Annual Review: Reflection and Setting Intentions for the New Year

reflectionEach year I like to take time to reflect on the year about to past. This year is the first time I have formalized the process.

I was inspired by my friends Jared Kessler and Chris Guillbeau to bring some more structure to this exercise. In previous years I’ve gone about this in a kind of messy way. I’ll review and take time to think about it whenever the thought occurs to me.

This year, I decided to do things differently. I came up with a set of questions that I believed would be good for me to answer in retrospect to 2009. Asking yourself powerful questions, I believe, is one of the most underrated exercises you can do.

If you’d like to download the questions I used: click here.

After I finished the review process, I created a new spreadsheet and created a category for what I believe are the most important areas of my life: Career, Financial, Fitness, Health, Personal, Relationships, and Spiritual.

If you know me, you probably know that I’m not crazy about goal setting. I’ve actually recommended several times that it may be a good idea to kill your goals. I still stand by that sentiment for the most part. I don’t generally do well with goals, especially ones that are quota or numbers based (exactly the type of measurable goals most people recommend setting).

I do think, however, that setting intentions for the most important areas of your life is a very powerful process. I have a list of intentions that I regularly update on a cork board above my desk, and I often spend time meditating each day on my intentions.

Recently, I’ve become more relaxed when it comes to setting goals. Sometimes, they can be useful. But it’s important not to get too caught up in meeting quotas and checking things off a list. When your goals start owning you, you have a problem.

But if you remain flexible to your intentions, it can be useful to use goals as a way to measure your commitment and progress. For example, there’s no way I could perform a one-arm pull-up without first fulfilling a goal of doing assisted one-arm pull-ups for several months. I would need to keep to a consistent schedule to accomplish this. That’s perfectly fine. It’s when I get too attached to my goals, get stressed out, and forget why I set them in the first place (to reach my potential and to be happy), that I lose sight of things.

Some of the intentions in each area of my life contain measurable goals. Fitness is an area where this tends to come up a lot. But there area other areas, like relationships, where setting goals becomes close to meaningless. So, I use them only where they are appropriate and make sense.

If you’re curious, here are some of the intentions or goals that I have created for 2010:

Career:

  • Launch a fitness-based product that ties into the physical expression of self-development.
  • Write one article or guest post per week.
  • Move into an apartment with an office (I currently work mostly out of the living-room couch or desk in the bedroom).
  • Create repeatable systems in my business (free myself up to work on creating content).

Financial:

  • Increase income to $70,000 (currently at about $45,000).
  • Save at least $10,000 toward down payment on a home.

Fitness:

  • Successfully complete a one-arm pull-up with each arm.
  • Hold free-standing handstand for 60 seconds. (Personal record is about 8 seconds right now.)
  • Trail run for at least 3 miles barefoot.
  • Complete full side split.

Health:

  • Eat 100% raw until dinner every day (I do this about 5 times a week right now).
  • Completely switch from coffee to drinking tea.

Relationships:

  • Become a better listener.
  • Take at least three romantic getaways.

Spiritual:

  • Increase meditation to 30 minutes per day (currently at about 15 min).
  • Become more mindful.
  • React less, be more grounded.

These are just a few of the intentions/goals that I’ve created. Interestingly, most of the goals I have this year are in fitness. I’m really interested in pushing the envelope here. Since I’ve become more engrossed with gymnastics/bodyweight type exercise, and ditched weightlifting, I’ve become much more motivated in this area. The awesome thing about gymnastics and bodyweight excercise is that as you progress you move on to more and more difficult progressions. You gain different skills, build coordination, balance, and functional strength. With weight-lifting, you’re simply lifting more and more weight. That gets boring after a while.

Staying flexible.

All of these intentions and aspirations may change over time. I may realize that something isn’t working, and I need to change things up. I may need to modify or drop something. I may be highly unbalanced and focus on one area each quarter or season of the year.

What’s most important to me is to remember that I create these intentions to be happy. That is the ultimate end. If I cling too much, something needs to change.

Creating a theme.

A practice that I’ve been doing for some time is creating a theme for each month. In 2009 I created a theme for the year as well. 2009 was the year of Liberation; the year that I quit my job and started working for myself. I’m not sure what 2010 will be yet… I have an idea of what it’s starting to look like, but I won’t say yet.

Creating a theme for each month or year is a highly valuable practice. It allows you to see what direction you want the year to head. It gives you a compass to guide each week and month.

It will be easier for you to see what you might have to give up, in order to make what you want to achieve a reality. I had to give up a lot and say no to a lot of things this year in order for me to remain focused on building my business to the point where I could quit my job. It wasn’t easy sometimes, but my theme helped me remain focused. It anchored me when the winds of indecision and uncertainty blew in.

I highly recommend that you try this exercise this year. Even if you don’t end up using your plan, or following it to the letter, it will still give you a clearer picture on what’s most important to you, and the direction you want to take your life.

photo courtesy of djwhelan

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Indrek December 15, 2009 at 10:44 am

I’m definitely not about new year’s resolutions, but this kind of goal setting can actually be really inspiring and motivating. Since this year was kind of wasted on the personal development part, I really want to improve in 2010 and set some real goals (and actually realise them).

Thanks for the tips!

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Ian Aspin December 15, 2009 at 11:38 am

I really appreciate all these great posts you keep producing – nice one Jonathan!

I love your idea about setting intentions, rather than just rigid goals.

You’re suggesting specific, measurable targets work well for some areas, and for others it’s best to keep things a little more fluid.

I reckon this is a very helpful approach since we can use a combination of methods to fit our own work/life styles and move toward an overall major purpose, rather than getting bogged down in sticking rigidly to a specific process.

So thanks very much for a very helpful and potentially liberating idea.

Much love,

Ian.

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Fabian December 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

Have a plan but be able to adapt it to your new situation… good advice here. While I had to first cross a lot of things of my “life list” earlier this year, refocussing now on the future is really helpful to maintain the momentum…

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Jon - Human Cargo December 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Thanks for the article, Jonathan. I’m with you when it comes to goals in the traditional sense: you’re inviting a sense of failure if you set up a rigid framework that you can’t live up to. I like the idea of taking a softer approach (you use the term ‘intentions’) — not to avoid responsibility for achievement, but because it still allows you the freedom to be flexible and course-correct as you feel is appropriate.

Cheers, Jon

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Jen December 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Hey Jonathan. Like you I am not a big fan of goals, but I find a little focus good too. I love the way you broke down the areas you are working on and again into a couple of bullet points, I think I will borrow this idea. :) I had also decided on a theme for next year (gratitude feels the best fit) .. this is the first time I have done this as such, but it feels like a good start to the next year.

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Courtney December 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

First time posting. I wanted to comment because I have been creating themes for the year since 2000 and love it!. I usually have an epiphany sometime in December that helps me create my theme, which keeps me positive and fired up for the new year (my themes don’t make sense to anyone but me!). I also set some measurable goals around finances and fitness and such to keep me on track for the bigger picture and do mini-themes for 30 days to continually experiment.
Thank you for your post!

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Nate December 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm

You know, I really need to do this and am in the process of just starting this. I don’t want to stress and have it done by 1/1/10 because that’s not what’s important. What’s important is for me to actually set some goals, write them down and then see how I’m progressing. I think it will help with motivation. Writing something down can be a very powerful way to increase motivation and intent. If we say we want to do something, we may forget or lose focus, but if we’ve consciously taken the time to sit down and really contemplate what we want to accomplish along with writing that down, then I think we’re much more likely to accomplish those goals.

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Jonathan Beebe December 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Honestly I haven’t put much thought into 2010 yet, I’ve been too stuck in the “present moment” to do much thinking about it. I’ll probably start journaling about my “plans” (not goals) for 2010 sometime after Christmas (things are going to be pretty hectic up until and through that day!)

Anyway, sounds like you have some great things planned for 2010, it sounds like either way, it’ll be a great year (hopefully)… Congratulations on liberating yourself from your 9-5 in 2009!

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Brett - DareToExpress.com December 15, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I really like the goals you’ve set up for 2010, Jonathan. And I recently set goals that were WAY too high, so my goals started to own me, like you said.

Looks like I’ll take the consistency approach over really ridiculous quotas.

And I’ll probably crib this post’s style when I decide to do my own goals post for the new year later this month.

Have a good one!
Brett

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Daniel December 15, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Heya Jon!

I’m also one who’d agree on the part about killing off all goals. Although I’ll better clarify by rephrasing that to something along the lines of:

Say out the huge goal once; breaking it to tiny pieces; working on the small steps — one at a time.

I so need to do something bout’ my goals for 2010 too. Catch ya later.

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CJ December 15, 2009 at 9:03 pm

You and Chris (from AONC) are making me look bad! I’m getting ready to do my end of year review/2010 goals. Last year was the first time I actually wrote down goals (I hate resolutions). I think I’ll call them “personal expectations” this year. That’s more accurate and more intimate to me. ’09 was about major shakeup (for the good for the most part) and I intend, no EXPECT, to build on that momentum. Thanks for the good “bread” and keep on feeding us, bro!!

CJ

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Duff December 16, 2009 at 1:17 am

I’ve done an annual review and goal-setting process every year for many years now, except last year. I’m just this week very slowly testing out goal-setting again.

Your stated goals seem mostly pretty doable. If you can work up to a long handstand against the wall, barely touching, then freestanding will come easily. I was getting some pretty good hold times against the wall a few years ago when I was working on hand balancing, but then I hurt my wrists and couldn’t practice. I’ve never had much flexibility though–would probably take me many years of yoga to get a split, if ever!

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Clynton Taylor December 16, 2009 at 1:27 am

Thanks for sharing – it was helpful I’m currently writing my goals in a post.

Regarding your plan to run 3 trail miles barefoot, That’s great. It’s loads of fun. Just make sure you work up to it. I created a 12 Step Program to Run Barefoot. You might find it helpful. http://bit.ly/eGgHm

Good luck!

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Ralph December 16, 2009 at 1:42 am

I love this time of year! I do a review of my life and goals two times a year. My birthday-which is in May-and in December because of the upcoming New Year.

You have a great list of changes for next year. I have a similar list but shorter. I find having a few big goals helps me focus better.

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Oleg Mokhov December 16, 2009 at 8:19 am

Hey Jonathan,

Interesting idea with choosing a theme for each year.

It seems like it would really simplify the process of setting goals and intentions. You can ask yourself: Does this help me with developing this theme for my life? If not, don’t bother working on it for that year.

A theme also lets you be flexible while still staying on track to making progress on what’s important to you. Life is unpredictable, and a bunch of disjointed but specific goals will fall apart before the year is done.

But by only focusing on the bigger direction for the year, you can let the smaller, specific goals morph and change as needed, but you never lose progress or direction.

Thanks for reminding me of this concept. I’m on it for my 2010 :)

And thanks for sharing your inspiring goals. Keep being your rockin’ self,
Oleg

PS. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for the new physical/fitness-based content (tying it into personal development has potential to be something really remarkable).

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Sami Paju December 16, 2009 at 9:05 am

Hi Jonathan,

I know I’m not in any position to judge, but when I looked at your goals something came to my mind: Why are you choosing those particular goals instead of something else? I also get the feeling, that there is ‘a goal behind a goal’, and it would be interesting to know what those are :)

For example, let’s say you reach your goal of “Becoming a better listener”, how do you think that will change your life? Or how does reaching the goal make you feel inside? Where is reaching that goal leading you?

Or if you take eating raw food, what does reaching that goal help you achieve? I mean why eat raw food just for the sake of eating it? I’d assume you have some deeper motivation for that.

I have a feeling that you have already thought about the ‘why’s’, but it would be nevertheless interesting to know what underlying reasons you have and what does reaching those goals enable you to do/feel/get. :)

All the best,
Sami

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Jonathan December 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

@ Sami: I’ve definitely thought a lot about the “reasons why” behind each goal.

Eating raw simply makes me feel great. That’s a pretty simple motivation.

Becoming a better listener will allow me to have a deeper connection with people, and have greater empathy, leading to a better relationship.

@ Duff: Let us know how the process goes for you this year. I’m curious.

I’m working a lot on handstands. Kicking up in a controlled manner (free-standing) is probably the biggest thing I’m working on right now. It’s actually much easier for me to go from a tuck planche to handstand and control the ascent, since it’s not such a sudden movement.

As far as wrist strength goes, have you tried wrist prehab/conditioning? There’s a great routine on it that’s really helped me wrist strength. I’ll see if I can send you a link.

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James NomadRip December 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for this. I’ve been learning and experimenting with different areas of my life this year. The coming year is going to be about action for me. It helps to see how you do things. I need the focus in some ways, and it helps a great deal.

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Hugh December 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for the inspiring post, Jonathan. I downloaded the AnnualReview and will use that to line up my 2010. I especially like the idea of an annual theme. I imagine it’s actually difficult NOT to achieve your goals when you are constantly thinking about and working on your theme.

This time of year is great because the office is a little slow, so I welcome the time to reflect and plan.

Cheers.

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Robert December 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Some great goals…I challenge you get more outlandish! Doing this is a great practice…I just did it and had a really aggressive list for unleashing 2010….and I went a lost the paper…figures why I hardly ever use paper. Your post gave me some new inspiration…have to carve out some time and recreate it. Best of luck! As for some cool physical feats…I’m always attempting the one handed pullup myself…I’m a bit heavy though…I’ve been working on a planch pushup!

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Sami Paju December 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for the response, Jonathan :)

I don’t know if this is splitting hairs, but I’d dare say then, that the real goals in those two regards are “to feel great” and to “to have better relationships”, and eating raw food or becoming a better listener are the ways to reach those deeper-level goals.

I know I’m pretty much stating the obvious here above, but as I said before it would be really interesting to know these “why’s” or reasons for your other goals as well.

//sami

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Andrew December 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Nice work mate, looks like there’ll be a bit to achieve in the new year.

Have you thought of some sort of info product for eating raw? Or an eating raw/exercise (protein source) combination?

Seems it is the season to be evaluating, it’s a big call to throw your goals out there publicly though, bold move.

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Tomas Stonkus December 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

Hey Jonathan:

Really cool stuff. It works as great example and a reminder for me to complete my first ever yearly plan. Only this year I have realized the purpose of setting goals.

I am excited to get this project on the way. I am not sure if I am going to come up with a theme for year as that might be limiting in many ways, I am going to definitely list certain goals that I want to accomplish which would allow me to grow even further. But it’s just my personal preference.

One thing that caught my attention was the fitness. I really like your focus on gymnastics and flexibility. Lifting more and more weight is not really exciting :)

I have considered picking up martial arts or a long time – Aikido to be specific. Now I am just waiting for my financial situation to improve and I will be well on my way to many awesome adventures in my life :)

Thank you!

Best,
Tomas

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Rob December 18, 2009 at 11:47 am

I love the idea about setting a theme for the year. That provides focus and direction for your goals. Do you have a list of your previous themes? I think the key thing with goals is to actually achieve them, else they are just dreams. I recently posted about methods to set deadlines on your dreams: http://rob-thompson.com/set-deadlines-dreams/

Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.
– Aristotle

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Tim Brownson December 18, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I’m about to be controversial.

They are a wusses goals (even though some aren’t really goals).

Aim higher man, much higher.

Trying for $250k and getting to $150k is way better than aiming at $75k and hitting it.

I sense some doubt in your own abilities, almost as though this is a dream and you don’t want to kill it by being greedy with your life.

And how will you know when you’re a better listener. What will that look, feel and dare I say it, sound like to you? The same goes for being more mindful? Make it real.

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Ronny December 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I write down my goals in a 2010 goals booklet. It is always in my wallet and I review it regularly. It keeps me focused on what really matters to me.

Enjoy and share,
Ronny

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Steve Errey December 22, 2009 at 5:56 am

Like you Jonathan, I’ve written in no uncertain terms about how goal-setting is missing the point. Everyone in the personal development field rolls out the whole goal setting mantra around this time every year, and it make me shake my head every time.

Success is about attittude and intention, and I tend to talk about getting into a game that matters as a way to live successfully. If you wanna be a great tennis player you need to get the right gear, get a decent racket, get onto the court and practice, work on your inner game and great a life that supports your intention of being a great tennis player.

To be a great player at anything you need to get into the game and start playing. Not because you want to win (although winning is pretty darn good), but because the game matters to you and you enjoy playing.

Figure out what matters, then get into the game and make it come alive.

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Lana - DreamFollowers Blog December 25, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Great intentions Jonathan and I love the theme of the month concept. I think I am going to have one main word/theme for the year and then sobthemes for each month next year:)

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Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com December 28, 2009 at 7:08 am

I’m a massive fan of starting small with like 20 minutes exercise per day and then doing it for 30 days. This way you ingrain the habit and don’t push your boundaries too much. Good luck with your spiritual goals!

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Henri @ Wake Up Cloud December 30, 2009 at 4:28 am

I resonate with what you say about goals. I’m not crazy about them either and tend not to focus on them too much. I do, however, have intentions and those are pretty synonymous with goals, so I guess whatever works for you ;).

Oh and by the way, tea is delicious. I’m addicted to tea and when you add some honey, it’s crazy good. Mmm…

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Coline December 31, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I love the idea writting out your intentions for the new year .As you say,I also write my intentions in my log.When I write up my goals ,I think it is meaningful.I will work hard to achieve my goals .
Happpy new year.
Best wishes for you !

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Steve-Personal Success Factors January 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Jonathan, great post. I’ve been using a resource called Best Year Yet by Jenny Ditzler for the past 5 years or so. It’s a balanced approach to goal/intention setting, and I like it better than the traditional approach, because it takes into account all my roles in life, and then forces me to come up with a main focus for the year. For me, my business/career took a front seat the last couple of years, so this year it is family first, career second.

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Christoph Dollis January 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

Jonathan,

I couldn’t agree with you more about iron-clad goals being overrated, but broad intentions, or at least recognizing the different parts of our lives and how they impact our happiness, is essential.

So far as happiness goes, I think there’s something to be said for trying to reach for it directly.

Here on my very personal, non-commercial site (I don’t have ads or products on it — its purpose is explained in the coloured box in the right sidebar under the heading “Why This Site”?) is an article I wrote with the 2 philosophers, yes philosophers, on it who most helped me get a handle on my beliefs as they relate to being happy.

Both were from the Classical world, one an Athenian Greek and the other a Roman slave (whose ideas inspired the emperor Marcus Aurelius who you may know as the old man from Gladiator).

Epicurus and Epictetus.

The first is what some people misidentify as “hedonist”, but really he was a materialist who believed in maximizing one’s long term pleasure in life, and minimizing avoidable pain. The other a “stoic”, who believed in God, yet supported personal character development above all.

In my article there are 2 brief videos by a philosophy professor summarizing the essential ingredients of each’s teachings.

Strangely enough, the 2 schools of thought were opponents of each other, yet I believe a great life can be had by synthethizing each of them together.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

You’ll see a quotation by one of the founders of the USA who came to the same conclusion about these 2-men’s works.

I invite you to read and comment on it if you’d like.

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devis February 7, 2011 at 7:08 am

great intentions. thanks for this documentation.

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