2016 was…. memorable, to say the least. This year – like life – seems to have been filled with everything: good and bad, hope and anxiety, triumph and defeat, and happiness and sadness. It feels like we are at another crossroads in history, and rather than simply coasting into another year, the way we each approach 2017 seems particularly important. As I sit back and think about my part in the year ahead, here’s how I’m preparing to approach it.
Get real, do an honest recap.
The best way to go into a new year is to enter it consciously with eyes wide open. Be brutally honest with yourself. If 2016 kicked ass and couldn’t have gone better, don’t get complacent. What role did you play in your successes? Why was the year so good? If 2016 wasn’t your favorite, don’t write it off as the past and assume that 2017 will be different just because it ends in a 7 instead of a 6. Instead, think about what didn’t go the way you had hoped, and ask yourself what role you played. Where did you help and where did you hinder? Maybe something happened that you couldn’t change. Could you change your reaction or your relationship to that event? Reflection allows us build on our strengths and to learn from our mistakes.
Get over yourself.
Use the mindset that you’re not that awesome and you don’t have all the answers. It’s easy to only talk to people who see things the way you do. Preaching to the choir isn’t hard. Get outside of your comfort zone and start talking to people who are radically different than you and with those who disagree with you (they’re everywhere, I promise). Instead of jumping down their throats and telling them why they’re wrong and you’re right, ask them why they see it the way they do and try to understand how they came to see things that way. Agreeing to disagree is constructive. It’s when we fail to embrace “different” and communicate constructively that we get into trouble.
Use the force with wisdom and kindness.
It seems like there are a lot of things people are angry about. Anger has the potential to be destructive and explosive if we ignore it or let it run wild. But what if you refocus your anger? I don’t mean go and harm others. What if you let your anger be the fuel for action and change? If you’re pissed off about something, take a deep breath, redirect it and imagine what you can do to create constructive change in your life or the world at large.
Empathize more, judge less.
Our brains are wired to judge. We are drawn on a biological level toward efficiency; it’s more efficient to categorize things and people on surface level, knee jerk reactions. Don’t judge people the same way you judge your Instagram feed. Empathy is critical for functional and productive relationships, and vital in business and design. It is the catalyst for change and transformation. We cannot design a productive solution if we fail to understand what it is we are trying to solve. We cannot create powerful, impactful design solutions if we do not know what we are trying to communicate. And we cannot effectively communicate when we don’t truly understand the person or people we are talking to.
More walk, less talk.
If you say you value something, prove it. Words are empty if they’re not backed with action. In the age of social media, it’s easy to feel like you can post something and that your post alone is a significant and valid reflection of your life, values and identity. The things we say matter, but the things that we do matter more. So be careful with your words and purposeful with your actions.
Read the good news.
There is a lot of bad news out there. And a lot of fake news now too. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by all that. There is – and always will be – a lot of really shitty things happening around the world. But if that’s all we ever talk about, we will forget that light and dark coexist. Balance your perspective, and read and pay attention to the good news every once and a while too.
Get up and get out.
Of your comfort zone. Of your office. Of your house. Of your point of view. Of your culture. Of your head. Of your routine. Mix it up this year. Breathe some fresh air. Literally and figuratively.
Stand up for something (and someone).
You have a voice. Use it. This coming year more than most, there is going to be plenty to stand up for. You don’t need to make grand gestures or change the whole world. But we do have a responsibility to leave it a little better than we found it.
Expand your attention span.
Our attention spans seem to be shrinking faster with every iPhone update, barely extending beyond 140 characters, an opportune Instagram, or a 10 second Snapchat. A short attention span is alright when it comes to entertainment, but when we begin to lose sight of our ability to think critically or connect with each other, it’s a big problem. Force yourself to pay attention to the things that matter for longer than a sentence or a sound byte. Analyze things deeply. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Look up. People watch. Listen. Read a whole book, or two. Remember how to be bored. Boredom is the space where genius is born.
Live in the moment.
It’s easy to spend a lot of time overanalyzing the past or trying to control the future, but while we’re busy living in another moment, the present is passing us by. Even if the moment sucks, be in it. Because it’s the only one you’re guaranteed for now.
I hit the end of every year feeling a little smarter and full of gratitude. And while I don’t have life figured out and continue to be a work in progress, each year I write out my goals and intentions and do my best to live up to them. I encourage you to do the same. If you find yourself falling short, as we all do at some point, remember to give yourself a little space and grace. Life is about balance. Set high expectations, but don’t forget to give yourself a break, you deserve some of your own kindness just as much as anyone else does. Happy New Year.