One of the great things about getting to the end of the year is sitting down and reflecting upon what went well, what didn’t go so well and what you can do to make the next year awesome.
And when I say reflecting, I literally mean sitting down with a pen and writing these things down and that’s what this post is going to be about – reflecting, planning and preparing to be awesome.
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This is a positive process, not negative!
It’s super important to realize that this isn’t a negative process. You’re not beating yourself up mentally for not achieving things. Instead, you’re acknowledging what you did well (and all of us, no matter how lame we think we are, have done something well), identifying things that didn’t go so well so that you can improve for the coming year.
If I was talking about my car, the internal conversation would go something like this:
What I like about my car
I really like the mileage. It’s pretty economical so I don’t need to fill up that often and it’s got plenty of room for shopping.
What I don’t like about my car
The windows keep steaming up and there are a few drops of diesel under the car every morning.
What can I do to improve my car?
I could get the door seals replaced because clearly moisture is getting inside and it’s probably a good idea to get the fuel lines looked at too. The car runs okay but fuel must be leaking from somewhere.
As you can see, this dialogue is actually quite productive. I’ve identified a couple of things that I need to get looked at to improve my car, simply by answering a few questions.
Of course, our lives are a bit more complicated than a car (maybe) so we’re going to have to dig a little deeper if we want to rocket into 2019 powered by awesome sauce.
So let’s take a look at the three steps in more detail, this time applied to our productivity.
What went well this year?
This is going to be the hardest part of the process.
Because most of us find it difficult to give ourselves a mental pat on the back and tell ourselves we did well. Psychologically it’s easier to see fault than success but that’s why we’re starting with the good stuff. We want to start steps three and four from a positive place.
Think back over the last eleven months. Here are a few things to consider (not all, if any, will apply to you but it’s just to give you an idea of the sort of thing to think about:
- Did you get an award for anything from anyone?
- Did you complete any courses (online or in a classroom)?
- Did you identify a new business opportunity (note – identify, not create)?
- Did you create a new business or opportunity by acting on an idea?
- Did you write any posts for your blog?
- Did you write any outstanding posts for your blog?
- Did you create some images for your blog that you were particularly pleased with?
- Did you get positive feedback on anything?
- Did you create a product (a physically or digital product)?
- Did you help other people in any way?
- Were you paid for anything at all (this includes jobs, no matter how trivial)?
- Did you manage to sell something you’d created (this includes affiliate sales)?
- Did you start a new relationship with someone worth your time?
- Did your relationship ‘level up’ (marriage, partnership, children, that sort of thing)?
This list is not exhaustive – it’s just to get you thinking about all the positive things that might have happened to you during the year that you can recognize as achievements.
Take the first item – getting an award from anyone. This is important because it shows that at least one person valued something you did. Even praise from your own parents counts because you need to accept that you did something worth noticing by another person!
For some people, getting out of bed and being able to bring yourself to feed the cat is an achievement. Write it down. I’m serious. If you’re in that kind of place, this is a win and you need to recognize it.
Write them all down on a rough piece of paper.
Now look down the list of things you’ve written and identify the five biggest wins.
Which ones are you most proud of?
Cool – let’s move on to step 2, looking at why things went well.
Why did things go well?
Okay, let’s go back to the five points you selected from step one. What really went well.
Be honest with yourself, why did those items happen?
- Did you plan for them?
- Did someone else help you (e.g. a mentor)?
- Did you follow a guided program to achieve them (e.g. a course or book/article)?
If you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll realize that none of the things that went well, happened by chance. Take a look at these examples:
- If you won the lottery, it’s because you bought a ticket. It certainly wasn’t because of the numbers you picked because the laws of probability suggest otherwise.
- If you got an award for designing something it’s because you worked hard to develop your skills and to create the piece.
- If you got married it’s because you put in the work to make your relationship work.
- If you posted at least one blog post it’s because you sat down and wrote it, edited it and clicked publish.
Everything you achieved came about because you chose to do something.
Identify three things that you did to make things happen as you’d hoped and write them down. You’re going to need these for step 5.
Okay, let’s take a look at what didn’t go so well now.
What didn’t go so well this year?
At this point, you need to stop and go and make yourself a coffee, tea, or grab a refreshing cold beverage.
Now go and sit somewhere with your list from step 1 and think about all the great things you did this year.
Feeling good? Great!
Grab another rough piece of paper and let’s look at all the things that didn’t go so well this year but do not focus on trivial things. Unlike step 1, we’re going to be much more selective.
We are biologically wired to remember negative events more readily than positive ones. We can’t help it, it’s in our nature. It’s been suggested that this is an evolutionary trait to help us to survive by remembering things that harmed us. Take a look at this article in the New York Times or this one in The Harvard Business Review for more information.
To cut a long story short, we focus on negative memories more than positive ones and we need five positives to balance one negative in our lives so you’ll need to be careful to only select those negatives that you think impacted upon your success (in life, relationships, making money, or whatever else matters to you) this year.
Here’s a list of examples to consider. Notice that it’s shorter than the list I suggested for step one.
- Did you try hard but didn’t quite achieve an award for something?
- Did you drop-out of / get asked to leave a course?
- Did you post fewer posts to your blog than you’d hoped?
- Did you create a new blog but nobody visited or commented on it?
- Did you end a relationship (it doesn’t matter who ended it)?
- Did you fail to sell anything that you’d hoped to (this includes your own products or affiliate products)?
- Did you fail to help anyone at over the entire course of the year?
- Did your business fail?
Okay, so write down all the things that you think went badly this year. Don’t put trivial things down like forgetting to say hello to your neighbour this morning.
It’s also vital that you don’t include things that you genuinely had no influence over such as being injured in an accident.
So, what didn’t happen this year that you had hoped or planned for?
Just like step one, look down your list and pick out the five points that matter the most to you.
Right, that’s the unpleasant part over with.
Why didn’t things go well?
Take a look at the five things that didn’t go so well.
For each one, ask yourself what you could have done to improve things. You need to be honest here because the chances are, most of the things that went wrong could have been improved if you’d done something differently. That’s the point of this exercise. You’re going to identify what you didn’t do so well to improve them.
Remember, this isn’t a pity party – it’s about you honestly asking yourself, “what could I have done better?”
Try to start each of your answers should begin with, “I didn’t… ” instead of “Because…” or “I couldn’t…”.
You need to focus on what you didn’t do that you could improve, not blame or excuse yourself without understanding why.
Here are some examples (and remember, they are just examples):
- If you didn’t earn any money last year, did you consider alternatives such as starting your own business, affiliate marketing, creating an online course about something you love, or learning a new skill?
- If you didn’t post to your blog, did you plan to do so? Did you create a list of topics you were going to target? Did you create a plan of what you were going to write about for each week?
- If you dropped out of a course, did you do so for something better? Is this actually a negative if it led to you pursuing something more suited to you? Do you need to seek help to improve your study skills or behaviours that led to leaving the course?
- If you failed to sell anything last year, are you selling something there is no demand for? Do you need to learn new marketing methods to reach new customers? Are you as excited about your product as you should be?
- If your relationship failed, could you have prevented it? Was it your behaviour that contributed to its end? If not, what can you do to select a better partner next time? Side note – it’s probably better to be single than in a relationship that makes you miserable.
By now, you should have a list of action points that you can address for the coming year but wait – we’re not done yet!
As you were going through your list of things you could have done better, you might have written your reasons that things didn’t go well in negative terms.
We need to turn those around if your coming year is going to be better.
Let me give you an example.
If you failed a course, you might have been tempted to write, “because I was too stupid to understand the subject”.
That’s not helpful because the very fact you’re reading this post shows you’re not stupid and that’s not a truly honest answer to the question of what you could have done better. That’s a cop-out.
So, let’s say you struggled on that course until, in the end, you dropped out because you felt the material was too advanced for you to understand. That doesn’t mean you were too stupid. It means you were not prepared for the subject at that level.
You were not prepared.
So, if you were to take the same course again, you might:
- consider taking a lower-level course to help you to understand the concepts,
- see if you can find a study buddy,
- ask the tutor for additional help, if possible.
- look for additional learning materials to support your learning (e.g. books, online courses, YouTube / Vimeo)
- identify and get help for any physiological reasons preventing you from achieving (e.g. dyslexia, autism, ADHD)
You’ll notice that none of these items suggests you failed or dropped out of the course because you lacked the intelligence to achieve.
Although the example above focused on why you might have failed a course, the process is the same for anything you didn’t do well because you need to identify steps you can take to improve the coming year.
Looking down your list, identify three things that you did or didn’t do that resulted in things not turning out as you’d hoped. Try to choose common actions – things you did that affect multiple things negatively as this will really help you in a moment
Write them down. You’ll need these for the next step.
And that brings us on to the final step. Setting some goals to make next year awesome!
Setting your goals for the new year
This step is going to be super-easy after all your hard work on the previous steps.
On a new piece of paper, write: “Next year, I’m going to continue:”
Now write the three things you did that made good things happen at the end of step two.
After those three positive behaviours, write: “Next year, I will also:”
Now, take each of the three things you did or didn’t do that resulted in things going wrong for you and turn them into positive goals. To do this, literally, turn them on their heads and add a timely element.
Here’s an example. If you didn’t sell any monkey t-shirts because you didn’t pin any images of your new shirts to Pinterest, your new goal could be: “Every time I release a new shirt, I’ll pin an image of it to Pinterest”.
The timely component, in this case, is “every time I release a new shirt”. The idea is that you’re pinning yourself down to a specific time frame in which you’ll do something.
Here are a couple more examples:
- “I didn’t post to my blog,” becomes “I will post to my blog at least once a week”.
- “I didn’t study the course materials,” becomes, “I will study my notes for an hour every Sunday”
You’ve looked at what you did well last year and you’ve pinned down three reasons you did well so you can keep doing them.
You also looked at what you didn’t do so well this year and identified three areas in which you can improve for the coming year.
As a result, you now have six awesome goals to follow throughout the coming year.
Don’t forget to review how you’re doing with the goals at least once a month so you can identify if you’re slipping.
I hope you have an awesome year as a result. 🙂
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