How do you make plans for the coming weeks, months, and year– when you actually CAN’T make plans? Well. I have a weird, counterintuitive thing for you to try that I think will help.
I turned 44 on Wednesday, and I’m definitely wiser than I was last week. (That is how it works, yes?)
Truthfully, my birthday got off to a rocky start. I hit a snag– a bad snag, more like an unravel– in a project I’ve been quietly working on behind the scenes. I was so sad and discouraged, and I poured my messy guts out to my RichJuicyStarryBeauty community, and they held me with the gentlest possible witness. Then, largely because of the stress of that creative disaster, I ended up having an awful fight with my husband. 10pm the night before my birthday. We tried to come back from it, with apologies and hugs, but it was definitely not ideal.
I woke up the next morning to a cup of tea from him. I felt chagrin. I sighed a big sigh and vowed to be a better person. You know, now that I’m 44 and all.
Then I went down to make my next cup of tea and discovered that my prized SMEG kettle had stopped working.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
I am sorry to say that instead of being resilient and upbeat and a grownup about it, I wilted like a four-year-old.
But then, because the universe is kind, I got to pack an overnight bag and go away for two nights at a local hotel with my beloved. Which is where I’m writing you from right now. (Parents, get thee away from thy children every now and then. It is the most potent miraculous thing. I have 84 new ideas, my brain is functioning again, and I can’t wait to see them.)
Each year, I try to spend some time around my birthday looking back at the past year, taking stock, and dreaming up what I want to create in the coming year. (I shared some journaling prompts last week you can use if you’d like some help with this.)
I think of it as my new year ritual, because I like to get ahead of the coming year BEFORE the holidays. Otherwise I feel like I don’t really wake up and get started on the new year until it’s almost February. But how do we look ahead when in most ways we actually CAN’T make plans?
But this year it feels like we CAN’T make plans for what comes next.
Which, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, is why it’s EVEN more important to look ahead and set our course. We don’t want to just get washed along by whatever comes our way– especially if what comes is chaotic and unpredictable and not particularly friendly. In challenging waters, it’s all the more necessary to have a good map, a working compass, and a strong sense of where you want to go.
But how do we do that when objectively, realistically, honestly, we also can’t make plans? Not really?
How To Make Plans When You Can’t Plan Anything
Well. I’m going to propose something a little scandalous.
First, write down everything you DON’T like about your life right now.
This is the opposite of practicing gratitude and focusing on the positive and keeping your energy high.
It will feel weird to those of you who’ve spent a lot of time doing personal or spiritual development, because it will feel like you’re rooting around in cow muck instead of gazing up at the stars. But listen, that shit is fertile. So just try it.
Let all your mucky unevolved embarrassing thoughts and feelings come up. Let your inner four-year-old whine for a minute.
Answer this question: What do you NOT want any more?
Go ahead and scribble it down, all the crappy bullshit stuff you are ready to be DONE with. All the parts of your life where you’re totally over it. Everything you hate. (Focus on how you FEEL about those things. So instead of writing, “the nightmare political farce in my country,” you’d write, “feeling so helpless yet furious about the political farce in my country.” I jest! Ha, not really.)
Anyway, maybe your list looks like:
I don’t want to feel RESENTFUL anymore.
I don’t want to be so TIRED any more.
I am so over feeling so LONELY.
I hate being so STUCK.
I’m done with all this ANXIETY.
I hate feeling like no matter how much I do, IT’S NEVER ENOUGH.
I’m ready to be done feeling so PINCHED financially.
I hate that I feel like an IMPOSTOR at work.
I am sick of DOUBTING myself.
I don’t want to feel UNLOVABLE any more.
Phew! If you’re like me and everyone I know, there’s some real charge to that list.
(If you can stand it, stop reading right now and actually do this exercise. It’ll be even more potent if you don’t know what comes next. But I bet you can’t help but keep on reading– I know I would. That’s ok. It’ll still work. Try to just write down what feels true without thinking ahead to the next step.)
Because here’s what you’re going to do next: you’re going to flip each of the key words in it to get to what it is that you really DO long for.
Ask yourself: what is the opposite of that? (A thesaurus can come in handy. Looking up the antonyms is often very revealing.)
an IMPOSTOR –> THE REAL THING
ANXIOUS –> PEACEFUL
STUCK –> HAVE MOMENTUM
RESENTFUL –> BE GLAD FOR
LONELY –> CONNECTED
TIRED –> RESTED
PINCHED –> ABUNDANT
DOUBTING –> TRUSTING
Each of the things you’re totally sick of holds in its opposite your key to the way out.
How to make plans when you can’t plan anything? Face AWAY from what you know DON’T want.
The words you come up with might not be perfect, but I bet they’ll give you a powerful glimpse into what you want.
Feel free to tweak or completely rewrite the words until they ring true…and hopeful.
I did this exercise many years ago with a coach, and I told her with great bitterness that it couldn’t possibly work for me, because one of the things I was totally sick of was living in a concrete jungle where everything was tight and dirty and dead. And I couldn’t change the city I lived in.
She said mildly, “So I hear you saying that you long for breathing room, for the energy of growth and beauty. Is there any way you can create just a little bit more of that in your life as it is right now?”
Oh. Oh why yes. Some plants, clearing out of my apartment, and walks in the sunshine were definitely possible. (Then a couple months later I ended up moving to Portland, one of the greenest growingest places there is…but that’s another story.)
So there you go.
I urge you to try it, actually on paper, instead of just thinking about it in your mind. If you let yourself take in the opposing forces of those opposites, you’ll find that those words and phrases can have a potent power to jostle around inside of you and point you in good, nourishing, helpful, interesting directions. You might find that they point you toward RELIEF.
But for all you overachievers out there, there IS a way to take it one step further.
How to make plans when you can’t? It’s simple. You just ask yourself, What can I do, right now in my life as it is, to create more of each of the things on the right side of that list?
Sometimes it’s really simple and basic. For instance, if you crave rest, you might need to go to bed earlier.
If you crave connection, you might want to join an online community or live course.
Some of them require a little more oomph.
If you crave momentum, you might need to find a project you can move forward with your own steam and energy and raw materials, no matter what happens in the outside world.
If you long for space and room to breathe, you might need pre-arranged boundaries with your family around a set time of day.
If you long for more financial stability, it might be time to get serious about using YNAB or starting up that side hustle.
And some of the words on this list just might pull you out of the pragmatic and show you your own soul.
For instance– what would it take to start TRUSTING yourself? Oh, why, just an utter reprogramming of your deepest beliefs and habits. (Which is utterly possible, by the way. Not instantly, no, but over the next year? Absolutely doable.)
Or– what would you need to do in order to believe, down to your bones, that you fully earned your seat at every table you sit at? It might take a deep dive into every aspect of how you treat yourself– how you talk to yourself, what you wear, how much you invest in yourself, the mantra you say silently to yourself every time your asshat colleague opens his mouth. (Again: we can do this.)
Or– if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were utterly lovable and precious and worthy, what might you change in your behavior? A shift in who you spend time with; a fierce cutting of ties with people who don’t value you properly; a fierce devotion to becoming your own most loyal ally, best friend, and tender passionate lover. (Do, DO do commit yourself to this. You won’t believe how much it’ll shift.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. That final step is just optional.
Start by just writing down what you DON’T want, and flip it to see it point to what you DO want. You might just surprise yourself.
The best part about this exercise is that you aren’t carving anything into stone. You don’t have to declare a theme for the year (yet!) or set goals you promise to accomplish, or really commit to anything at this busy, harried moment. You’re just digging around in the dirt and generating new POSSIBILITIES.
But if some of those possibilities make you stand up and catch your breath? If you find tears of relief slipping down your face? If some of your words flash like starlight in your chest?
Pay attention, my love.
Pay the most tender, wondering attention.
Even when things are hard, even when the world is upside down, even if there’s turmoil inside very you, you can still set your course. You can still steer yourself true by your own lights. You can declare dominion over your own goddamn life, no matter how messy. Don’t be afraid of the muck– there’s always a way to work alchemy. Dross to gold. Mess to hope. SICK OF IT to total soft clarity and simple aligned action. Stick with it. You’re made of magic, dearheart. Even the mess is part of the magic.