This is it — that time of year when 2018 fades into 2019 and many of us start making New Year’s resolutions. I’m a fan of resolutions — they helped me write my first novel — but not all people are.
Often we start the new year with the best of intentions, but life gets in the way and our goals peter out. We have that cigarette. We blow off the gym. We feel like we failed and that our lives can never change.
If you find it difficult to stick to New Year’s resolutions, you might consider doing a life audit instead. The life audit is a concept I first read about on Medium several years ago, and I’ve been doing a life audit annually since February 2015.
The concept is simple and very straightforward. I’ve adapted my process from the original post by Ximena Vengoechea, but you can conduct your life audit in the way that suits you best.
Step 1: Gather your supplies. You’ll need a notebook, a pen, and a stack of Post-It Notes (preferably different colors). You’ll also need one afternoon and a wall. Give yourself time and space (both literal and figurative). I prefer to do this alone in an empty house.
Step 2: Get comfortable, and start dreaming. Using the Post-Its, start writing down dreams, wishes, and goals as fast as you can think them up. Don’t overthink or censor yourself — just write, stick, and repeat.
Step 3: Sort your dreams into categories. The categories I’ve used in the past include Love/Relationships, Work/Professional Life, Bucket List/Hobbies/Interests, and Values.
This step can be completed separately or as part of step 2. Vengoechea did not use different colored Post-It Notes for her life audit — she sorted her stickies into categories later.
Personally, I prefer to use different colors of Post-Its for different categories and stick them up on the wall as I go. For me, it helps to see visually where my priorities lie — sort of like a living bar graph.
Step 4: Assign a time frame to each of your dreams. Vengoechea suggests using vague time windows such as Now/Soon, Someday, or Always/Daily. I prefer Short-Term. Long-Term, and Habit. If something I’ve labeled “Habit” is not currently a habit, I’ll consider how I can turn it into one. If I labeled a dream Short-Term, I’ll start to think about what in my life needs to change in order to make it a reality in the next few years.
Step 5: Make your “Five People” lists. They say we are the average of the people we spend the most time with, so it’s important to periodically take stock of the people in our lives.
For this step, I like to make two lists: Five people I spend the most time with, and people I’d like to spend more time with. In other words, which of my friends do I miss? Which possess traits that I am trying to cultivate in my own life? If these lists are full of completely different people, think about how you can get more facetime with the people who matter.
When making your lists, it’s important to be honest. The second list may surprise you, and that’s OK! My husband appeared on my “Want to Spend More Time With” list nearly four years ago — before we were even dating.
Step 6: Spend some time with your dreams. It’s important to give yourself a day (maybe even several days) to just stare at your list of dreams. Do they seem surprisingly simple, out of reach, impossible?
If they seem impossible, ask yourself why. Do not shy away from your answer! Often, this is where the deep insights lie.
Do you feel you’re not creative enough, smart enough, or talented enough? Why? Is it money? How much would it take? Is it time? Who cares? Does it require a change in locale? How difficult would it be to move?
Putting words to our fears and objections robs them of their power. When we take the time to really look at these objections honestly, we may realize that they are not the insurmountable obstacles we once thought! How long would it take to save $1,000? Do you have twenty minutes a day? Is a cross-country move really out of the question? Once you start to think of these questions practically, it may scare you how accessible your dreams really are.
For writers, it can be helpful to digest your list in the form of a writing exercise:
Which items on your list excited you the most? Which surprised you? What common themes do your dreams share?
Examine your Habits category. How would your life need to change in order to make all those things part of your daily routine? Are you willing to make those changes?
Make a list of five dreams you plan to take action on this year. Jot down a step you can take today and another step you can take next week to move yourself closer to those dreams.
Why You Should Perform a Life Audit
I am a huge proponent of the life audit because it literally changed my life. The first year I did one, I was stuck in a day job that brought me no joy. I was in a stagnant relationship, and I had not had the courage to admit that it had run its course. I was living in another state, and I felt very stuck in my current situation.
When I began putting my dreams up on the wall, that made them real. I couldn’t hide, and I could no longer deny them.
I realized that if I wanted to achieve the life I wanted — instead of just trying to fit into the life I had — I needed to make some pretty big changes.
That year, I started a new relationship. I quit my day job to begin writing full time. I began to think about where exactly I wanted to live, and the following year I made that move.
Of course, you may not experience such dramatic changes. In fact, I think few people will. It just so happened that I completed the life audit at a pivotal time when I was already poised for big change. (I was 24, after all.)
But the little changes we make matter, too. Maybe this is the year that you decide to make writing a daily practice. Maybe you decide to take the next step to publish work you’ve already written. Maybe you want to go to Hawaii or try pottery or take up gardening or learn to cook. The possibilities are endless. That’s what makes life so great.
As writers, we cannot afford to live stagnant lives. Stagnation leads to creative death, which is just one step away from actual death.
If you look at your list and bemoan your finances, your obligations, your relationships, or your life constraints, stop complaining and start planning. Complainers live lives designed by other people and resent them every single day. Planners are the architects of their own lives who get to smile at the weird wonderfulness of it all.
Repeat after me:
Your dreams are not too costly.
Your dreams are not inconveniences.
Dreams are not childish.
They are not unrealistic.
Dreams are blueprints for our lives. They show us what we must make time, room, and money for. I’m not suggesting that you run out and spend your life savings on a trip around the world or blow up your marriage to move to Spain. You don’t need to live in Paris to become a painter, and you don’t have to quit your day job to write that novel. (In fact, you probably shouldn’t.)
I’m suggesting that you begin to take your dreams seriously. Look at the blueprint and figure out what needs to happen to build that dream life. What “materials” do you need? These can be literal or figurative. Who can you enlist to help?
Don’t limit yourself because of your life circumstances. Brainstorm ideas for how you can change your circumstances to make room for your life.
Do your audit this week, and tell me how it went. What surprised you? What scared you? What excited you? What five dreams will you take on this year?
Photo by Jan Piatkowski