Have you created a context for 2017?

Creating a context means designing a mental, emotional, spiritual structure or container for the activities and events that will unfold this year (waiting to see how it all turns out is the opposite of this).

You may have heard about people creating a “word” for the year, or a statement of intention for the year, or by creating a possibility they want for the year. You may even have done that for yourself.

(Note: I’ll use the words context, frame, filter, container, holding space to all reference the same thing – the mental, emotional, spiritual structure for the activities and events that unfold in our lives – whether designed deliberately or there by default)

But why do that? The activities and events for this year will happen anyway. Isn’t it just wishful thinking to create a word or a statement for how you want the year to go?

We recommend you create a context for the year. Because a context is a structure or container, it’s purpose is to give a shape, frame, filter or holding place for the activities and events of the year. So, creating a context for the year will give you a frame for how the activities and the events will seem to you.

Everything – all the activities, events, your behavior, others’ behaviors, all of it – then happens in inside the frame. That frame or filter will color and even modify what happens inside of it. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point said:

The essence of the Power of Context is that our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances. But then, how does this work with or against the idea that our inner states ultimately create our outer world — that perception is reality or that if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change?

That’s useful to consider because you’re going to have a filter anyway (unfortunately there’s no such thing as being able to look at your life or live your life without any filters), so if you didn’t deliberately design it, you’re going to have whatever filter is simply and automatically there.

For example, I created my context for 2016 as “Growth”. My business is 3 years old and that seemed like a smart frame. So, everything that happened in 2016 occurred inside the frame I’d created – ‘growth’. I always think the context is about a particular thing – like last year what I actually meant when I said “growth” was that my business would have more clients and generate more revenue. I didn’t realize that having that particular frame last year would allow me to see some of what happened that wasn’t about new clients and more revenue in a way that was very empowering.

We had a few unexpected set backs last year. One of the set-backs was that I took on expanding the sales and delivery staff for our business, but the business wasn’t ready for employees. The business is ready for experienced consultants, but not folks who require training and development and don’t have a wealth of experience. I ended up not taking on the people I’d planned to because I didn’t see this nuance (after the fact it didn’t seem very “nuanced”, it seemed like a really glaring detail). This process took a lot of my time and energy over almost half the year, so not going this direction seemed like a major set back. However, viewed through the context of growth, I realized that the growth opportunity for me personally as a leader was absolutely critical and necessary. I grew. I learned something I simply wouldn’t have learned through only thinking it about it.

If I hadn’t created a context for the year, it’s likely that I would have viewed this time period as a huge upset – a big expectation that never got fulfilled. I would have blamed myself for being stupid because I didn’t see the issues going in and for continuing to work it as long as I did (and other, additional negative self-talk).

The most important aspect of the impact of context is that it affects our actions. Because I had the context of growth, my actions were to stop the process, move on and assimilate the learnings and growth. My actions inside the frame of a ‘default’ context were likely to have been time spent in self-pity, deciding to just go it on my own (which is a default mode for me anyway) and changing the strategy of the business so I wouldn’t have to deal with potential staff.

I prefer a frame or a context that allows me to process the activities and events in a way the moves me forward, keeps me operating in a interesting and compelling future and impacts my actions so they are consistent with my commitments and my values.

For 2017 I’ve created “Focused Heart” as my context. I’m interested in an expansion of heart in business and choose to be a demonstration of that. It will be interesting to see how that context affects my view and actions in 2017.

What have you created as a context for this new year?