January is a wonderful time of the year for taking stock of our lives. The cold, wintery weather encourages us to slow down, and the quietness of nature invites us to pause and to be still. It is a time for reflection, a time to be nurtured by silence, a time to pay close attention to the whisperings of our hearts.

Being in the month of January is like standing on the peak of a mountain on a clear day; To the left we see the challenges and choices of last year, and to the right unfolds the fresh landscape of the coming cycle of seasons. Looking back at the past year, we can count our blessings and successes, and learn from the inevitable hardships and mistakes that are an essential part of the instruction in life's schoolroom. Enriched by this perspective and the wisdom it brings, we gaze upon another year stretching out in front of us - a year filled with new opportunities and the priceless gift of time.

A survivor of life-threatening illness recently put it this way; "Cancer changed my whole perspective on life. It woke me up to the wonder and opportunity of each day and every precious moment. Life is too short for regrets, worries and pettiness. I know I've received a gift of time, and in turn, I want to give back to my loved ones and to the world."

How do you personally want use the gift of time that the rest of the year will bring? Take a little while away from your normal responsibilities and ponder this question: What would you most love to accomplish during this precious year of opportunity?

The key word in this question is "love." Thinking about and doing what we truly love is energizing. It's good for our physical health, and brings us joy and satisfaction. Doing what we love stimulates creativity and is one of the best motivators ever discovered.

Next, with pen and paper in hand, write down your answer to this simple yet profound question: What would you most love to accomplish during this precious year of opportunity?

Avoid mechanical answers. Take a few deep breaths and let your thinking be fresh, bold, and creative. Allow your heart to dream and be adventuresome. Jot down whatever words or pictures pop into your mind. When you're finished, look over what you've written and pick out your "target"- a word, or phase, or picture, or symbol that summarizes your answer that pinpoints what you want to accomplish in the coming months.

Now put your target in the center of a blank page and draw a small circle around it. Look at your target, and all around it jot down words and/or symbols of things that will help you achieve your target goal. Do this spontaneously, with censoring what comes out. What results is your vision map: an integrated picture of your target and the things that will help you reach it.

Take your one-page vision map and, if you wish, rework it or polish it up. You may want to draw connecting lines and arrows, insert key notes, or give your vision map a name. You may also wish to use bright markers or colored pencils to add richness and clarity to your diagram.

Show and explain your vision map to a few trusted loved ones and friends. Sharing your vision takes courage, it demonstrates your commitment to success, and it gives you a chance to receive helpful feedback from those your respect. After you finish sharing, use the feedback you have received to fine tune your vision map. Then post it in a place where you will see it frequently, all year long.

Here a few tips for following your vision map to your target goal:

• In the busyness of everyday life, it's easy to forget the importance of taking regular, small steps toward your vision. Creatively use reminders that will help you follow through: a string around your wrist, a note on your calendar, a pebble in your pocket.

• We often fail simply because we give up. Don't. It's OK to fall down; it's OK to get discouraged. But don't give up. Remember that failure is another word for learning. Persevere. It will likely be your key to success.

• Take a few moments here and there to visualize the end result of your vision map as if it were happening now. See your vision in living, moving color. If doubts or negative images start to crowd in, immediately let them go and again focus on your positive imagery.

• Enlist the help of a special friend, confidant or counselor who believes in your vision and will support your year-long commitment to it. Perhaps he or she might check in with you once a week or so to see how you are doing and to encourage you.

• Don't dwell on problems, but do prepare for potential obstacles. Thank ahead and name obstacles you are likely to meet in reaching your target goal. Plan ways to go around or under or over these barriers. When you are prepared for obstacles, we can more easily avoid them or nip them in the bud.

• Stay flexible as you move toward your target vision. As appropriate, update your vision map. Remain true to your purpose, while allowing for new information and changing circumstances.

Along with Martin Luther King, we each must quietly, receptively search our souls until we can say, "I have a dream." Your dream is your inner, visionary call to adventure. A part of your dream is captured in your vision map. As a gift to yourself and to your world, bring your vision map to life. What a wonderful way to say thanks for the invaluable gift of time that this coming year will bring.