much – this was just what I needed!

  15. jennifer

    Llamagraphics makes a piece of software called “Life Balance” that does this for the user nicely. One can create a calendar/to-do list and balance the circle/wheel of activities (which are also tied to locations) as the year progresses. I used it for a time when I was in grad school.

  16. hillary

    I love this!

    My new year thoughts have been marinating and I was starting to feel slow as molasses, but when I read your post I thought, “Of course!” We love the winter for this reason. Time to reflect and go within before we Spring forth with action!

    Great thoughts!
    .-= hillary´s last blog ..flowers13: ummmm… I meant *heart*, but you knew that, right? =-.

  17. Terri

    I linked to this post on my blog – LOVE the idea of the graphic. I am searching for balance this year with my New Year’s Resolution – to PLAY with my kids every day for 365 days! Too often I realized I was just being in the same room with them while I did chores – then saving my “playtime” for when they were asleep. I want to relax and enjoy them as well as have them just see me working and bossing them around.

    I am going to pick up 7 habits of highly effective families for the book club! Can’t wait!

  18. Tashia @ The Household Planner

    Love this post! I especially love the idea that I don’t need to have a list of 20 resolutions ready to go on Jan1 that I will probably never even get started on anyway! One thing my family did this new year’s eve was to share one thing that they could work on to help them be a better person. We had some fabulous ideas, from trying to be more positive all the way to stopping hitting!

    I am going to do the circle of life activity. I know my life has been pretty unbalanced since having kids and being a stay at home mom for 6 years. Mom’s needs tends to get dropped to the bottom of every list as I’m sure you all know:)
    .-= Tashia @ The Household Planner´s last blog ..2010 Free Printable Calendars are Ready! =-.

  19. Angelina

    What a refreshing, wonderful post. I think that taking your time to reflect before rushing into things is great advice. After the chaos of the Holidays we certainly need it. Absolutely lovely.
    .-= Angelina´s last blog ..It’s Alive!! =-.

  20. michelle in fl

    Hi Simplemom (and Lisa):
    I liked this so much, I linked to it on my own little mommyblog. I hope I gave due credit! Thanks for such a refreshing approach to an otherwise frustrating tradition for me.

  21. Kelly

    Awesome ideas! I like keeping my stuff in a fireproof safe, but good luck having that handily available when a kid gets a rusty nail scrape and I need to see if she had a tetanus shot recently!!! I found a website that can follow me anywhere. It’s AboutOne Just one more tool to organizing my 3 kids, husband, animals…. well, I guess everything!!! =)
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..How can I sign up for AboutOne? =-.

  22. Roseanna Leaton

    Your circle of life exercise is a great idea. At least once a year I just sit down with a big sheet of paper and spend a couple of hours scribbling down things which I might desire and then run an elimination process on them until I narrow it down to a few clear goals. Your circle of life is more systematic and therefore more focused. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Jenn

    I always thought it was silly for people to make New Years resolutions only to fail at them two weeks later. I gave up on these types of goals but I like what you have come up with. I’ve always been a planner and I’m more successful when I’m organized. By creating this circle and not jumping right into it, I could prepare myself for a transition. I think it’s important to set obtainable goals but also make them something you have to work for as well. Nice post. 🙂

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