Mirrors and Binoculars: Reviewing 2013 and Planning for 2014

The only thing more cliché than blogging about your New Years Resolutions is prefacing them with “I hate New Years Resolutions, but…”

For me, the problem with resolutions isn’t that they’re shallow, or that January 1st is a completely arbitrary date to start accomplishing things. It’s that, for most people, they’re created with an expectation that we’re able to change our habits by magically flipping a switch and turning on our will power. That isn’t how it works.

That being said, I think the end of one year and the beginning of the next is a convenient time for reflection and recalibration. It’s a chance to stand back, look at your map, and point your compass for the coming year in the right direction.

I’ve spent the past couple days going through a process that’s been really useful (shout out to my friends Andy Drish and Scott Britton for the inspiration). This post is going to run through that process. I’ll copy and paste in some of my own answers in quotes as we go. They probably won’t make any sense to you. I wrote them for me. If you’d like, take them as a guide.

**Note: I try to be as open and transparent as possible on here, but I’m not quite there yet. It was difficult enough to be honest with myself about the fears, motivations, and experiences that stood out as important in the past year, but it’s a big stretch to make those public. A lot of my examples are chosen – not because they’re the best – but because they’re the most shareable. Your answers should be considerably more vulnerable than these. If you aren’t cringing at least a little bit, you aren’t doing it right.

Step 1: Reflection

If you wrote down any goals for 2013, pull them out. If you didn’t, don’t worry. You’ll be ready next year. Go through everything you wrote and answer the following questions:

  • Where was I in line with this goal?
  • Where was I out of line with this goal?
  • Where have my desires changed?

Ultimate Business Vision for 2013: To have multiple, passive income streams that are diverse and provide me with new challenges every day. To be excited to tell people what I’m doing. To provide value to others in the form of growth, excitement, learning or convenience (in that order). To build a brand for myself.
In Line: Pretty damn close to this definition. I have multiple income streams. They’re diverse, interesting and challenging. I’m excited about my work. I’m providing value. Out of Line: I guess I’ve done a little bit to build a brand for myself (I didn’t even have a blog when I wrote this). But not to the extent that I could have. Also, all the positives have really just emerged in the past couple months. In September, almost none of that was true.

Changed: Why the obsession with passive? I was caught up in the whole passive income world, but I’m 10x more inclined to work consistently to create stuff than to do work I don’t care about so I can lie on a beach. I still like the scalability of “passive” style businesses and the fact that they allow multiple income streams, but it’s not a priority. I’m happier with what I’m doing than if I had Pat Flynn’s business model.

Step 2: Highs and Lows

Go through each month and write down all the good and bad memories that stand out to you. Take your time. Look for magic moments. What are you grateful for? What pains did you feel? Try to narrow it down to as specific experiences as possible.

June Highs: Smoking hash with the local body-burners in Varanasi. Seeing the Taj Mahal. Meeting Paul on the bus and figuring out how to navigate Delhi together (not sure why this sticks with me but the instant friends problem solving together is a really cool, typical traveler experience that other people don’t get to have). The 50 hour train ride across India. Late night haircuts with Mel. Doing stand up comedy (and failing miserably) in Mumbai. Experiencing the protests at El Tahrir Square while the rest of the world was watching them on TV. The first day back in Toronto: seeing my parents and all my friends. The brief excitement of sliding back in to old routines.
June Lows: The first night in Calcutta: frustration, bad weather, shitty food, no train tickets to leave, annoying owner of the hotel, bed buds, inability to sleep, the only time I’ve ever “lost it” while traveling. Annoyance at Piper business stuff not coming together. Feeling frustrated in Goa and Bangalore – “Why am I wasting my time here?” The emptiness that came with not being sure how to fill my days when I first got home.

Step 3: Extract Lessons

Read over your answers from the last section. Answer the following questions:

  • What are the trends in the highs and the lows?
  • What kinds of behavior tend to bring you happiness?
  • Which tend to bring you pain?

The highs are mostly when I was doing something meaningful, working a lot, improving myself. In other words, when I was reaching my potential. Overcoming barriers of any kind, too. Work shows up on here a lot more than play, which surprises me.
Really novel experiences get me, too. Standing on hallowed ground, doing events that are rare and substantial. This is true in an exploring sense and in a partying sense. I don’t take much pleasure in doing the same things repeatedly. On a social level, they mostly come from meeting people who I’m inspired by, find interesting or who I get into a really fresh adventure with (or, maybe, someone who I instinctively want to plan future adventures in my head with?)

When I’m seeing people I know, I appreciate it much more after a long absence, especially if we meet up in a foreign place and get to experience the adventure together.

I appreciate family time even more than friend time, maybe because it’s also been rare in the same way.

The lows almost all come from feeling aimless and working on things I don’t care about. They’re all chronic, “worried about life” lows, whereas most of the highs are either acute, fun highs or come from the feeling of accomplishment. They also come, even more strongly, when I don’t reach my potential, when I have an aim that’s completely within my control and don’t hit it.

A handful of the lows came from things that are mostly outside my control, but straddle the border so that I can take responsibility. Not having big gains from my month at Tiger and a bad scuba diving experience stand out. I feel like I should have been able to do something, but it’s not like I really could have done anything differently.

Step 4: Set Your Priorities

Did you learn anything about what actually matters to you? For example, I saw repeated low points of feeling crappy when I was eating badly. I didn’t see one mention of eating McDonald’s as a high point. That’s something to learn from.

Now use this information to set your priorities. Personally, I use four categories:

  1. Work
  2. Relationships
  3. Health
  4. Learning

Go through each of these categories and answer…

  • What’s your vision for where you’d like to be at this time next year?
  • What are the tangible goals that will let you know if you got there?
  • What is the purpose of you working hard in this area of your life?

It’s not always possible but, where it is, try to focus on process goals rather than outcome goals. Process goals are in your control. There aren’t any excuses. They’re what lead to getting things done. Outcome goals can be sexier. They’re easier to tell your friends about. But people with outcome-based goals give up. “Go to the gym 3x per week” is much better than “Get a six pack.”

Vision (Work): I’m going into the year just starting working on projects that have the potential to be massive. I don’t know where it could take me. My big-picture vision is to (1) be working on things that keep me excited to work every day, (2) be working with amazing people that I love, can learn from, and would go to war with on every project, (3) earn substantial money for my contributions instead of doing them at the expense of the salary I could be making, (4) have multiple income streams, so that I’m antifragile as a mothafucka.
Goals (Learning): I will (1) keep improving at Spanish up to conversational fluency, (2) keep reading and learning history – over 50 books again his year, (3) start a consistent MMA practice, (4) practice my public speaking and start doing improv, (5) learn to code Ruby, (6) write more and more consistently, (7) study psychology, marketing, and copywriting. Secondary, if I feel inclined, dive more deeply into (1) poker, (2) chess, (3) music, (4) shooting, (5) surfing. Purpose (Work): To gain confidence in my abilities by translating abstract thought into meaningful action. To reach my potential, which is only possible if I’m excited to work every day. To learn everything I can from people I admire. To be rewarded for my work. To feel important. To feel justified in my career decisions. To be antifragile and safe against black swans. To be varied in my influences.

Step 5: Summarize

Write a couple pages answering the following questions…

  • What would make 2014 the best one yet?
  • What would you want to accomplish?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • What do you want to experience?
  • How do you want to contribute?
  • How do you want to be?
  • Who do you want to spend time with?
  • What do you want to leave behind?
  • What do you want to grow into?
  • What do you want the theme of 2014 to be?

This is the most fun part to look back on, because you really get a window into how you were thinking. I can’t believe how little I have in common with myself 12 months ago.

Step 6: Share Your Thoughts

Respond in the comments and tell me what you want your theme of 2014 to be and how you plan on getting there (studies say we’re more likely to stick with things when we make ourselves publicly accountable).


  1. Colin Mc

    Insightful post.

    2014 will be the year when I remember to focus on myself. I’m scaling back my work hours and taking up a multitude of personal projects.

  2. Marc

    where’s your theme for 2014!?

    mine is HUSTLE. my business is just starting to take off and everything this year is about making sure it continues.

    • Zach

      The Year of Explosive Growth

      I’m in a similar spot to you. In the last year I realized what I have to do, how to do, and that I can do it. This year is all about execution and making shit happen.

  3. Kim

    Thanks, Zach, I’ve been looking for some guidance on year-end/beginning pondering, and this fits the bill!

    I feel some major decisions and shifts on the horizon for me, based on my wonderful 2013, and taking a napkin map with me will be helpful!

      • Kim

        I’m still working on this year-end/year-beginning review, Zach. When I have my Big Decisions in better focus, I’ll bring them here, thanks for asking! Life’s work and relocation ideas among several things — nothing major, lol!

        I am trying to figure out how to find a life coach, though… resources? I see many that interest me but how do you make a decision to go with one or another?

    • Zach

      That was a great read. I love the big list of annual goals that you can slowly cross off. Scott does the same thing, eh?

      I think I’m going to make something similar for 2014, although it’s tough because you need to get granular and what I want seems to change so much from month to month.

      Re: Learning. They’re really all over the place. I have a list of about 100 things I want to spend 20-50 hours learning, so I chose the 7 that are the most exciting, doable, and fit nicely into my schedule for the year. There’s some deeper reasons for some of them, but most of it is just that that’s the most I can whittle my big list down.

  4. Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com

    Hi Zach! My theme for 2014 is to “Make 2014 The Best Year Ever.” I’ve already started doing that by writing out my intentions for 2014 and also blogging publicly about it on my own website. But I did want to say that I really appreciate your suggestions too. I agree that anyone who would go through the same process you describe is well on his/her way of achieving their desires. Thanks!

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