Ever feel like you’re doing the default every year instead of the outstanding?

You are doing the same goals and plans over and over.

You valiantly keep marching forward.

But year after year, you don’t really get what you hoped to out of your plans. You resist, or never quite reach a breakout where you think:

“Wow, this year was awesome. I can’t believe the achievements and the experiences I’ve had.”

Something’s missing…

There isn’t the fulfillment, the meaning, the stand-out experiences. There isn’t the motivation to keep going. There aren’t memorable moments that add to the richness of your business or your life.

The reason something’s missing is that there is always something missing when people start making plans.

You see, plans and goals are just experiments. But we tend to keep trying the same experiments over and over expecting better results.

And we keep completely missing the ones that would bring more meaning, break-out successes, and “Hell yeah!” to our life and business.

So what exactly is missing?

To start with – two words:

“Looking back”

We’re all looking forward, dreaming of the future. We’re too stoked right now.

“This is my year. This year’s going to be different.”

We’re all doing flat out guesses every year…. but not learning what works!

It should be obvious, right?

Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t. Maybe even throw in some spice by trying something different to see what new possibilities it can get you.

Why look back?

Not to navel gaze and wallow in everything you didn’t get done. Not even to yell “F you 2016!”… which would be entirely understandable considering…

Nope, it’s to mine the hell out of the last year for past insights to make this year…. what?

You guessed it:

ACTUALLY different, ACTUALLY better.

And to continue making progress instead of the same old mistakes.

We too often repeat the things that distract and drain us, and completely miss the things that would 10X our business, our energy, our life. But there are ways my friends… ways of unearthing the very best insights to power the year ahead with goals and actions that actually matter.

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Escaping the Treadmill of Automatic, Unfulfilling Goals

Sam, a client and obesity specialist, first made this clear to me in an article we published on her blog. It was about recognizing your progress instead of the constant treadmill of never feeling like you’re accomplishing anything.

Our failed health, weight loss, and fitness resolutions are a stark reminder of a New Year’s Resolution’s longevity.

But those who make progress look not at failure, but at progress. When they look, they see what more they achieved, and that is what keeps them going and growing and ultimately achieving their goals.

But did I actually do what she suggested in the article?

No…

(he sheepishly admits…)

But like all things, we really only listen when the time is right and we’re ready for the message.

That’s what happened when I heard Tim Ferriss’ recent podcast.

(If you don’t know who that is, you should find out… I’m loving his latest book, Tools of Titans)

His New Year podcast, “What I Learned in 2016,” dove into a powerful technique. He used this technique to not only focus on progress, but to create a vision for the new year that cut out the B.S. and revealed the things that really move the needle.

It gave me a whole new perspective on laying plans and dreaming goals that make this year different and every year more amazing.

Not just for business, but for life.

But more on that in a second…

Why Goal-Setting is Our Human Kryptonite

Here’s the thing, we are terrible at envisioning what we need or want.

It’s ironic considering “future thinking” is one of the biggest things that set us apart as a species.

We get hung up on impulses that don’t serve us, that distract us….

Like prestige.

How many things have you done because you really just wanted the prestige of doing or accomplishing it… but actually kinda hated it in the end?

Or maybe the future promise of prestige never motivated you enough to follow through. But man, it sure sounds awesome… if you ever finish.

People have built perfectly miserable careers on this very path. The lucky ones will one day they wake up, snap, quit, and start over creating a life they actually want.

There are the things we want to think we want but… we really don’t want them at all.

We like the idea of being that ideal vision of ourselves…

Or the vision everyone wants us to be…

But it’s not us.

Or we’ve just changed.

But how do we know?

When the “Should” Speaks, Run the Other Way

Which leads us to the real reason we didn’t get any of those significant things done in the last year:

You got stuck up on “I should” instead of delving into what you really get joy, meaning, and growth from.

We filled up our businesses and lives with all the “shoulds.”

  • The shiny objects.
  • The best practices.
  • The social obligations.
  • The terrible clients.
  • The things you just don’t want to do but think you have to.

But they aren’t “musts.”

They’re “shoulds.”

Things you or someone else imposed on you because of some ideal vision of EVERYTHING you should be doing.

Do you have to offer every service under the sun?

Do you have to go to every industry event?

Do you have to say “yes” to every opportunity that walks in the door in fear of missing out, or do everything others ask of you?

Do you have to manage half a dozen social networks plus do video, podcasting, private communities, weekly/daily blog posts, live events, video launches, webinars, and every other shiny new tactic?

No.

It’s a business killer. It’s a life destroyer.

We all have our own weaknesses in this area. Like many of you, I’m terrible at saying “No.” But to get from a business and life filled with “shoulds” instead of a focused set of important essentials – my own chosen “musts” – I keep trying to get better.

And this practice I’m about to show you helps.

There are simply too many “shoulds” out there to fill every moment of our day. The procrastinator in us loves it. The part of us that believes “busy-ness” = “I’m important” is having the time of it’s life.

But it’s not helping us move the needle.

We’re going 5 miles an hour down the highway, too distracted to press down on the pedal and rev the engine.

There are some “musts” in life like:

  • decent health
  • some good relationships
  • some novelty and adventure
  • some personal growth
  • some purpose or contribution…

But everything else is for you to prioritize what is essential.

And weed out what’s getting in the way.

All that other stuff is the reason you aren’t getting anything done and aren’t seeing your life improve significantly with each passing year.

All those “shoulds” got in the way of the important things.

But what really moves the needle for you?

Not in a “I think it does” kind of way.

In a “I know because science” kind of way.

Last year was a giant testing ground for all your hypotheses of what will make you happier and wealthier.

You gave them their shot.

Every goal and resolution was a hypothesis. Now it’s time to see what was true… and what ended up being a dud.

The Great Deceptor – Prestige

I realized one of the biggest self-deceptions when planning goals was the allure of prestige.

Thinking about goals, too often the feeling of prestige seeps in and infuses potential goals with emotion it doesn’t deserve.

Such as the way a result like getting 100,000 Instagram follows would be an impressive feat and give me a sense of status among my peers and my clients. That idealized vision starts bringing in feelings of pride and prestige – how it would look to others, how attractive that idealized self feels to be a rising Instagram star, to have that vanity metric puffing me up.

It could even bring some recognition and results that could benefit me.

But what about actually living it?

What about the focus and work it will take – will I enjoy and derive meaning from the journey?

What will I have to say ‘No’ to in order to have the time and energy to accomplish this?

If no one was looking, and I didn’t have that feeling of prestige, would I really get anything meaningful from it?

Would I actually get what I think I’ll get from it, or is Prestige, that seductive trickster, just teasing me away from what really matters in my life?

I came upon Paul Graham’s article “How to Do What You Love” and found this particularly enlightening:

“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”

Looking back, I realized how many times this was tainting my decisions of what goals I wanted and what activities I wanted to plan for… too often because of what I’d like to like. I’m plagued by too many interests and pursuits already. Letting prestige influence me as it has just added to that pile without getting as much out of each year as I’d have hoped.

I found myself pursuing things that didn’t really end up driving me at all.

I was going through the motions because I liked the idea of it, the idea of who it made me, or the idealized prestige of it in the eyes of others…

But I found it relatively empty when I tried to push myself into actually following through.

Naturally, I failed those.

I’ve been working to put this primary filter onto all my decisions, goals, and planning. No more vanity metrics… personally, I want more from my life and business.

I want to be able to say, “Wow, this year was amazing. And I feel more fulfilled than ever before.”

It’s been hard to be aware of that influence and to see what truly interests me.

I think many of struggle with that very thing, and default on things that bring that shot of prestige as we daydream ideas.

I encourage you to do the same, and as Greg McKeown  says – separate the essential from the non-essential. (Essentialism = a must read)

Now let’s get to it and start making goals and yearly plans that matter…

Sciencing the Sh*t Out of Your Goals

The good news is there is a way to “science” your way to better goals and plans.

To be proactively making this an amazing year…

And the next one even better.

Heard of the 80/20 rule?

It’s the concept that approximately 80% of results come from 20% of the inputs.

So find and focus on the 20%, and cut out the rest.

Tim Ferriss 80/20’d his past year in a simple and genius way that meant zeroing in on the things that will make a real difference in the year ahead.

Not just guessing.

Not assuming.

Knowing.

That’s the critical difference. Having some evidence to support our decisions. Real life test results.

And not just for his business, but for his life.

Progress isn’t just more moola, it’s about getting what you want out of everything – joy, meaning, that bucket list trip to Thailand…

Here’s how it works:

1. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it vertically.

2. At the top of the two columns write “Positive Experiences” and “Negative Experiences”

You can do this for life and business at the same time or separately…

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Now, we go through as many experiences of our past year as you can. Go through your calendar. Go through your journal. Go through your iPhone photostream and Facebook timeline. Whatever helps to clearly remember what happened in the last year.

Now you look for the experiences that brought 80% of the joy and progress and meaning in the last year. Put them in the Positive Experiences column.

Now look for the ones that brought 80% of the pain, anguish, dread, and negative results in the last year. Put them in the Negative Experiences column.

Go ahead…

…..

… I’ll wait…

…..

OK, done?

You’ve just 80/20’d your last year.

And I have some more questions later in the article to help dig up some more important ones.

Next, it’s time to look at the new year. Maybe you already have some goals… maybe you need to take a moment to plan out your new year…

Moment of Truth for Existing Goals:

For your existing goals, compare them to these Positive/Negative Experiences lists…

Do they match things in the Positive Experiences column? If so, highlight those as your big foci for the year and start actually scheduling them in to your year!

Or do your existing goals compare more with the items in the Negative Experiences column?

Then it’s time to delegate, rethink, or cut them out completely. They are a liability to your business and life if you don’t do something about them. Before they go into the Negative Experiences column of next January, cut them out now.

Setting Goals and Plans for Your Best Year Ever

Look at the things in the Positive Experiences column… 

  1. What can you plan into your year to do more of what worked?
  2. What can you change about your routine, environment, and business to make more of those happen?

Get them on your calendar. Write them in your goals, affirmations, vision statement, whatever you do… and review it often. Do whatever it takes to keep them TOP OF MIND in the new year.

The hard part is not the work of doing them.

It’s in staying focused.

Now look at the Negative Experiences column…

  1. What can you do to actively eliminate them from your future?
  2. If they have to stay, can you delegate them?
  3. If they don’t have to stay, can you eliminate them?
  4. If they were thrust upon you in the future, can you prepare yourself to say “no” next time? Can you find a way to avoid the situation altogether?
  5. What can you change about your environment or your routine or even your relationships to make it easier to not slip into those habits?

Pruning is essential to growth and vibrance.

Where do you need to do a little trimming away?

7 Places Where Often Overlooked Insights are Hiding 

Here are some additional questions to ask yourself to unearth those experiences that are hiding invaluable insights for making big progress in the year ahead.

1.) What did I procrastinate on to a ludicrous degree?

What we procrastinate the most on is either a sign we shouldn’t be doing it, or a blaring arrow pointing to the very thing we should be FOCUSING on. Often it’s the things we most fear and put off that have those big 10X rewards.

Or… it’s just a thing we just don’t enjoy but keep putting on our “should” list, but isn’t really a “must.”

If there is some kind of fear or anxiety causing the procrastination, then it’s something to listen to. The scary things are the big things. Sometimes our anxiety is because it could mean such big things for our business or our life that we’re worried about that impact. Sometimes it’s something that pushes our boundaries or comfort zones.

These are all good signs of something BIG to focus on next year!

However, if it just feels like drudgery, maybe you put it in your Negative Experiences list.

2.) Which clients made your year? Which clients crawled out of the deepest bowels of hell?

A bad client hurts your business. It hurts your energy. It hurts the experience of everyone else. They may be fine people, but they just don’t fit. They go in the Negative Experiences to cut out.

But a good client is telling you the direction you need to take. They produce 80% of the profits and 80% of the passion. They create energy instead of drain it. They are your future.

3.) When did the allure of money make you say “Yes” to something that you later dreaded every moment of?

We all do it. We do it for the money. Our eyes get big, see that great big buffet, and hate ourselves afterward. In to the Negative Experiences column they go to help us learn to say “No” more often.

4.) What moments did you rush through that you wish you hadn’t?

We all do it. We’re “busy as hell”, right?

Well… we make time for what’s important. “I’m too busy” is just saying “That isn’t a priority,” “That isn’t important.”

Don’t believe me? Watch Laura Vanderkam’s TED talk “How to gain control of your free time

These are part of the Positive Experiences that you just regret rushing through. Next year, make them a priority.

5.) Who added the most value, joy, meaning, heart to your life? And who added the least?

You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with… blah blah blah. You already know this. This year, make a point of CHOOSING who you’ll spend more time with, and who you’ll politely start to cut out.

6.) What moments did you feel most recharged and rejuvenated?

We need them. Put them in the Positive Experiences column and schedule them regularly. Whatever that helped that happen so you can keep doing your awesome work… do more of that on a regular basis.

7.) What caused me to grow the most last year?

If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. Growth makes meaning, enables joy, opens possibility, creates luck.

See what triggered those moments of growth. What situations will put you in front of new opportunities for growth? Put more of that in your life.

It’s not as easy as repeating the same event or reading the same book. But by looking at the environments and situations that tend to have those triggers for you, you can get yourself where those growth opportunities can pop up. And you can be on the lookout for new, trigger-rich environments and situations as well.

Making Better Guesses

Goals are always guesses.

These new hypotheses for the next year will be tested with no mercy.

But with this mindset, you can do more than guess anew every year.

You can learn and make better guesses, make better progress, and make a better life for yourself every year.

You can be less at the mercy of luck, “shoulds,” and other people. And instead have more of the things that 10X growth, that light up your life, that make relationships worth having.

So what are yours?

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