What would make next year great?

Looking back, my career was a series of accidents, not intentions. All the major shifts were reactions to something someone else did, or opportunities that just popped up. I wasn’t purposeful or self-directed. Things just…happened. You could say that rather than me living my life, life lived me.

I’ve been working on changing that. Part of my approach involves keeping a journal in which, every day, I write down my answer to this simple question: 

What would make today great?

Those few minutes of thinking and writing in the morning help me focus my attention on what matters at different points throughout the day, and that helps me to make better, more mindful, choices. The days when I do what I intend to do are all extremely satisfying. 

A friend and I both use the same journal, and when we met for dinner in Stuttgart this month, I thought I would ask him a different question:

What would make next year great?

It led to an intimate discussion about what we each feel is important - relationships we want to deepen, experiences we want to have, meaningful work we want to do. Then we talked about steps we might take to make those things happen. It felt strange for me to chart such a course, but also exhilarating. It felt like I was trying, perhaps for the first time, to be “the author of my own life.” 

What about you? Are you living intentionally, or accidentally? 

What would make next year great?

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Note: Thank you for reading these posts, and for all the wonderful messages in email and on social media. This is my last blog post in 2018. I wish you all much joy and wonder, next year and beyond.

Happy New Year! Announcing WOL Circle Guides v4.5 

In a New Year’s post five years ago, I wrote that one of the best resolutions you could make is to invest in yourself, to give yourself the time and the space - the permission - to develop relationships and skills that matter.  

Since then, I’ve been developing Working Out Loud Circles as a method for doing that, and Circles have spread to over 40 countries. Today, I’m publishing a new and improved version of the WOL Circle Guides to make the method even easier and more effective. 

What’s new?

Thanks to the feedback from people who have already been in a Circle, I’ve been able to refine the guides and make this version the best one so far.  The biggest changes include moving the exercises related to habit development earlier in the process, providing better examples, and updating several of the exercises and additional reading. There are also improvements to the flow, the writing, and the formatting. 

Despite the changes, Circles already in progress should be able to use the new guides right away. Also, a German translation should be ready over the next few weeks.

Customizing WOL Circles for your organization

The WOL Circle Guides are free, and are issued under a license called the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.  (It means you can use the material and share it as-is, but you can’t change it or offer it as part of any for-fee product or service without explicit written permission.) Being free makes it easy for individuals and organizations to experiment and experience the benefits for themselves. Yet as Circles spread in an organization, or as the method is integrated into existing programs like on-boarding and talent development, many organizations want to tailor the guides.

Now there’s an additional license, available for a fixed fee, that allows you to do this. In the past year, I've worked with customers who want to include their own goals, technology, examples, and brand into the guides. So if, say, you’re using WOL Circles to help new joiners be more connected and productive, custom guides can make it easy for those new employees to learn your digital tools while they discover people and content related to their job. If you’re interested in customizing the guides, contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

Other ways to make it easier

In addition to upgrading the Circle Guides, I’m working on a WOL Video Coaching Series and Circle Journal that will be available in the coming months. The video series gives you convenient access to all that’s in the guides plus coaching tips to help ensure you make progress. The Journal gives you a single place to do the exercises and capture your learning throughout the process, making it easier to reflect on how far you’ve come.

I welcome and appreciate your feedback on any of these materials and ideas, and will use it to keep improving the method. I hope you join a Circle this year. Here’s some gentle encouragement from another New Year's resolution post I wrote two years ago called “This Year I Will…”

“One way to make a difference this year is to form a Working Out Loud Circle. I’m getting more and more mail from people about how their Circle empowered them, liberated them. Just this week, a woman told me her circle "had an enormous impact on my life.”
Yet it’s such a simple process. You write down a goal, share it with a small trusted group, and take a few steps over 12 weeks to build relationships with people who can help you.
Deciding to form a Circle might just be the best New Year’s resolution you ever made. What’s holding you back that you might be able to change?
Where might you go?"
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A month of trying to “Enjoy each day”

For 2015, I resolved to “Enjoy each day.” Not to do more fun things necessarily but rather to “see and feel more in every day as it is.” I’m already surprised by the results.

30 days of trying to enjoy each day

What was supposed to happen

In my original New Year’s post, I described three things I would do every day.

Keep a journal. Reflecting on moments throughout the day will help me appreciate them more and increase my sense of fulfillment. Over time, I hope the repeated act of reflecting and writing will train my mind so I’m more aware of the moments as they’re happening.

Practice gratitude. When I wake up and before I go to sleep, I’ll think of things I’m grateful for, including moments throughout the day. I’ve tried this and it’s a simple, pleasant ritual that has made me feel happier.

Chart my progress. Just as Ben Franklin used resolution charts to cultivate 13 virtues, I’ve used them to help me develop new habits. So I’ll put my chart in a place where I’ll be sure to see it before I go to sleep, and each day I’ll track my journaling and gratitude habits and whether I’ve enjoyed the day.”

What happened 

My Enjoy each day journalLooking back, I wrote in my journal on 18 out of 31 days in January. It felt like more. When I missed a day or two, I would go back and recall the highlights from those days, and that allowed me to savor them again. Once, though, the gap was too big and I couldn’t remember much at all.

“Where did those 4 days go?” I wrote. It was as if they never happened and I felt a strong sense of loss. That strengthened my resolve to keep writing.

I fared even better with practicing gratitude when I woke up and went to sleep. Perhaps that’s because I always do it at the same times and in the same place. Often, I’m thankful for simple comforts like a soft bed and warm shelter on a cold night, for my health, or for some moment with my family that day. It’s a lovely practice. Instead of reaching for my phone or running through a todo list in my head, the feeling of gratitude brings a contented smile across my face each time.

My Enjoy each day progress chartMy progress chart was the weakest part of my resolution. The problem might be its location. Although my chart is taped to a wall I pass by often, I don’t have a consistent time for updating it and I simply forget. It’s just not a habit yet. So I’ll take one of the lessons from the best post I ever wrote about habits: “structure your life to help you attain your goals.” I’ll move the chart and make updating it part of some other existing routine.

The biggest surprise

I anticipated that the practice of regularly reflecting and being grateful would change my memory of each day. And that happened. But despite my imperfect habit, I started to experience something even more powerful.

Time slowed down.

Simple moments absorbed my attention. My awareness of them expanded, as if I was in a kind of altered state. It seemed as though the act of reflecting attuned me to look for special moments. So I started to appreciate them not just in hindsight but as they happened.

The feel of my son’s hand in mine as we walk to school.

The first sip of strong, hot coffee. 

The technicolor display in the sky as the sun slowly rises. 

The way my daughter blows a kiss to my wife and I each morning as she heads to the bus.

Before my resolution started, I wrote that “Time has flown because I’ve been careless with it.” That still happens. But sometimes throughout the day, I feel I might understand what Buddhists mean when they say “I have arrived.” I might finally be learning how to handle time like the precious gift it is.

This year, I’m trying a different kind of New Year’s resolution

Enjoy each dayEach year, it’s about something I want to achieve in the future. Do this. Stop doing that. Sometimes I've kept my resolutions but most times they quickly faded. I don’t remember any of them. So this year, I’m going to try a different kind of resolution:

Enjoy each day.

What I think that means

Enjoy could mean so many things. More exploring. More excitement. More fun. But while those are all good things, they’re about seeking something extra or new. What I intend is quite different. It’s to see and feel more in every day as it is. Instead of changing my days, I’m resolving to change me.

Thich Nhat Hanh expressed this idea in a quote I happened upon just yesterday:

“Whether this moment is happy or not depends on you. It's you that makes the moment happy. It's not the moment that makes you happy. With mindfulness, concentration and insight, any moment can become a happy moment. Happiness is an art.”

To enjoy each day I’ll have to be aware of the many moments comprising the day and appreciate those moments. Like any art, it will require practice.

How I’ll do it

To be clear, my new resolution seems impossible for me to achieve. I might as well resolve to be a concert pianist though I can’t play a note yet.

I’ve learned a few tricks, though, that might give me a chance. Here are there I intend to use:

Keep a journal. Reflecting on moments throughout the day will help me appreciate them more and increase my sense of fulfillment. Over time, I hope the repeated act of reflecting and writing will train my mind so I’m more aware of the moments as they’re happening.

Practice gratitude. When I wake up and before I go to sleep, I’ll think of things I’m grateful for, including moments throughout the day. I’ve tried this and it’s a simple, pleasant ritual that has made me feel happier.

Chart my progress. Just as Ben Franklin used resolution charts to cultivate 13 virtues, I’ve used them to help me develop new habits. So I’ll put my chart in a place where I’ll be sure to see it before I go to sleep, and each day I’ll track my journaling and gratitude habits and to note whether I’ve enjoyed the day.

I'm sure there will be times when I'll notice my chart at the end of the day and think “I forgot to enjoy today!” But I’ll still have a few minutes to reflect, appreciate, and be grateful. Doing so will change my experience and my memory of that day.

Time, lost and found 

I’ve lived more than 18,000 days. How many of them have gone by without me noticing? Have many have I rushed through - even wished were over - just so I could get to the next one? Time has flown because I’ve been careless with it.

I hope to see 18,000 more days. I resolve to enjoy each one.

I’ll let you know how it goes.