“This year is going to be different.”
“2023 is going to be MY year.”
“This is the year I’m going to get my shit sorted.”
“New year, new me.”
This is the dawn chorus of January 1st. The bleary eyed, dry mouthed optimism that, because a number has changed on your calendar, all is set in motion for a radical new existence.
And maybe, they are right.
If you were dropped off in a city you had never visited before and were told to walk to the city hall, and you just set off randomly, there is a definite chance you would walk straight there.
But most likely you would get lost, end up being chased my meth-heads from a dark alley, and find yourself sheltering in the nearest Starbucks, desperately trawling over a poorly crafted tourist map, or standing on your chair trying to get some semblance of phone signal.
2023 is that unknown city. The 4G is patchy as hell, the city planning looks like it was designed by one of the above meth-heads, and the signage is illegible.
But fear not. I will be your tour guide today.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”Albert Einstein/Winston Churchill/Marcus Aurelius/Take your pick
Yet, when the morning of New Year’s Day comes around, here we are, hoping for new results whilst never really changing up the tactics.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions (which you can read about hear), at least not in the typical way people do it.
Planning my year ahead, setting goals and aspirations, and creating the life I want to live is really important to me.
But it starts last year, with my ANNUAL END OF YEAR REVIEW.
Every year, I take about a week to review my previous 12 months and to make plans for the coming year.
This, for me, is an act of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is about being present; being in the here and now.
If you are like me, much of your mental bandwidth is spent fretting over and reliving things of the past, or panicking and feeling anxious about the future. Hardly the epitome of being in the present moment.
These thoughts and fears flit about like flies in our mind. We spend so much time waving our hands about trying to avoid them that we never actually take stock of the problem itself.
Spending some focus time, reviewing the past and planning how we want the future to be allows us much more freedom and bandwidth to focus on the now.
You can do your end of year review any time of the year. Don’t feel constrained by the convention of essentially made up calendars. 12 months is 12 months regardless of when you start.
I like to do mine after the Christmas/New Year period. Rather than reviewing and planning from a place of shame and guilt that unfortunately plagues so many people directly after the festive period, I like to get myself back to a degree of normality before starting.
My review process is an amalgamation of a number of different people’s systems, but most noticeably influences by Tim Ferriss, Chris Sparks, and the folks at Intellegent Change.
The first part is to look retrospectively back at the previous year. Re-reading your journal or scrolling through your camera roll can be a great way to jog your memory.
- What are you grateful for from the last 12 months? What events, moments, people and things do you truly feel thankful for?
It’s always good to start with gratitude. Sending the focus outwards like this is great for feeling that we are part of something bigger that just ourselves.
Whether this was simply catching the sunrise or a life changing event, jot it down.
2. What did you do to help yourself move closer to your life goals?
What things did you do in the past 12 months that have pushed the dial positively towards your big aims in life? If it’s a step in the right direction, then it goes in, no matter how small.
3. What things made you feel proud of yourself last year?
This can be either personally, professionally, or a mixture of both.
Now that we have rejoiced in all the glorious things of the last 12 months, it’s time to confronts the less than great aspects.
4. What did not go well last year? What could you have done better? And why do you think this was the case?
If it helps you can split this into categories, for example, health, professional, relationship, personal, etc.
This is not to lay blame on yourself or anyone else. This is to understand our weaknesses and shortcomings so that we can shore them up in the coming year. If we don’t identify our weaknesses we will be doomed to keep repeating them.
5. Based on your answers to question 4, what did you learn from this? What can you do differently to avoid this happening again?
This section is super important. The sooner we realise that the more mistakes we make the more experience and knowledge we gain, the better.
The Chinese word for crisis is Wéijī.
Wéi meaning danger, jī often incorrectly translated as opportunity, but more accurately as, change point.
The fact is, that any crisis, mistake, or failure carries with it the potential for opportunity and change. As one door closes, another opens.
Whether it’s from lessons learnt, mindset shift, or a radical new direction as the product of necessity, the opportunity is always there.
It’s at this point that I take a leaf out of Tim Ferriss’ book and, on a clean page, divide the page up into 2 columns.
On one side I write the title ‘The Good Shit’. In this column I jot down all the things, activities and people that sparked joy in me. However simple or profound, it all goes on the list.
This list will inform me of things to include in the coming years schedule. It’s the good shit, do it often.
The second column is simple titled ‘The Shit’. This is all the stuff I could have done without. The people that trigger me or leave my blood boiling; the activities that I could have ignored to no detrimental effect; the events that I went to due to feelings of obligation not desire. Anything that had a negative effect on me goes here.
This stuff goes on my not to-do list. I don’t want this on my schedule at all. But if you find that you still can’t eradicate this shit entirely, then make a pact to avoid it, where possible, for the first couple of months.
Sometimes we can make plans involving things we think we ought to do rather than want to do.
Remember, it’s nearly always the things that people didn’t get to do that creates the regret they feel on their death bed. Life is short. Fill it with as many things that bring you joy as possible.
This 2 column list helps to put things into perspective.
Ultimately, the more questions you ask yourself about the past year, the more answers you’ll discover. So expand upon this as much as your like.
Next comes the planning stage.
From doing the retrospective we should now have a good idea of what works for us, what we enjoy, and what we don’t want. Add to this the lessons learnt from things that didn’t go to plan, and we should have a good platform from which to work.
Goals – What goals would you like to achieve in the coming 12 months? Really dig deep on this. No goal is off the the table at this stage. Nothing is too big. Dare to dream.
Again, I find it useful to break mine up into categories. For me, my favourite categories are:
- Health and Well-being
- Service and contribution
Once you have put everything down, it’s time for the difficult task of picking just one from each category. What’s your number one goal in each?
Why restrict yourself to just one? Overwhelm is a real killer to progress.
I’m a firm believer that you can do anything in life. But you can’t do everything.
Picking a single goal for each category will increase your chances of success greatly. And if you achieve your goal in 6 months, feel free to choose another.
Understand your WHY – This is critical for success. I go into the importance of knowing your WHY in this post. Understanding your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for wanting the goal propels you towards it quicker and with greater ease.
Time Frame – Don’t underestimate the importance of setting a timeline for achieving your goal. Without this, it is too easy to feel like you have achieved something just by announcing your intention.
When will you achieve your goal? What milestone will you set to mark your progress? Without breaking your task down into measurable increments you’ll not know if you are on track for success.
For example, if you decided that running a half marathon was a goal for 12 months time, then first off, book that race now. Get it in the diary.
Next plan how you are going to get from where you are now to crossing that finish line.
You might schedule in a Couch-to-5k programme for the first 2 months. From here you might start a Parkrun each week to work on that 5km time, and add some other tempo or interval runs at other times in the week for a month or two, culminating in a 5k race.
From here you could start a 10k race training plan, with a planned 10k race at the end of it.
And so on and so forth. We have regular check ins in this system to gauge our progress, and if things are not going to plan we can tweak our approach or alter the timeframe.
Plan – The example above also shows the importance of making a plan. Just running without a plan will likely lead to missing your goals at best, and injury at worst.
Decide what help and support you need. Plan to accrue whatever resources you need.
Plan your steps required to get to your goal.
A really good habit to get into is an ongoing monthly review to check your progress and help keep you on track. Remember to celebrate your wins along the way.
Take your time with this. It’s worth putting the effort in and really thinking deeply about this, so don’t rush it.
If you’d prefer to have a template all done for you I’d highly recommend the Intelligent Change Best Year Journal. It is laid out in a really nice way with lots of prompts to help you on your way. If, like me, you suffer with an addiction to new stationery, then here’s your permission to get that nice new notebook and turn your plans into action.
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