My 2016 Personal Retrospective (And 2017 Action Plan)
A one-hour exercise to help you celebrate your biggest wins, identify your biggest opportunities, and dominate the new year.
I spend most of my time planning for the future. With the help of my meditation practice, I’m getting better at living more in the present. But something I still find incredibly difficult is reflecting on the past.
I rarely celebrate achievements for more than a few minutes, and I almost never “look back” on projects or situations to identify what I learned. (And I certainly don’t use that information to guide my future decisions.)
This, as you can imagine, is a problem.
“Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Sometimes being “doomed to repeat” stuff can be a good thing. I think I did a lot of things right this year, and I’d like to continue to do them.
But I also did a lot of stuff wrong.
If we don’t learn from our past, we we won’t be able to identify our biggest opportunities to make life better. Which means we’ll likely suffer through the same situations and thought-patterns again and again.
So this year, I’m continuing with a new tradition I started last year: a personal retrospective.
What’s a retrospective?
A retrospective is when you look back on past events to identify what worked…and what didn’t work. A retrospective helps you celebrate your wins and identify your weaknesses. It helps you learn from the past and correct for the future.
How to do your own personal retrospective
To do a personal retrospective, you simply pick a particular project or time period and ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s working? (“What did I do right? What am I proud of?”)
- What’s not working? (“What could be improved? What are my biggest opportunities for growth?”)
- How can I fix what’s not working for a better result? (“What specific things can I focus on next time?”)
Then you spend 15-30 minutes writing about each.
Nate’s 2016 Personal Retrospective
To give you an idea of how it’s done—and to encourage you to do the same—I want to share mine with you.
QUESTION 1: WHAT’S WORKING? (“WHAT DID I DO RIGHT? WHAT AM I PROUD OF?”)
If I had to give 2016 a title, I’d call it “The year of gaining perspective.”
Big Win #1: I lived out of a suitcase for seven months and traveled to Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, England, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. (And Canada, but who counts that?)
Traveling like this taught me a few important things:
- I have all that I need to be happy. It may sound trite, but it’s true. I have hot water, a comfortable place to sleep, enough food to eat, full functionality of all my limbs, a good group of friends, a family I love, and I don’t live below the poverty line. (Fun fact: If you’re single, live in the US, and make $50,000 gross per year, you’re in richest 1.3% of the world’s population.) Traveling is the ultimate perspective-giver.
- Everyone is seeking connection and potential friends are everywhere. Wherever Richelle and I went, we had people to hang out with and new things to try. We made friends with a young group of entrepreneurs in Playa Del Carmen; we ate strange noodle desserts with the owner of a a coffee shop in Chiang Mai; I nearly got myself killed while riding on the back of a scooter in Vietnam (on my way to a karaoke bar no less); and we had one of the best meals of our lives at Hisa Franko in Slovenia, thanks to Luka and Matej.
- If you’re creative, you can get (or stay) in shape anywhere. I lifted water jugs in Mèrida, did handstands on a rooftop in Bangkok, hiked in the Julian Alps, played frisbee in Danang, and hit up an old school gym in Croatia. (The guy behind the counter was named Goran, which means “mountain man” in Kurdish. He looked the part.)
- Long-term travel isn’t for me. After seven months on the road, we were ready to come back to the States. We missed our families, our community, and our basic routines. We’ll continue to travel, of course, but we’ll likely do it for a few weeks at a time (at most) and turn it into a full-fledged vacation instead of a “workcation”.
Big Win #2: I maintained my key habits and adopted a couple new ones.
- Old habits I stuck to 90+% of the time: Meditating in the morning for 20 minutes; doing a daily gratitude practice with Richelle; exercising a minimum of two times per week; doing undistracted creative work for at least four hours per day; taking weekends completely off.
- New habits I adopted: Giving 5-10% of my income to charity; cutting my meat consumption in half.
Big Win #3: I did work I was proud of.
- From January to November I sent an average of three newsletters per month. (I took the month of December 2016 off completely.)
- I advised a handful of companies that are doing great work in the world.
- I co-created a free book with my audience: What We’ve Learned.
- Jason and I created Refocus, a 6-week course for ambitious people who need more balance in their lives.
- I led a sold-out workshop for recovering fitness junkies.
QUESTION #2: WHAT’S NOT WORKING? (“WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED? WHAT ARE MY BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH?”)
Big Growth Opportunity #1: Continue to work on flexibility and mobility (for real this time).
Big Growth Opportunity #2: Spend at least 50% of my creative time on my own projects.
If you read my 2015 retrospective, you’ll notice that Number 1 is a carryover from last year.
Here’s what I said then:
I’ve paid lip-service to flexibility for the past couple of years, half-heartedly following a daily stretching routine. But honestly, I still tend to skip a good part of my warm-up and “forget” to stretch at least half the time.
Because of that, I often wake up tight and sore and often require a hot shower to “loosen up.”
Well, a full year has passed and I’m disappointed to report that not much has changed. Old habits die hard, apparently.
One potential reason for the fuck-up: I gave myself way too many (four) action steps last year. Here’s what I said I’d do at the beginning of last year:
Action step #1: Do my morning mobility and activation warm-up at least 80% of the time. That means I can only miss one day out of the week.
Action step #2: Follow a simple 5-minute mobility, stretching circuit before bed every night.
Action step #3: Set a timer for 60 minutes and do one stretch for one minute for every hour that I work at my computer.
Action step #4: Sit on the ground for at least 10 minutes and play with positions till they become more comfortable.
That’s WAY too much.
After watching thousands of people go through the habit-based coaching programs at Precision Nutrition, I know that most of us can only stick to one new habit at a time. (Sometimes you can get away with two, but it helps to have those habits in different domains—like one for personal and one for professional.)
So this year, even though I have a lot more to work on (trust me) I’m going to narrow my focus to these two things, plus reduce my action steps.
Both of these opportunities—increasing mobility and working on my own projects 50% of the time—will have a significant positive impact in my life. Probably more than any other habit I could adopt.
In other words, if everything else about my life stayed the same and only these two things changed, I’d consider 2017 a huge success.
QUESTION #3: HOW CAN I FIX WHAT’S NOT WORKING FOR A BETTER RESULT? (“WHAT SPECIFIC THINGS CAN I FOCUS ON NEXT TIME?”)
Action step #1: Set a timer for 20 minutes of stretching, breathing, and movement directly after I finish my morning meditation.
Rationale: I’m already meditating in the morning, so I might as well use that to my advantage. By linking this new practice (stretching) to my old practice (meditating), I’m more likely to stick to it. And the fact that I’m already wearing sweat pants and sitting on the floor helps.
Also, for someone who loves routines, I hate following rigid programs. That’s why I’m purposefully keeping the stretching and movement portion of this action step vague. My only goal is to set a timer for 20 minutes and do some kind of movement for the entire duration. If I can do that, I’ll consider it a win.
Action step #2: Immediately fire 1-2 companies I’m currently working with in order to free up 50% of my work schedule.
Rationale: The way my schedule is structured right now, I’m spending 90% of my time on other people’s projects. This has been fun and lucrative, but it’s not allowing me time to work on stuff that matters to me: writing blog posts and books, creating new projects, and working with personal coaching clients.
I’ll likely take a significant financial hit in the short-term, but that’s no big deal. Best case scenario: I use that free time to create things that help people and earn money directly. Worst-case scenario: I try it for a year and pick up another corporate client or two in 2018 if needed.
Write your own Personal Retrospective
So that’s mine. Now it’s your turn.
It’ll take you roughly an hour, but it could be the most important thing you do this year. After all, 2017 is already here.
What are you the most proud of? Where are your biggest growth opportunities?
And the biggest question: What are you going to do about them?