It’s going to be another challenging year ahead, marked by interruptions and changing plans. In such a context it can be hard to find the motivation to keep pushing ahead with creative plans, let alone propose ambitious goals for the year. But there are some ways to plan for 2021 while incorporating enough flexibility to adapt to the inevitable challenges. 

Several creatives have been turning to words or phrases to help guide their ambitions for the year. For example, in her Extraordinary Routines writer Madeline Dore chose the word ‘merely’ for 2021, explaining that ‘this year I want to remain open to the moment in front of me and so I’ve chosen the word ‘merely’ to act as a gentle guide. Instead of getting caught up in lofty ambitions or rigid ideals, I want to merely do the work, bit by bit.’ Dore has been choosing a word since 2018, a process akin to Jason Fox’s ‘Choose One Word’ programme that is a counterpoint to the advice to dream big and set goals. 

Writer Natasha Khullar Relph similarly chose a focus for the year – pleasure – explaining that ‘This year, I don’t want to wait until I need to do my favorite activities, when I’m in a desperate need of a break. I want to do them for the sole reason that I enjoy doing them.’ Finding the motivation in taking note of the small pleasures in life, or reducing expectation in order to take small steps, are not surprising given the challenges of last year. 

So what’s the point of choosing a word for the year? Is this so different from goals? 

The value I see in these approaches is that they are flexible enough to adapt to roadblocks throughout the year but they can also pull you back on track if you feel like you’re starting to veer off on tangents or if you find yourself losing motivation. At that point you can recall the word, the reason you chose it and use it to pull yourself back to your intention for the year. 

The words are about more than outputs, they encapsulate an approach or an attitude for the year, which can influence both work and personal decisions. It is also something that can be controlled in an ever-changing environment. Where income goals or an ambition to work with a certain client can be dependent on things outside your control, your attitude to the small everyday decisions is something that lies within your power. 

So what is my approach for 2021? I decided on ’no excuses’ for the moto of the year. 

When I did a lot of dance I often came across this attitude. Because of the physical nature pf dance it’s very evident when you haven’t been working; when you haven’t been stretching at home of when you haven’t been drilling your muscles into certain movements. You can’t fudge the truth and pretend you’ve been doing more than you actually have. But when I was caught out not doing enough practice, the teacher wasn’t interested in hearing why, or listening to my excuses. 

At the time I railed against this. Sometimes there were very good reasons why I couldn’t do the practice. But the teacher can only work with what you bring to the class and their focus is on building that up, not in the past steps that got you there. If you don’t do the work, you progress more slowly. 

In dance this attitude helped me to do two things: it motivated me find the opportunities to practice and when I was in class it made me focus on building on what I had. I didn’t spend the class feeling guilty about all the times I hadn’t practiced at home, I just worked as well as I could when I could. 

So when I say ‘no excuses’ I mean it in a kind way: I don’t want to focus on the closed schools, the lack of time or the things I can’t control. I choose to focus instead on what I can do in each moment to get closer to where I want to be. I don’t want to turn perfectly understandable challenges into excuses by fixating on them. Instead I want to start from now: what can I do now as I sit down at the desk to write? As I learnt from dance, these moments can build up to surprising achievements by the end of a year.  

But it’s not just about keeping work on track. No excuses can be applied to all the enjoyable things I’ve been putting off because they seemed too hard or like too much of a hassle when everything was so uncertain. I won’t get to all of it this year and I don’t want to make it into a resolution that turns fun into hard work I feel guilty about, but I can create moments for these things. Because I don’t want to find excuses for putting off these small daily pleasures. 

I’ve still made goals (for the next three months rather than the whole year) and I have quiet ambitions that I’m secretly targeting. But I see this theme as a daily check, for all those small choices that I make that could veer me in one direction or another. 

No excuses is an effort to not dwell too much on the challenges and instead find ways to makes small steps towards progress by turning up to practice.  

Do you have a theme to motivate you for the year? Let me know below.

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