For the last decade, the Montana house has rolled in our New Year the exact same way: Crafting a list of all the best things from the year. Exciting huh? The “Best of” isn’t New Year’s resolutions. It isn’t SMART goal setting. It is a time to reflect on all the good things the previous year brought. We recount all the joys, all the happy moments, all the best things the year brought our way, the most meaningful, important, and fun. We do this so that in the coming year, we don’t accidentally, thoughtlessly, cut those kinds of things out.

For 2015, we listed 26 things. All sorts of things make the list. Because it’s all sorts of things that weave together a great year. Here is a small sample:

Finalized the adoption of our 3 kids

Mr. Mt’s Sturgis motorcycle trip with my dad

Hit ½ million net worth

More coffee dates

Our new dog, Cheesy Taco, was dropped off at our house after living as a stray

My friend D came for a visit

Pregnant after 7 years of infertility

Kitchen remodel in one of our rentals

A great vacation with friends

Removed the dirt pile from in front of our house (4 yrs after we moved in!)

3 weekend getaways with just Mr. Mt and me

Started our sabbatical year

That is just the short list. We sit down over coffee each year, and reflect with gratitude over all the good things the year brought. Some we planned and worked towards, some we snatched up last minute, and some just fell into our lap (like that unexpected pregnancy!) Out of the 26 items, only 3 or 4 might have been actual goals coming out of 2015. A lot of the best things in life aren’t planned, but seized when the opportunity comes.

This is part 2 of 3 steps before we start setting our goals for the New Year. Earlier we talked about creating space for that goal to flourish. And next week will be picking a focus for the year. But this is something different, and equally important.

Finding patterns in the random

Quite some time ago I worked as a manager at Starbucks. They sent me to open a new store, and the bulk of my job was hiring. In our management training, they said the key to interviews was finding patterns in past behavior. People will say all sorts of things about what they think their behavior is like.

But the best indicator of future performance is past behavior.

Turns out I had a bit of a knack for it. Getting people to talk about their past jobs, hobbies, or school. Pulling out the stories, and examples. People would start talking like we were great friends. Over a good cup of coffee and a pastry (it was a coffee shop after all), we would have a great time as I let them tell me all sorts of stories about their work and life. And while smiling my warm smile, I would extract the patterns and attitudes that separated great workers from difficult or unproductive ones.

Those patterns rarely lie.

All we have to do is gather together all the stories, good memories and achievements.

What are the themes that make for a great year for you? Was it when you went to visit friends and family? Was it the summer Saturday adventures? Was it date time with your spouse? Was it a promotion or hitting a certain financial benchmark? Finishing a project?


How do we apply these?

In any given year, we are faced with hundreds if not thousands of choices. How should we spend our vacation days: Go on a cruise? Camping vacation? Renovate our bathroom? Stay home? Visit family? Where do we find the information we need to make these kinds of decisions?

Categorize and Reflect

It will take some thought to think through all the great things about 2016. There are 5 or 10 that will come quickly. After another 30 minutes of talking, you will remember a few more. Given another 30 minutes, a few more things will come to mind that you can’t believe you forgot about.

By writing these down, your brain will categorize and remember them in a very different way. As random stories, your brain hasn’t sorted and filed these memories yet as “The Best Of.” The great ones are right alongside of the good ones and the mediocre experiences. There is no need to memorize your list. Even just glancing over it 2 or 3 times this year will keep those items fresh.

Experiences are so broad and nuanced, that our brains can’t store 100% of the information. Our brains rely on small snippets and the labels we give those experiences. That is how they are stored.

One of the things on our 2015 review was “we had lots of great summer adventures.” On any given Saturday we were trying to decide between 1. Clean the house. 2. Go grocery shopping. 3. Work on the blog 4. Go for a hike. All 4 are needed. All 4 seem pressing. But hiking won out more often because it made the 2015 list.

Gratitude-Behavior Snowball

After doing this for a decade, I can attest to the momentum this creates. We notice something great in 2009, we do more of that in 2010. We noticed how great that was in 2010, we make more space for it in 2011. The things we love most in life increase each year. The mediocre and under-performing activities are slowly pushed out or minimized.

You might skeptically think, “Well that is great for you! But I live in the real world where my time has to be spent on the unpleasant tasks.”

Picking up toys has never made the list. It was a time suck every night. It seemed like we only had two choices: let our home look like an overrun, disheveled daycare or spend 30 minutes picking up toys. This was not a fun task. This wasn’t like reading bedtime stories to my kids or doing science experiments. So we started to simplify and streamline. We took toys out of their rooms. We got rid of half of the toys. We limited how many sets of toys they can keep in the toy room. We finally said, “If it’s too much for you to clean up on your own, then you have too many toys in there.” I haven’t picked up a toy in 18 months. At 30 minutes a day, I save 3.5 hours every week. We use those hours for the things that make our “Best of” list.

These aren’t goals.

They aren’t resolutions.

It’s like saying, “Hey, that thing was good. We should do more stuff like that.”

We don’t try to replicate the good things, but instead notice the pattern.  Past happiness is the best indicator of future happiness.

I didn’t get to see my friend D in 2016. I don’t know if a quick visit will fit into 2017 or not. But that time with her made the 2015 list, and if an opportunity opens up for 2017, you can bet I will jump at the chance. Every time her and I have taken a trip together, it’s made my Year in Review List. My friend Sam and I did 2 day trips this year, once to a concert and one to a hot springs. Both of them will make my 2016 Year in Review list, because each was so good for my soul. If I see an opportunity for an adventure together one day in 2017, I won’t hesitate. Yeah, I maybe I could use that time to catch up on laundry, or get some shopping done. But shockingly “catch up on laundry” has yet to make my list.

I hope 2016 was a great year for you. I hope you find an hour of two to reflect on all the great things that happened. And I hope that 2 hours helps make 2017 even better. And every year afterwards.

Other reading:

Seth Godin: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/11/the-memories-we-rehearse-are-the-ones-we-live-with.html


The Power of Habit

Let’s Chat:

Have you done a “Best of” list?

What do you try to make sure fits into each New Year?

What’s one thing that would make your “Best of” in 2016 list?