As the year comes to an end, you can take charge and move towards the life you want. Here’s a process to help you do just that.

2022 is almost over. When you think of the coming year, do you feel optimistic, or worried? Excited, or overwhelmed? Perhaps you experience a mix of emotions, depending on the topic: discouraged by the level of polarization around you, but excited about your work.

Take a moment to invite the whole felt sense of the coming year to come in your body. Your sense of the year is here… and you are here, observing it and being with it. For highly sensitive people (HSPs), this deceptively simple act of pausing and “being with” is a powerful, essential self-care practice.

Why? Because we experience strong emotional reactions to situations and events, and our HSP brains need to deeply process these reactions. The idea of the future can bring up particularly strong responses for us.

Yet the future hasn’t happened yet. It’s wide open. You can open up or close down entire realms of possibility, depending on what you allow yourself to imagine. As we end this year, I invite you to use the process I’ve shared below, to open to the possibilities you wish for.

Open a Word document on your computer or use a pad of paper, and ask yourself the three questions below. They are my version of an exercise I learned in a business course (thank you, Jeanna Gabellini). I ask myself these questions every year at the end of the year.

Important note: Don’t edit yourself. Remember that anything can happen. Don’t worry about how it will happen. However, feel free to specify when you need things to happen, if the timing matters.

1—”What do I need in the coming year to feel safe, secure, and sane?”

You’ll be tempted to edit your answers based on what you believe is possible or affordable. Don’t. Include everything you can think of that you need to feel safe, secure, and sane in the coming year. If it stimulates a strong “Yes!” feeling in your body, include it.

Do you have debt hanging over you? Put debt reduction on your list. Do you desperately need a quieter apartment? Write that down, even if you are sure no such place exists at a rent you could afford. Is your car dying, leaving you stressed out, wondering when it will next need an expensive repair? Write down the transportation strategy that would make you feel safe, secure, and sane.

Though I was fortunate not to have debt in 2016, my list that year focused heavily on finances: my low income was having such a big effect on my feelings of safety, security, and sanity. Here were my top items:

  • Income of $48,000 to feel safe.
  • $400 a month to cover health insurance premiums and deductibles [I knew that increasing my income would cause me to lose my subsidized health insurance, which scared me]
  • $10,000 in an emergency fund [I knew I might need to cover unexpected medical expenses on a high-deductible health insurance plan; this number gave me that feeling of,“Yes, what a relief.”]

What does your list contain? Don’t limit yourself to financial items. If you are in a relationship that is bad for your mental and/or physical health, for example, write down what you would need to feel safe, secure, and sane. This past year, I had “regular vigorous exercise” on my list: not getting it left me wanting to climb the walls.

“What support do I need to accomplish this list?”

Once you’ve completed your “safe/secure/sane” list, make a related list including any help, training, or support you need to accomplish the items you listed above. Here is a sampling of items from my 2016 help/training/support-needed list. Note that the top item was not a material object, but a psychological need:

  • Help healing this old trauma about people turning on me, so I can feel safe putting myself out there—this is my biggest resource drain
  • Expert help and info to make health insurance transition to paid insurance from Medicaid
  • Instruction in screencast video production
  • Writing coaching
  • Legal help to finish updated will
  • Electrician to install a new doorbell

Some of these items happened right away: I found a new attorney who helped me update my will, and we hired an electrician who installed a working doorbell (at the time I was seeing clients in person, and had no way to know they had arrived: it was driving me crazy.)

I also found a writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant. (That turned out to be life-changing in completely unexpected ways.) The video production fell away: it turned out I did not need it. Healing the trauma took all of 2016 and more. However, once I realized what a priority it was, I worked steadily on it, and happily it is now a thing of the past.

2—”If I had more than enough money to feel safe and secure, what would I do next?”

Imagine your safe/secure/sane list is taken care of, and you still have ample income left. What would you do next? What needs to be in place to make life simpler, easier, more manageable? This stage of the process is fascinating, and really important: items will show up here that you (despite all my urging to the contrary) might not otherwise permit yourself to imagine you need.

Would you buy a house? Pay off your mortgage on the house you live in now? Put all your stuff in storage and travel the world for six months? Visit beloved friends and relatives more often? Cut back to a four-day work week? Give more money to environmental causes? Get a massage every week? Have fun with this.

Here are some of the items I wrote down in 2016. You’ll recall that my low income was really weighing on me. The amount I imagined earning in Question 1 brought relief, but by no means complete relief. Hence my “more than enough” list was still focused on financial wishes:

  • $30,000 in an emergency fund [as a self-employed person, I was worried about having no disability or paid sick leave]
  • Maximum allowable monthly to retirement
  • Bookkeeping monthly help
  • An accountant and a lawyer (need to incorporate)
  • Systems in place for all this so I don’t get jangled

3—”What if I had a wild abundance of money?”

A note before we unpack this third question: HSPs are wonderfully idealistic. For that reason, you may be quietly asking yourself, “Why is she so focused on money? There is so much more to life than money.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s just that money is such a reality in our lives that we can easily limit ourselves based on what we think we can affordwithout even realizing we are doing so. That’s why it is so powerful to imagine you have boatloads of money. Pretending that “money is no object” will help you get past your conscious and unconscious limitations.

Interestingly, this is the question I’ve typically had the most trouble answering. My safety, security, and sanity needs are unavoidably front-of-mind for me. I may have trouble imagining how I could possibly meet those needs, given my current resources, but I don’t have trouble identifying them in the first place.

Having loads of money, however, leaves me curiously puzzled. What would I do with it, if I had it? If you find yourself drawing a similar blank, try playing the game I call “Queen for a Day” (scroll down to number five.) If Queen for a Day doesn’t take the lid off your imagination, I don’t know what will.

My examples

Here are some items from my 2016 “wild abundance” list, with a bit of explanation in brackets:

  • Take over the family cottage—if everyone agrees and if it feels right [My generation owns it now: we all love the place, yet maintenance has been stressful since everyone lives and works far away.]
  • Regular time in Hawaii [My partner and I both used to live there, and we love it there]
  • Second home in the mountains somewhere? [We both love hiking.]
  • Passive income pays living expenses [Seven years later, I’d say I’d be happy to have passive income, but I wouldn’t want to stop working: I love what I do.]
  • Pay off Claire’s college
  • Travel, visit, explore: things like walk the Santiago Compostela trail for 2 months
  • Fund my partner’s work [the work he does is very important, and hard to get funded.]
  • Work to contribute

What would you do, if money were no object? To answer this question, you may need to take time to ponder your highest values.

3 things I’ve learned from answering these questions each year

1—I have never, ever regretted investing in the items on my list for safety and security, even when it felt like a financial risk at the time. Without fail, making my safety and security list happen has made my life better in every way.

2—I’m consistently surprised by the creative, unexpected ways the needs I express in my lists end up getting met. I’ve found ways to afford things I had not thought I could possibly afford: either new income showed up to cover the cost, or I unexpectedly found solutions that were much less expensive than I had anticipated.

3—Ask, and you shall receive: I’ve repeatedly seen the power of identifying the help I need, then reaching out for it. People want to help each other, and help can show up in wildly unexpected ways. I often recall the words of a successful entrepreneur who said his greatest regret was waiting so long to ask for help.

Perhaps most important of all, when you clarify what you need and set about getting it, asking for help along the way, you feel empowered. Good things happen. As you move towards the life you want, your gratitude naturally flows, which helps more good things happen. It’s a virtuous cycle.

I wish all this for you, and more, in the coming year.

Thanks Kaitlyn for the photo! (