How to Create Your Best Year
The top 3 exercises I use to reflect for and navigate a new year
Most New Year’s resolutions don’t happen.
Everyone has ambitions — goals, New Year’s resolutions, desires. How can we increase the chances of good things happening to us?
Everyone’s path is different — what works for some may not work for others. But often times, a new lens or framework is useful for more than one person.
So I’m going to share my process for reflecting and navigating a new year.
This year I graduated from college, started a company, traveled the world, moved to a new city, and improved in 15 different areas at the same time — things like music production, piano, drawing, writing, Salsa dancing, meditation, VR architecture, and fitness — with feats like doing one-hand pull-ups, handstand push-ups, doing 45 pull-ups in a row, 913 push-ups in 20minutes, and reading and taking notes on ~2 books per week, without compromising 8 hours of sleep.
I’m obsessed with life and these kinds of “yearly reflection” exercises.
This is the best of what I’ve learned and has worked for me.
Here’s a summary of what I do in the last days of December, which worked wonderfully this past year:
- Create a Manifestation Document.
I imagine myself in a year and write down how I want to be living and what I would like to have happened over the year, in present tense.
- Set directions with systems, not goals with deadlines.
I reflect on my main areas of life and define my life compasses, habits, rituals, a “no-list”, and environment. Then I brainstorm tools.
- Learn and adapt each day, week, and month.
I create templates for the following reflections:
- Daily: easy 2-minute journal — morning and night.
- Weekly: Sunday weekly reflection + ritual.
- Monthly: Last Sunday of the month reflect + refine.
It’s also crucial to remember that January 1st is just a day in the calendar. Reflections + adopting new systems can happen at any time.
1. The Manifestation Document
The purpose of this document is to be able to see my desires and learn more about what kinds of things excite me, all while planting powerful visualizations in my subconscious mind. Some people call it a “vision” document. I chose “manifestation” because that word feels like it has magic powers.
Before the document, I start by thinking of a “theme” for the year.
What word or phrase would I like to have as my theme this coming year?
One word or phrase is an easy first step — it pops into my mind without having to do any thinking. And, for some reason, it’s a ridiculously fun exercise.
As an example, last year I set my theme as “Discovery”.
Then I open my preferred notes (digital brain) app (Notion) and write this word or phrase, with one or two sentences of why I want it to be my year’s theme.
On with the manifestation magic. I imagine myself in a year.
- Who do I want to be? Who is around me and who do I interact with frequently?
- How do I want to be living? How do I go about my day?
- What kinds of things do I want to be doing? What am I working on? What am I learning?
- Where am I? Where have I been (what types of places)? What does my environment look like?
I write my answers in as much vivid detail as possible:
It’s usually short. But it’s infinitely more valuable to actually write it down instead of just thinking that I thought about it. This applies to everything else in this process.
“Words are a lens to focus one’s mind.” — Ayn Rand
“Some of the things I think I think, I find don’t make any sense when I start trying to write them down.” — Warren Buffet
The prompts started with lots of Ws but they are missing the most important one, the “Why”.
I’ve found it useful and fun to first dump the things “I want” on a page or screen and then stare at them.
I dump to discover things I want.
I write in vivid details and think big to set my imagination free.
I stare to understand why I want those things.
2. The Systems
Now, how do I navigate life? How do I move towards that manifestation document?
Contrary to common belief, I’ve found that goals are not necessary for progress. In fact, the only thing that creates progress is the process.
When I say goal, I’m referring to the common “dream with a deadline” concept. But, who likes deadlines?
Deadlines generate stress, a bias for procrastinating at the beginning (and who are we kidding, for most of us it’s until right before the deadline), half-baked & rushed work, and feelings of failure when someone didn’t predict the future.
We underestimate how long things take.
Fewer times, we overestimate. We set a deadline for something we could have done faster. But deadlines often make sure we don’t finish earlier.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” — Parkinson’s Law
If there’s no important external event to create a deadline for, it’s probably worse to have a deadline.
But where do I get motivation? Isn’t that what deadlines are for? I’ve found it’s possible to get motivation from other places. If my Why is clear, I have motivation.
We can define our own Whys, but we can also reflect to make clear what naturally pulls us to do things.
2.1 — Life Compasses Exercise
Personally, I’m pulled by the following:
These Life Fuels are a section in a note I call My Life Compasses. It stores reflections about important personal beliefs that help me navigate life.
New Years is a great time to create this note — but I review and edit it often.
This is my underlying motto. It’s defined recursively so it goes on infinitely. How do we know that our beliefs are good, true, or useful? What if we’re wrong? I think the key is to be continuously updating our beliefs.
But we’re multi-dimensional beings so it would be silly to forget about them in pursuit of understanding. We first have to take care of ourselves — plus different dimensions feed into each other. I reflected on my five main “pillars” to make sure I don’t neglect them:
My “Life Engine” is how I move.
At the beginning of my Life Compasses note, I tie it all together, with three main “life compasses”:
I see my compasses as a replacement for goals.
My compasses are things I can do in the present. They guide me to good places.
Compasses don’t create feelings of “I’m not happy until I reach my goals” or “I’m stressed because I don’t know if I’ll reach that goal”.
Plus, I feel like I’m more likely to edit my compasses at any time, while goals are fixed by definition — but the only constant is change! I change and the world changes, constantly.
Still, it is useful to set directions.
Setting directions is the best way to progress towards things I know I want.
But it’s common and normal to not know what we want.
Even without a pre-defined direction, compasses and values take me to good places and allow me to enjoy the ride.
2.2 — Habits, Rituals, and No-List
After the life compasses reflection, I brainstorm what habits and rituals I want to maintain or incorporate.
Everyone knows what a habit is — a ritual is the same idea but not necessarily “every day”. I see rituals as a meaningful activity or group of activities designed before they happen, in a reflection. They’re usually done regularly or in specific situations.
How do I know what habits and rituals to design?
That’s why the Life Compasses exercises were useful: I look at my main life pillars and design activities for each of them. Grouping habits in the morning and at night has been useful.
Then I reflect on the past year, or look at last year’s calendar and note what things were positive (gave me energy) or negative.
Whatever falls into the “negative category” then creates a start of my “no-list”.
What we don’t do is often more important than what we do.
2.3 — Environment and Tools
Shaping our environment is a great way to shape our behavior without will-power or even thinking about it.
How can I improve my sleeping environment? Black-out curtains? Good pillow?
What is accessible and visible in my room? Books? Plants (shown to increase happiness and improve mood)? Meditation cushion? What are the apps in my phone’s first screen?
The better the tools we have, the more capable we become.
I take some time to think of what tools I can use for each of my life pillars, or what new tools I can create. Examples include airplane + do not disturb mode, note-taking apps (like Notion), video speed controller, and apps for listening to books (Audible and Speechify).
3. Learn and Adapt Rituals
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Mr. Darwin
This yearly reflection is obviously too long to do every day, even every week.
So I have some rituals to make sure I’m learning and adapting daily, weekly, and monthly.
Daily 2-minute journal
I have a template with pre-thought prompts that automatically get me thinking what I want to be thinking about, and in the mood I want:
Weekly Reflection + Ritual
I like Sundays for my weekly reflection. Takes ~20–45minutes.
I also have a template for the month, but the weekly and daily ones have been more impactful. I take a bit longer for my monthly than my weekly reflections, but the idea is similar: reflect and refine.
Setting up prompts, questions, and a scheduled time for these reflections is crucial. New Years is a nice time to create templates for these.
Those are the three highest leverage processes (easiest + highest impact) I do in my year reflection, but two other good things are:
1. Extra Reflection Questions
Choosing a couple of these or similar questions and writing answers:
What was the best decision I made in the past year?
What am I most happy about doing in the past year?
Who were the three people that had the greatest impact in my life this past year?
What was the biggest risk I took in the past year? How did it go?
How can I triple-down on my strengths?
What advice would I like to give myself this coming year?
What qualities do I currently admire most? How can I cultivate them?
What seemed to be a recurring theme in my year? Why?
2. Writing Down A Recap of Previous Year
And either sharing it publicly (I’ve been consistently surprised by the value of sharing things publicly) or keeping it private, for the memories.
While this process works for me, you should think for yourself. It’s the best piece of advice I know.
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