2020 Year End Review

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They can be great motivators and reminders of change, and over the years can help make you healthier, smarter, happier and more interesting to be around. And yes, I know that only around 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. But a couple of years ago I stumbled onto a method for setting resolutions that will help you keep your resolutions. People always overestimate how much they can get done in a day, but underestimate how much they can get done in a year. What will you get done this year?

To start the goal setting process, we need to start by reflecting on the past year. To try to get a comprehensive and complete understanding of the past year, we need to think through every month of the year. Starting with January, list at least one thing that went well that month and one thing that didn’t. Going through the year like this will make sure you don’t miss anything, but will also serve to remind you of how much you have managed to achieve in a single year.

From this list of positives and negatives, start a second list. On this list place any behaviours that would have prevented the negatives from being as bad, or would have improved the good ones further. For example, on my list of positives was the work I’ve been doing on Nom Nom, but to make it better I know that I could be more pessimistic in planning so that delays are less frequent. On my negatives was the way I dealt with the stress of exams and of being unemployed, specifically the way I left my girlfriend to pick up the housekeeping slack. To improve this I could have had better conversations about chores and expectations.

Finally, from this list make some SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound) that would help you improve in these ways. These should be behaviours and processes that would improve your behaviours. Don’t worry if you don’t want these to be your final goals, the purpose of this part of the exercise is to think broadly about processes that might improve next year, not to commit to anything yet. You should now have a list of 6-8 goals which, if you had implemented last year, would have made this year better. Keep these factors in mind when picking goals in the next segment. You might decide to use them, you might not, up to you.

Now, to construct the actual goals we can start with a structure to make sure that we think about enough areas of your life. One structure I’ve used in the past has been to think of:

  • A good habit to start
  • A bad habit to stop
  • A book to read
  • A film to watch
  • A new thing to try
  • A skill to learn
  • A place to visit
  • And something to improve on

A different structure that I currently use is to think of a couple of goals for each of:

  • Physical Health
  • Business
  • Mental Health
  • Learning
  • Financial (Earning)
  • Financial (Saving)
  • Travel
  • Friends and Family

Whatever structure you pick, you’ll want to think of at least one goal for each of these. It is important to have a variety of interests: it keeps your life interesting, it makes you more interesting, and actually makes you more likely to be successful.

There are several important rules to this goal making process. First, design them so you can’t fail by February. 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail before February, which causes people to give up for the rest of the year. Instead, design them so you can restart on the goals at any point in the year.

Secondly, make the goals objective or measurable. Instead of “I will eat less meat” or “I will get better at speaking Spanish”, think of an objective goal like “I will cut meat to twice a week” or “I will pass my B2 Spanish Exam”. Objective goals aren’t just easier to validate, but they are also more motivating and easier to plan for, which brings us to our next point.

When you design each goal, think about three possible activities that would help you to meet that goal. The behaviours can take the form of habits that help with incremental improvement towards the goal, or they can take the form of first steps. For example, to reach the goal of passing your B2 Spanish Exam you might think of:

  • Use Duolingo after closing your laptop at the end of the day
  • Research online Spanish classes
  • Find out where you can sit the B2 exam
  • Research the B2 sylabus

When you break a goal into manageable steps and tiny habits it becomes much easier to get started. When you write down the goal, write down a couple of behaviours with the goal that would help you to get started or make progress.

Finally, to help you reach your goals, the goal shouldn’t be a New Year’s thing alone. Instead, set reminders every couple of months to read through your goals. I like to use Google Keep, and I set a reminder on the note for March, and then for every month after that. Being reminded of the goals can help you get back on track, no matter how badly it went wrong in the first couple of months.

I hope that you find this process helpful. Over the past couple of years, I have read more, gotten tidier, learnt to drive, visited Paris, and become more mindful of the way I communicate. 2020 has been a weird year, lets make 2021 the year we bounce back.