Last year was last year. This year is this year.

But sometimes it’s hard to make that kind of hard and fast demarcation. Especially when this past holiday season was unlike any other.

Without knowing, we end up lugging old baggage into the new year that doesn’t even belong. It’s as if resurfacing old pain for the sake of being justified in our victimhood.

Ouch. I know that one stung a little.

But if we want to be at our best, we must clear the way for a new year. Here’s what I’d encourage you do immediately.

Journaling Exercise #1: Decluttering & Detoxing

When it comes to starting your year right, I know of no greater authority than Michael Hyatt. And what follows stems from his post called Seven Questions to Ask About Last Year.

Before getting started, he suggests going to a quiet place with a journal, pen, and a cup of coffee. Good advice.

Once you’re ready, take some time to answer the following questions. For more ideas on what your answers might look like, you can refer to Hyatt’s post linked earlier.

  1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be?
  2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring?
  3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of?
  4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?
  5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?
  6. What was missing from last year as you look back?
  7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year?

I have been religiously asking myself these same questions every year since 2014 and have even done so in a public way. You may find some value in my answers too.

Whether you share your answers with others is up to you. But public accountability can help with follow through. If you struggle with action, share publicly.

Journaling Exercise #2: Reflection & Resetting

Every winter, I get together with my mastermind group to reflect on the year past and set goals for the year ahead. This year, for obvious reasons, we had to do this virtually.

The following questions will help you identify tasks and projects to prioritize in 2021.

Although the term “business” is used here, it’s interchangeable with “career,” “projects,” “creative efforts” or otherwise.

  • List the things that went exceedingly well for your business in 2020. Feel free to include personal wins, as the two are often interconnected.
  • Is there anything holding back your growth that you have been putting off, that would have the greatest potential to positively impact your life and business in 2021?
  • What are the top things from 2020 that have given you the greatest results in your business?
  • Time travel to December 2021 and imagine where you’ll be. What will you have accomplished? What will you be grateful for? What would excite you most about what you achieved?
  • Now that you have defined where you want to go, where are you now? What is the gap? What needs to happen to close the gap?
  • Optional: If you’d like, you can now set goals for 2021 and subject them to scrutiny. If there’s anyone you trust to give you constructive feedback, ask them for help.

I shared this process with my friend, Mabel Wong of Dermaly last year, and she found immense value in it.

Having answered the above questions, identifying what to do next in your efforts becomes much easier. And you get to see for yourself what is working and what isn’t.

Step #3: Delete Last Year’s Emails

“What? Delete all my emails? Are you nuts!?”

Right about now, you’re probably feeling tightness in the pit of your stomach. Because you’re about to confront something that makes you feel uncomfortable. This is normal.

It has been my observation, however, that we tend to resurface what is unfinished and what went wrong when we hold onto our emails from the year past. We get to roll defeat around in our heads, when we know deep down it’s only causing anxiety, and because we’re not in action, whatever didn’t go well isn’t aligned with our values.

Here, “values” refers to how you spent your time and money this past year. Not what your stated or aspirational values are, which often aren’t in alignment with your bank balance or calendar.

Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t back up contacts or archive important messages. Please do.

But clearing your inbox gives you a clean slate. It stops you from circling back to the incomplete and irreconcilable in your life.

Clearing your inbox gives you a clean slate. It stops you from circling back to the incomplete and irreconcilable in your life. Click To Tweet

2019 was a difficult year for me (there’s a reason I’m referencing 2019 and not 2020 here). For a variety of reasons. I bit off more than I could chew, and even though I kept chewing, I just couldn’t finish it all.

I disappointed clients. I dropped the ball on projects. I felt exhausted and couldn’t maintain a high level of performance. And the worst part of it was that I came down on myself. Hard.

I achieved a great deal in 2019. Even then, there were sins of omission and commission that weighed heavy on my shoulders and my heart.

So, the question is, do you want to drag that kind of baggage into another year? Or do you want to be done with it?

This is not an excuse to shirk commitments. This is a way to say “goodbye” to those things from last March you know you’re not even going to touch. Because they aren’t in perfect alignment with your true values.

You will never get around to those things. Let stakeholders know you’d like to make it up to them in some way and move on.

Final Thoughts

What would it mean to you to be able to start the new year fresh? What would that make available to you?

Would you be able to accomplish more? Would you feel better about the past and be able to bring more of your awareness to the present?

Take some time for yourself. Sit down with your journal and reflect. Write down what comes to mind.

2021 can be a better year than 2020. You just need to make a little time to process what has already happened, and what no longer is.

How do you clear the way for a new year? What do you do to make sure you’re not carrying baggage into the next 365 days?

Let me know in the comments.

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