In honor of my birthday this week (I get a week), I’d like to share some of my annual journaling rituals.
Journal writing is the perfect tool for creating personal development rituals. Goal setting and life assessment rituals provide the opportunity to regularly measure your progress so you can consciously direct your energy and resources where they’re needed most.
The end result is an accurate, up-to-date life map that gets you exactly where you want to go.
Birthdays as a great landmark for annual planning, goal setting, and taking stock of where you are and where you’re going. They are perfect for ritual creation because they happen predictably (same day every year!), and they are the only celebratory day that’s all about you.
Unless you’re a twin, you don’t have to share your birthday with anyone else.
While the New Year is the widely accepted time for annual goal-setting and reflection, I don’t find December and January conducive to big-picture exploration. For me, the New Year ends a season of excess and focus on others.
During the holidays, my desires are trumped by work and family obligations. All my planning revolves around the logistics of celebrating with three separate families – travel accomodations, gift lists, and dining itineraries.
When the New Year finally arrives, I am overwhelmed and my resources – time, money, and attention – are depleted. The last thing I want to do is create more work for myself with further planning.
That’s why I find birthdays the perfect time for strategic exploration. By the time my birthday rolls around, the holidays are long behind me. I’m rested and restored, and I’m in the mood for intensive self focus.
But I Hate Birthdays!
Some people prefer not to dwell on birthdays. Maybe you don’t want to think about aging, or you just have negative associations with birthdays. If that’s the case, feel free to pick another day each year to establish your ritual.
Another special date for me is June 21, the summer solstice. That day has always been an active one in my life for some reason; I start a new relationship, move cross-country, or get a new job. Since it tends to be a weighted day for me anyway, I always plan a self-focused ritual similar to the one on my birthday ritual.
Whether you pick your birthday or another day to establish your rituals, using the following tools can help you see where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and how best to get where you want to go.
Schedule a mini-retreat
In order to complete my journal writing rituals and planning exercises, I schedule a mini retreat.
My mini retreat does not require airline travel or even a hotel room. It does, however, require one full day that’s mine for journaling, with no interruptions.
This year I went to my favorite café on a sunny Saturday, very early in the morning, and I sat at a comfy table for about five hours writing, reviewing, planning and exploring. It was the perfect amount of time for me.
When I was done, I met a friend for lunch. It’s important for me to balance out the self-focused alone time with connection.
Compare birthdays and recalibrate your goals
If you don’t have a detailed snapshot of your last birthday because you’ve recently started journaling and goal setting, that’s okay. Try to remember the big picture items, and write about them.
What were you working on? What were you excited about? Who figured prominently in your life? Did you have any clear plans for the upcoming year?
Next year when you do this exercise again, you will have a highly detailed writing session to guide you.
Since I’ve been performing this ritual for a long time, I pull out my journal from the last session and review the goals I wrote at that point. Then I go through each goal, writing about whether or not I accomplished it and why.
It’s important to maintain a healthy balance when honestly looking at what you did or didn’t accomplish. Try to take a step back and provide an objective view, like a friend would. You need to be honest with yourself, but you also need to be compassionate.
Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t accomplish a certain goal. Just look at why you fell short. Did you bite off more than you could chew? Did you lose interest in that path altogether? Maybe you got excited about something new. Did you run out of resources?
Perhaps you made measurable progress on a goal, but underestimated the amount of work required. The idea is to understand what happened over the past year so you can make realistic goals for the current one.
Here’s an example from my recent birthday session. For my web design business, my goal was to increase my income by 50%, complete an advanced CSS training course, and redesign my company website.
Last fall, after dedicating myself fully to those endeavors, I decided to stop doing web design. I had an epiphany that I wanted to focus solely on my writing, with no distractions.
The web design goals are no longer relevant. I didn’t accomplish them, but that’s not failure – it’s recalibration. Now I’ve got a fresh set of goals with a new focus.
Choose your own adventure
Writing about where you want to be next year is a powerful journaling exercise. In my journal, I write about the ideal scenario. When I sit down for my birthday cake a year from now, what do I want the circumstances of my life to be?
What will my work day look like? My weekends? My relationship? My home? My health? My body? How do I want to spend next birthday? How do I want to feel?
When I’m done day dreaming, I ask myself, “What do I need to do this year to make that scenario a reality?”
Then I write it all down in specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound goals.
Do a round of “More/Less”
While normally used for crisis management, the “more/less” exercise is effective for big picture goal planning, as well.
I ask myself, “What do I want my year to have more or less of?” Just like I explain in the More/Less post, use two columns in your journal, one labeled “more,” and the other, “less.” Now brainstorm, without censoring, items for both sides.
I used this exercise in my journal during my most recent birthday ritual. I want my upcoming year to have more: music, socialization, city parks, writing, running, and fiction. I want it to have less: Facebook, computer time, anxiety, busywork, and isolation.
Journal with photographs
For my birthday this week, my parents sent me a big box of goodies. The best part of the package was the stacks of photographs sprinkled throughout.
My mom started putting together a photo album for me of all my birthdays, but ran out of time. While there was no album, the pictures captured many of my birthdays over the years.
Some of the photos were totally new to me. I was amazed at the revolving groups of friends and my (thankfully) ever-changing hairstyles. After receiving this great collection of memories, I want to be certain I capture at least one image each year so I can start my own journal of birthdays.
Along with photos, you can write in detail about the day – who was there, where you went, what you did. You can add in the cards you received and list gifts you were given.
Dream up a theme
After completing my birthday journaling and goal writing, I like to pick a theme for the year. This is largely for entertainment, but a theme also reminds me where to focus my energy, using just a few words.
My theme for 2008 was, “Brazen, unbridled and luminous.” That year definitely lived up to its theme. 2009 was christened “The year of invisibility.”
And this year, to highlight my dedication to spending more time with friends and less time in front of the computer, my theme is “Unplugged and Reconnected.”
Whether you choose your birthday or another important day of the year, crafting an annual ritual in your journal can help you see where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and how best to get where you want to go.