New Year’s Reset

by Shana Montesol Johnson

6400543Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy (Chinese) New Year! I find that, living in Asia, welcoming the lunar new year is a bit of a relief. It’s a time of year when I actually have some breathing room to reflect on the past year and plan for the year to come.

My personal family tradition is to ring in the new year on January 1, immediately following the rush of the end-of-year tasks, holiday prep, and vacation travel. At that point, I am frazzled, tired, and not exactly in the best frame of mind at for setting new year’s goals (by the way, I prefer to focus more on “goals” than “resolutions.” You can read why here.)

And then January gets underway, the calendar fills up, To Do lists mushroom, life goes on. Blessedly, before I can get too far into the new year, Chinese New Year comes along. Since I have no family obligations or travel that go along with it, it is the perfect time for reflecting, thinking, planning.

If you, like me, woke up on January 1 with no New Year’s resolutions, no sense of closure to 2013, no concrete plans or goals for the new year, I am here to tell you that it’s not too late. If, on the other hand, you launched into January with lofty ambitions or even just a handful of resolutions that have already crashed and burned, I invite you to hit the “reset” button and start over in the (lunar) Year of the Horse.

Bear with me a moment, let me push that button….


Okay, now that you have a clean slate and a bit of breathing room, I invite you to:

  1. Take Stock: What was the good, the bad, and the ugly (as well as the beautiful) about 2013? Think back on last year, and identify what you were doing when you were most aligned with your core values and playing to your strengths?
  2. Get Clear: Based on what you loved and loathed about 2013, what do you really, really want in 2014? It doesn’t have to be a traditional goal like “get a promotion” or “land my dream job.” Maybe you want to feel a certain way — more calm, relaxed, and focused. Perhaps you want to take more risks or experience adventure.
  3. Act: Brainstorm some actions you could take to get you closer to what you want. Then choose one goal to start with. Design some do-able actions that you can get started on right away. Build in accountability. Plan to celebrate progress, even on a small scale.

These three simple steps – Take Stock, Get Clear, Act – can bring about amazing results. These are the same three steps I guide clients through in the “What’s Next?” coaching program which is, incidentally, one of the things I most loved doing in 2013, and that I’d like to continue this year. (You can read more about it here.)

To help you work through your planning process for 2014, I’ve designed a self-guided worksheet, Three Steps to a Great New Year (2014 edition). It’s a PDF with step-by-step instructions, prompting questions, and space for reflection. Everyone on the Development Crossroads newsletter list will receive it automatically. If you’re not on that list, simply leave your email address in the form below. You’ll also be added to the email newsletter list, so that you can receive goodies like this worksheet, as I develop them.

Here’s wishing you a fulfilling, fun, and unforgettable Year of the Horse!

Image provided courtesy of Think Brownstone, Inc.


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New Year’s Resolution: To De-stress

by Shana Montesol Johnson

4331097922_7694d187e8_mThe’s Global Development Professionals Network recently ran a Q&A series on New Year’s resolutions. They asked me to participate by sharing my response to a question posed by a human rights worker. The original post can be found here.

Q: Last year I was overworked and stressed out by my job. My work can also be quite traumatic, meeting and interviewing people who have suffered human rights abuses. How can I continue to give my all to my job that I care passionately about, while not neglecting my physical and emotional health?

A: Your goal of giving your best at work, while not neglecting your physical and emotional health, is one that we would all do well to adopt. Of course, the two elements of this goal are two sides of the same coin: you cannot give your best at work if you do not practice self-care. It’s simple, but not easy. There are three elements that will contribute to your success: self-awareness, boundaries and accountability.


First, you must know yourself – what energises you? What depletes you? What do you need to feel physically well – how much sleep, what kind of food, how much exercise? What do you need to feel emotionally whole – how much time with friends, how much solitude, what kind of spiritual practices? How do you best process your emotionally intense work experiences – with a therapist, by writing in your journal, by sharing with colleagues? How much distance from your work do you need, whether through non-work friends and outside activities, relaxing trips or alternate work assignments?

As you look ahead to the new year, take some time to reflect on what contributed to your physical and emotional health in the past year, and what hindered it. What enabled you to give your best to your job, and what kept you from being at your best?


Self-care requires setting some boundaries. When you work in global development, your job will take as much from you as you are willing to give it. It’s up to you to decide how much is enough. How many hours a week will you work? How much time will you spend in the field? How much travel will you do? Of course, there will be emergencies during which you may choose to temporarily set aside your boundaries and work harder, longer, under stressful circumstances, because the situation warrants it. Just check yourself to ensure you are not operating in emergency mode all the time.


To make your self-care practices stick, tap into the power of accountability. You are probably very diligent and dependable at work. If you tell your boss that you will write a report by the end of the week, you deliver. If you set a time to interview someone who has suffered human rights abuses, you show up. These external accountabilities are easier to meet because they tap into the power of social expectations. Someone else is counting on you. And yet, when you resolve to leave work at a decent hour, start exercising, or get more sleep, you may be less likely to accomplish these. This is true for most people. It’s easy to hit the snooze button on our personal goals when no one else knows about them.

The trick is to externalise our internal goals. Don’t just keep your goals in your head. Research shows that people who write down their goals, share this information with a friend, and send weekly updates to that friend are on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely thought about their goals.

Self-care may seem selfish. But in the long run, it benefits your organisation, your team, and the survivors of human rights abuses that you interview, because taking care of yourself will enable you to give your work your best. Self-care can help keep you from burning out, becoming ineffective, and/or ultimately quitting when your best work is still needed. To have a global development career that makes an impact, view it as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Photo by Alan Cleaver


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