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Tim Ferriss on Why Past-Year Reviews Are More Effective Than Goal Setting

Setting goals can be a great way to have a north star, something to focus your attention on. But a past-year review provides more fluidity in the way you move through the year and creates a real shift.

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BY Samira Far - 03 Jan 2018

Tim Ferriss on Why Past-Year Reviews Are More Effective Than Goal Setting

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Finally, the start of 2018 is here and you can put 2017 behind you. Okay, not just yet.

Rather than setting arbitrary goals this year in hopes of a better future, try doing a past year review instead. Forward looking goal setting and planning can be helpful, but according to Tim Ferriss, "without accountability to someone else, resolutions rarely get accomplished."

Tim Ferriss recently shared, in his weekly newsletter "5-Bullet Friday," that people often ask him how he approaches New Year's resolutions. Apparently, he doesn't really believe they work too well. Here's what he does instead.

Past Year Review

Time needed: 30 - 60 minutes

Ferriss's instructions on how to do a Past Year Review:

  1. Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
  2. Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.
  3. For each week, jot down on the pad any people and activities that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month.
  4. Once you've gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask "What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?"
  5. Based on the answers, take your "positive" leaders and schedule more of them in 2018. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for shit now! That's step one. Step two is to take your "negative" leaders, put "Not-to-do List" at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2018. These are the people and things you know make you miserable, so don't put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO (fear of missing out), or other nonsense.

Why do a Past Year Review?

When I initially read this, I was skeptical. I questioned if my judgment of my positive and negative feelings would be valid on past events after all this time had passed. I decided to give it a try anyway.

Here's what happened:

  1. Every week I looked at in my calendar, immediately sparked a feeling or a memory of a feeling. It wasn't hard to connect to events that were far back in the beginning of the year, as I had initially thought might be a challenge.
  2. I observed a pattern develop in the negative column. Specific people kept showing up in the negative column and never the positive column. Yet, if I were to think of these people, I wouldn't necessarily pin them as people I don't like or can't work with. I was shocked.
  3. There seemed to be a commonality in the activities that showed up in the positive column. Activities that I would normally judge as being neutral to, were actually activities that created positive feelings all throughout the year. Again, I was surprised.
  4. Most people in my life, personally and professionally, didn't make either the positive or negative columns. I felt this was an opportunity to connect deeper with people to see where we land: positive or negative.
  5. I felt a new sense of awareness doing this Past Year Review exercise. I learned something about myself that was, perhaps, a blind spot for me.

What do you do with the information you find?

So now you may have awareness of all the negative and positive activities, experiences and people in your past year. What do you do with that information?

Ferriss suggests to fill your calendar in the coming months with the people and activities that spark positive feelings, inspire and empower you. He says, "it's not enough to remove the negative. That simply creates a void. Get the positive things on the calendar ASAP, lest they get crowded out by the bullshit and noise that you know will attempt to fill your days."

A more fluid year ahead

Setting goals can be a great way to have a north star, something to focus your attention on and continuously check in on. But, a past year review provides more fluidity in the way you move through the year.

What's wonderful about this past year review exercise is that it allows you to receive what the world around you might be able to offer up that may actually be even more fulfilling and delightful than a goal you can think up in your head today in the first week of the year.

Shifting around your calendar to make space for positive leaders, and new positive leaders you have not yet experienced, can dramatically push you forward to your goals and goals you didn't know you wanted to achieve.

Stay fluid. Do a past year review and see what shifts you can make in the coming year.

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