The One Thing You Should Do to Set Yourself Up for 2021

Champagne, check. Lockdown, check. Goodbye 2020, hell yes!

Truth: real change isn’t easy. You’re probably used to setting lofty goals, walking away, and maybe wondering what happened at the end of the year. If you want to change your life in 2021, you need to radically change your approach to this year’s goals.

We all know that quick fixes like fad diets and get-rich-quick-schemes garner short-lived results. But did you know that making New Years Resolutions to set life-changing goals and habits is like putting a bandaid on a major head wound? Sure, you might stick to your resolution for a few days or even a few weeks but statistics say you’ll give up sooner than later leaving a gaping hole in your plans for a better year.

Unless you have extraordinary will power, resolutions are destined to fail.

Look at the facts: according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals, while around 80% fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions, says U.S. clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani.

So what actually works when it comes to making the coming year better than the last (even in a normal year, i.e. not 2020)?

It really comes down to being 100% honest with yourself about your performance in the year prior and where you want to go next in the coming year. To get totally clear about how you did, what you want to do, and how you’re going it do, we suggest giving yourself an Annual Review, just like you’d get from your superior at your job, but from yourself and much more fun.

“When Annual Reviews at work are done well, they usually focus on a blend of what you’re doing right (affirmation) and what you can improve on (constructive criticism),” says Chris Guillebeau, blogger and author of The Art of Non-Conformity.

That’s just what we’re suggesting. Be your own boss and give your 2020 performance an honest review. By doing so, you’ll prime yourself for setting new goals and a plan of action with personal meaning. When you are all done with this practice, you’ll have a set of goals for each area of your life, a timeline for achieving those goals, and a plan to take the first step.

Don’t Set Any New Years Resolutions Until You Do This…

Start with a Clean Slate

Tabla rasa: A clean slate or an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals is what you need to begin this process.

Let’s start by clearing your mind in whatever way works best for you. Maybe that’s a long run, a surf, or a swim. Maybe that’s a long meditation session or some stretching. The idea is to clear your mind and make way for new neurological pathways.

What You’ll Need

  • 3+ hours without interruption
  • Big sheets of paper and/or Post-It notes— try to do this annual review without the distractions of your phone or laptop or at least limit the use of devices for research purposes only. Putting pens to paper will really help you get your ideas out of your head.
  • Pens, markers, highlighters, or stickers
  • Journals, calendars, photos, or your Instagram feed — when reflecting on the year prior, it can be helpful to have these things to jog your memory.
  • Optional: One or more people you trust and work well with. This activity can be done in a small group for increased brainstorming and accountability down the track.

Reflect on the Past Year by Asking Questions

From Harvard educator, Howard Gardner:

“Extraordinary individuals stand out in the extent to which they reflect — often explicitly — on the events of their lives, large as well as small…by seizing the opportunity to leverage and frame these experiences, we gain agency over them. And this heightened agency, in turn, places us in a stronger position to deal with future experiences, even as it may alter our own sense of strengths and possibilities.”

Once you’re ready to begin the process, ask yourself two questions and try to come up with at least 6-8 answers to each:

  • HIGH POINTS: What went well this year?
  • LOW POINTS: What did not go well this year?
  • LESSONS: What did you learn this year? What do you now know about yourself, other people, and the world at large?
  • What was the NAME or THEME OF the YEAR PAST?

For these answers, focus on events within your control. If something did not go well that you couldn’t prevent or control, it doesn’t need to go on the list.

Review Last Year’s Results

2020 Disclaimer: Yes, some goals become irrelevant as the year goes on, hello travel goals in 2020.

However, you need to get a rough idea of how successful you were in meeting the goals you set for yourself at the end of 2019. Note which goals became irrelevant or lost importance as the year went on and why. This process will keep you accountable and tell you whether you’re setting the bar high enough for yourself. But don’t dwell too much on what did not go your way. Hindsight is 20/20 and really successful people use every one of their failures to their advantage (more on how to fail UP here).

Brainstorm What You Want to Achieve

Now that you’ve reviewed 2020, it’s time to focus on the future. Create categories for your goals based on your personal preference. Everyone has different focus areas so yours will likely be very different from mine. You may set up separate categories for your work goals and your career aspirations. For me, I work freelance and own two small businesses, so I categorized my goals based projects.

My 2021 Categories:

  1. Personal Finance and Money
  2. Savings
  3. Business/Career – Product Based Business
  4. Business/Career – Freelance Writing
  5. Business/Career – Other
  6. Learning
  7. Travel
  8. Health and Fitness
  9. Giving and Service

Start by creating your categories and then go wild writing any and everything that comes to mind for each category. Spend a while here really letting your mind troll over your past experiences and hook on to whatever comes up as something you want to achieve, be, or have in the future.

This is your BIG LIST, a no holds barred compilation of everything you want to accomplishcontribute, and become in the next year.

From your BIG LIST, make your SMALL LIST, which is 3-5 things for each category that would make a major difference in your life if you achieved them.

These are your GOALS. Make sure they are sufficiently ambitious that you’d be very stoked if they actually happened. Be sure to check your “WHY,” and get to know the underlying needs or desires that will drive you to complete your goal.

Make a Plan with SMART Goals

Action. This is the most crucial step. We’ve talked about the importance of having a system underlying your big plans for the future. So you should know you can review yourself and set goals all day long, but if you don’t make an action plan you’ll never start creating the future you desire.

I took my SMALL LIST of 3-5 goals per category and made a spreadsheet where I could track the categories, goals, action steps, and timeline all in one place. Next, I applied the classic SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, Time-bound) to each goal. I created a second column called “ACTION.” In other words, what do I need to do (next) to achieve each goal?

Attention: This is very important! Without coming up with the next step, you’ll have a vision without a plan. You need to have both to go far in 2021.

If you get stuck on what needs to happen next, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to achieve this?” A few other things that can help devise a plan of action include thinking about:

  1. Milestones: For each goal, what would be a good 3-month milestone to let you know you’re headed in the right direction?
  2. New practices: In order to reach those goals, what are the habits, behaviours, and attitude you’ll need to adopt in the next year?
  3. Connections to make: In order to reach those goals, who do you need to build or deepen a relationship with? Who can inspire, teach, and support you in this journey?
  4. Things to give up: In order to reach those goals, what are the habits, behaviours, and attitude you’ll need to drop in the new year?

Costs: Remember when we talked about Tim Ferriss’ Dreamlining process a few weeks back (if not read up here)? I added a third column that keeps track of the numbers behind each goal. If your goal is to earn a certain amount or spend a few months overseas, it can be extremely helpful to break down exactly how much you need to earn or spend and how you’d reasonably achieve your goal given your circumstances. I found this reassuring because when I broke down a large number into smaller weekly and monthly amounts, my goal felt so much more doable.

Create Reminders to Conduct Mini-Reviews of Your Progress

“Where performance is measured, performance improves,” says entrepreneur Ed Mylett.

Many successful people like Ed recommend measuring your performance more frequently to ensure you get where you want to end up. Average performers set goals on January 1st and wait 365 days to check-in. Better performers check in every month and top performers check in every day or even every hour. Ask yourself, “how am I moving closer to the goals I set?” regularly and watch your results skyrocket.

While you’ve got your calendar out, schedule monthly check-ins and quarterly mini-reviews to track your performance. Iterate and adapt your goals to changing circumstances along the way. Give yourself a gentle nudge or swift kick in the but where needed.

Decide a Theme for the Next Year

After reviewing your previous performance and future goals, give the next year a theme or a name that will keep you on track in a phrase. My theme for 2021 is Financial Independence. What’s yours?

Say Goodbye to New Year’s Resolutions and Hello to Annual Reviews

Think about how you will feel if you’ve achieved 60-80% of the goals you set during your Final Review in December 2021. Amazing? Successful? Accomplished?

You won’t get anywhere without a solid plan, so nail your New Years Resolutions down into specific goals with actionable steps, and you’ll find yourself feeling all the feels next December.

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