Using 2018 to set your 2019 future self up for success.
Here we are again. About to cross the bridge between years. A year ago 2018 sounded so new, and now here it is swiftly slipping into the past.
As the last few days of 2018 get crossed off the calendar, I invite you to imagine yourself a month from now. It’s late January 2019. You’re mostly used to the sound of 2019 leaving your lips. You are, for the most part, writing 2019 instead of 2018 in your journal or on checks. 2018 is just another year of the past, existing only in your memories now.
Right now, when you hear “2018,” what comes to mind? A month or so from now, with a little more time for mindful reflection, what do you think you will you associate with this now almost all but passed year?
What you do right now can make all of the difference for the rest of your life.
As we approach the bridge between years, it’s always a good idea to take space to pause, squeeze last year for all that it’s worth and get what you can from it. Now is the time to reflect upon and ideally profit from all the work you did—good, bad or ugly—over the last year while it is still fresh in your mind. All too soon, your associations and memories connected to 2018 will slip out of immediacy and cement into long-term memory storage.
Make some time before the end of the month—or sometime at the beginning of next month—to dig deep into 2018. Light a candle, pull out some paper or your journal, find your favorite pen, block out your calendar and let your partner, kids, etc. know that you’re not available during this time. You may want to gather up any journals or calendars that you used over the course of the year and have them with you to look at for reference.
Start with a mindfulness exercise by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Ground yourself in your body and your direct experience of the present moment. Allow yourself to disengage from any thoughts occupying your mind. Tap into your senses to notice what they are telling you about the present moment. Give yourself a chance to clear your mind, let the dust settle and engage fully with the here and now.
Now, it’s time to thoughtfully reflect on 2018. Look back and recall some of the experiences you had. Like most people I know, 2018 was probably a pretty big year for you, too. The universe may have thrown a lot at you. What happened, however, has passed into the past, and situations, circumstances and events—however exhilarating or awful—are now mostly memories. While those memories fade, it’s important to recall how these events created an opportunity to learn and grow. As you reflect, also notice what you want to bring forward into 2019.
As you recall the lightest, brightest and darkest moments of 2018, consider the following:
How did you respond?
How did you grow?
What did you learn?
What are you most proud of?
Try to think outside of the typical New Year’s resolution format (aka, to-do’s) as you reflect on 2018 and consider what you want to cultivate in 2019. Think about the times when you tried really hard to do the right thing. Even if things didn’t work out in the end, can you be proud of how you showed up?
What do you want to remember about 2018?
Now, thinking ahead into 2019, what do you want your future self to bring to mind when somebody mentions 2018? The way you file 2018 in your long-term memory storage makes a difference! Right now is your opportunity to tag the year intentionally, filing memories away in a place that you can recall later when needed. You’re intentionally building your memory library to optimize recall efficiency for your future self. In other words, if you let 2018 squeak off with just a whimper—and you happen to be in a bad mood or dealing with especially challenging circumstances when it does—2018 will likely be automatically filed away in association with whatever your self-talk happens to be saying at the time. And, a lot of self-talk isn’t very supportive and kind.
If you want to make changes, I encourage you to intentionally mine your memories of 2018 so they’re stored away in ways that can best support and serve you in 2019. Be kind to yourself. Although we all engage in it, negative self-talk rarely, if ever, has any positive function. It’s usually the voice that tells you that you can’t change. The pesky self-critic has no seat at the table when setting intentions for your future self.
Once you’ve wrapped 2018 up with a sturdy bow and filed it away, it’s time to look ahead into 2019. I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. In my experience with clients in my private practice, I have found New Year’s resolutions often do more harm than good. However, I am absolutely a fan of New Year’s intentions, which I like thinking of as a list of “to be’s” rather than “to do’s”. 2019 will almost certainly also throw you unexpected curveballs. However, drawing from what you learned in 2018 can help you meet new challenges with greater efficacy and self-care.
What is that future you most proud of? Whatever that is, I encourage you to set as an intention for 2019. Do you want to be more present? If so, 2019 can become “the year of presence” for you, and you can work a little bit each month on developing more presence. Or, do you want to be more compassionate? Maybe you want to treat your body with more respect. Whatever you discover that you want to be proud of yourself for can be converted into a guiding intention for the new year. It’s not about what you want to accomplish. Rather, it’s identifying the direction(s) you wish to grow toward in 2019, regardless of what 2019 sends your way.
What do you want your future you to feel proud of?
Translate Intentions Into Actions
Once you define your 2019 intentions, I encourage you to set your future self up for success. Take your list of intentions and find ways to spread them out into your future. If you keep a journal, write your list on a few random pages throughout your journal so you are reminded of them when you come across them. Or, schedule intention-infused monthly emails to yourself. Make posters and hang them up around your house. Maybe you post periodic reminders in your calendar or create a 2019 mantra to repeat during your meditation or yoga practice.
How will you translate intentions into actions?
Finally, make a list of actionable steps—however small or grand—that you can take to put intentions into practice. Are there classes you want to take? Are there topics you want to explore in your journal? Brainstorm some creative ways to convert your inspiration into action, and pick one place to start.
You can think of the above practices and processes as setting up light posts to help guide the path between where you are today, full of intentions, goals and hope, and your future self, who will no doubt get distracted and discouraged along the way. Days, weeks or months from now when you find yourself in the throes of routine or feeling off kilter or ungrounded, returning to your journal entry detailing 2018 reflections and 2019 intentions and actions can help steer you back.
And, today, as you set intentions and actions for 2019, it can help to imagine yourself a year from right now. As you picture yourself standing on the bridge between 2019 and 2020, imagine the future you feeling fulfilled and satisfied about how you showed up in 2019 and the goals and intentions that were met. Return to that feeling as often as needed and necessary. Orient your internal compass to 2019 intentions as your true north.
Wishing you a wonderful new year full of discoveries, connections, happiness, personal growth and love!
Samara Vachss Serotkin, Psy.D. is a mindfulness-based psychologist and coach, as well as a mother and wife, based in Seattle, USA. She blogs regularly at www.focusandthrive.com, is a contributor at the Huffington Post, and is the author of two upcoming books.