Most people make two mistakes every year:
- They do an annual review that’s generic and only focuses on external metrics outside their control (make X amount of money, get Y number of subscribers, get Z number of sales).
- They create New Year’s Resolutions that last three weeks, and then they give up.
There’s got to be a better way, right?
A way to both reflect on the past chapter of your life and set yourself up for success in the next chapter.
And today, I’m going to share strategies I’ve developed to do both.
I’m not going to claim these are the best strategies in the world, but they’re the best ones I’ve been using for years and have used to help tons of my clients gain the clarity and conviction they need to succeed in life and business.
Let’s dive in…
I’ll do a full walkthrough of how I use each of these questions later in this piece, but in case you just want the questions to start implementing in your life, here they are:
Review Reflection Questions
Why this approach is more helpful:
Review the external → Reflect on the internal
There are tons of annual review guides out there—and many are great—but most focus on external metrics. You don’t control the external, but you do control the internal—so shifting your focus to reflecting on your internal traits, strengths, struggles, and priorities moving forward will yield powerful insights about your future.
Binary → Open-ended
Instead of binary questions like “Did I achieve X outcome,” that you can answer with a quick “yes/no” response, asking open-ended questions helps you reflect deeper and give a more robust response for better clarity and insights.
Ok, here are the questions:
- Where did I think too small?
- How did I overcomplicate things?
- What games did I play and optimize for?
- How much time did I spend in the lab vs. in the arena?
- How much TEA did I pour into my Golden Bucket?
- How well did I incorporate memento mori into my life to live fully every day?
- How well did I connect with others on a similar journey vs. building in isolation?
- What are my most memorable wins?
- What changes will I make going forward based on what I’ve learned from these reflections?
Now that you’ve reflected on the last chapter, it’s time to prepare to write the next one…
Resolutions Intentions Frameworks
Why this approach is more helpful:
Resolutions → Intentions
“Resolution” has a lot of psychological baggage at this point. People make New Year’s Resolutions expecting to break them in a few weeks. But if you focus on creating an intention for the next chapter, you bypass this psychological baggage.
Goals → Priorities
Instead of setting goals, focusing on clarifying your priorities helps focus your mind on what matters most.
Outcomes → Processes
Outcomes are outside your control. But your processes and the effort you put in are within your control.
Instead of wasting your time, energy, and attention on things outside your control (outcomes like “make X amount of money,” “get Y number of subscribers,” or “get Z number of sales”) focus on what’s within your control (processes like “send X outreach messages,” “publish Y pieces of content,” or “revise offer landing pages and sales sequences”).
Ok, here are the questions:
- What are my priorities for this next chapter?
- What are the critical components I need to focus on to achieve them?
- What could get in my way, or has gotten in my way in the past?
- What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
- What is my plan moving forward?
- In one word, what is the theme for this next chapter of life?
The cool thing with these questions is you don’t have to only use them once a year. You can use them on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, too.
Ok, if you just came here for the actual questions, you’re good to go—let me know how using these helps you gain the clarity you need to move forward.
But if you want to see how I use these for my own life and business, keep reading…
The main question I constantly ask myself is:
How and where am I getting in my own way?
99% of the time, the biggest obstacle to our success is ourselves. Our own limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviors, unrealistic expectations, lack of clarity, or somehow losing perspective on what matters.
So most of the questions I use for my reflection revolve around answering this. Because once you clarify what held you back in the past, you know what changes to make in the future.
Where did I think too small?
Most of us have the potential to have a way bigger impact than we give ourselves permission to believe. This question helps me reflect on the impact I want to have compared to the actual impact I had over the last year.
In 2023, I thought too small and didn’t have the impact I wanted.
I started 2023 intending to write a book to impact (potentially) millions of people.
But after talking to a few creators/author friends, I decided to shelf the idea to focus on building my audience. Since most traditional publishers want to sign people with larger audiences, this made sense.
So I narrowed my focus to grow more on Twitter and LinkedIn. But this turned into “thinking in tweets,” where I was constantly trying to shoehorn my ideas into a few hundred characters—which doesn’t align with creating deep, nuanced content.
Thankfully over the course of the year, I transitioned to sharing deeper, more nuanced content through my newsletter and a few months ago decided to shift my focus to YouTube. I still use social media, but now I use it just to connect with people and share behind-the-scenes of what I’m building off social media instead of playing the social media game and trying to go viral.
No one’s life has ever been changed by a tweet. But many lives have been changed by a book, a conversation, or a role model.
Writing a “big idea” book forces you to think bigger—by putting off my book, I put off the opportunity to think bigger.
So moving forward, I’m giving myself permission to think bigger—about the ideas I want to explore, the impact I want to have, and the value I want to share with the world.
How did I overcomplicate things?
It’s easy for me to “theorycraft” and preoptimize by going down YouTube rabbit holes and designing the “perfect” systems and business plans.
Most of the time, this is a distraction keeping me from taking action.
I spent a lot of the beginning of the year creating big elaborate plans that ultimately went nowhere—complicated marketing funnels, grandiose partnerships, and unrealistic projects that did nothing but waste time and get my hopes up.
But one of the biggest projects I overcomplicated was my YouTube channel. I started it a few years ago, but quickly got overwhelmed.
I was trying to shoot like Peter McKinnon, color grade like Becki and Chris, and captivate like Casey Neistat—and did a phenomenal job not doing any of those things.
So a few months ago, I decided to un-complicate it by removing everything that was getting in the way of cranking out valuable videos.
I applied constraints like:
- No music
- No stock footage
- No fancy editing techniques
Just a talking head video with minimal editing and occasional graphics—and a focus on sharing valuable information and using storytelling techniques to make it engaging.
I’ve uploaded 14 videos since that decision, and I’m enjoying the process.
Note to self: Apply constraints to avoid overcomplicating it.
What games did I play and optimize for?
Everything is a game—the only difference is the stakes. So one of the keys to success is deciding which games you want to play.
Most of the games we play are long-term losses veiled as short-term wins.
I “played” social media and tried to “win” at Twitter and LinkedIn.
But after 3 years of trying to play and win those games, this year I realized I don’t want to play them anymore.
Spending hours on a post that gets virtually no views and doesn’t convert to newsletter subscribers or customers isn’t something I do for the sheer joy of it.
These are my infinite games—the things I’d do even if they didn’t make money because the mere act of doing them is fulfilling.
If it isn’t an infinite game, I don’t want to play anymore.
How much time did I spend in the lab vs. in the arena?
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking about doing, talking about doing, and planning to do—but never actually doing the thing.
This year, I spent too much time “researching” how to do a YouTube channel, build courses, and grow a business.
Because staying in the “lab” feels safe and comforting—constantly thinking of things, researching, and taking notes without the risks of actually doing anything.
Yes, some thinking and planning are necessary—but not as much as you think.
But once I stepped into the arena and put myself and my ideas out into the world—I got feedback, I learned, I fucked up, I learned some more, I iterated, and I evolved in a way I never could have if I’d stayed in the lab.
Because you’ll learn way more from doing than thinking about doing.
I’m ending 2023 with a podcast, two self-paced courses, a YouTube channel, a newsletter, and a group of people like you—deep thinkers dedicated to reaching their potential—who’ve chosen to come along on this journey with me (thanks, you’re awesome).
How much TEA did I pour into my Golden Bucket?
TEA is your time, energy, and attention.
In my course, Build an Intentional Life, I talk about how you can pour your TEA into one of two buckets. One bucket is large, but full of holes. The other bucket (your Golden Bucket) is small, but leak-proof. The larger bucket represents everything outside of your control—most of life is outside your control (which is why the bucket is bigger), so any TEA you pour into it is wasted. But the Golden Bucket, even though it’s way smaller, represents the few things within your control—so any TEA you pour into it has a measurable impact.
Outcomes are outside your control—you control your effort, not the outcome.
I’m generally pretty good at focusing on my processes instead of the outcome. But it’s still easy to get caught up chasing certain metrics like the number in your bank account or subscriber count.
I had a huge growth spurt in my newsletter earlier this year where it almost tripled.
But my open rate dropped by more than half, and subscriber growth didn’t correlate with revenue growth.
Turns out, I was getting tons of subscribers, but they were cold—people were recommending their subscribers to me, but a lot were either spam signups or people who subscribed on impulse and didn’t actually care about my content.
After some painful trimming of my subscriber list, my open rates are back to normal levels and I’m growing slowly but attracting the right people.
But it was a great reminder:
- I don’t control who recommends my content.
- I don’t control who reads or subscribes to my content.
- I don’t control how many people read or recommend my content.
But I do control creating the best possible content I’m capable of for the type of person I want to serve.
So going forward, I’m focusing on building deep content that resonates with people, growing intentionally rather than quickly, and getting my reps in for newsletters and videos.
Because I control the process, not the outcome. And if I nail the process, the outcome becomes inevitable.
How well did I incorporate memento mori into my life to live fully every day?
Memento mori means “remember death.” It’s not meant to be depressing, but to be a reminder to make the most of the time we have left and cherish what we have while we have it.
I extend memento mori to mean “remember it will end.” Your kids won’t be kids for long. You and your partner won’t be at this stage of life forever. And many of the things you take for granted today will one day be a cherished memory.
Memento mori allows us to practice deep intentional gratitude and focus on doing work that’s intrinsically rewarding instead of chasing external shit that doesn’t matter (fame, attention, fancy gadgets).
Overall, I think I did well incorporating memento mori into my daily life, but I’ve got tons of room for improvement around being more intentional with calling loved ones, showing up more fully with friends, and saying “no” to most things to free myself up to say “yes” to the few things that truly matter.
How well did I connect with others on a similar journey vs. building in isolation?
No one succeeds in isolation.
Through the first half of 2023, I lived in Louisville, KY and trained at a phenomenal BJJ gym co-owned by Nick “Chewy” Albin—one of the most famous BJJ YouTubers and an all-around awesome dude.
Between Chewy and another grappler-YouTuber named Brandon Reed, I had two friends who “got it” when it came to being a creator and entrepreneur. I learned a lot from them around email marketing, camera presence, and content strategy.
But as great as Chewy, Brandon, and everyone else at the gym were—Louisville just isn’t the city for me. I was mostly creating in isolation and I don’t create content in the grappling/BJJ niche, so collaboration opportunities were virtually non-existent.
So my girlfriend and I decided to move to Austin, TX—one of the biggest creator hubs in the country—in June. Aside from the Texas summer, Austin has been awesome.
Not only are there tons of creators here to bump into, hit up to grab a coffee, or collaborate with—but Austin is where tons of creators from around the world travel through all the time.
The path of a creator is full of uncertainty, so just being able to talk to people on the same path is a huge unlock—even if they don’t give specific advice, just processing stuff with each other is invaluable.
It reminds me of an African proverb:
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Living in Austin has given me the opportunity to do just that.
What are my most memorable wins?
When I think about how much I’ve grown as a creator and entrepreneur over the last year, it’s easy to focus on how much I wanted to achieve but didn’t instead of what actually came to fruition—so this question is great for focusing my mind on what’s worth celebrating.
Some of my most memorable wins of 2023:
Being on Pat Flynn’s SPI podcast. Pat was one of the first people whose content guided me into being a creator and entrepreneur. So having the privilege just 2 1/2 years later to be on the very podcast that gave me my start to pay it forward and help other creators and entrepreneurs early on their journey was surreal.
Started the Creator Alchemy newsletter. I had been writing another newsletter that was curation-based where I’d share three “actionable insights” each week. But I realized there was nothing unique about it and the only time people responded to an issue was when I shared my own thoughts. So early this year I decided to create a newsletter full of original content to help creators reach their potential—and Creator Alchemy was born. Since then, growth has improved, engagement has skyrocketed, and every week someone replies with how a concept changed their life in some small way.
Moved to Austin and met tons of cool people, which I’ve already talked about.
Started the No Clear Answers podcast with two friends—Justin Mulvaney and Rikki Goldenberg—who are phenomenal coaches. NCA is “the anti-guru podcast,” because we take common self-help topics and dive into the nuances around them. Each of us come from very different perspectives (I’m a psychologist who coaches creators, Justin coaches startup founders, and Rikki does more career coaching for professionals and executives), so the entire point of the show is there’s no one way to approach something or a single “right” answer. The reception has been great so far and we love doing the show.
Evolved my cohort-based course based on the best coaching frameworks I use to help 1:1 coaching clients clarify what matters, overcome limiting beliefs, and build a fulfilling life and thriving business aligned with their values into a self-paced course called Build an Intentional Life. So now I have two self-paced courses—BIL and World-Class Coaching (which goes through how to start your own coaching business and attract life-changing opportunities)—which has allowed me to set up systems that sell these courses 24/7/365 so I’m freed up to work on other projects.
All in all, I wanted to do more in 2023, but I’m grateful for how far I’ve come.
What changes will I make going forward based on what I’ve learned from these reflections?
This is basically a summary of everything you’ve reflected on—if you condense your takeaways enough, you can fit them on a piece of paper to keep in your office as reminders of how you want to show up in the world.
- Expand my life horizon to think bigger about the impact I want to have.
- Do less, but better by applying constraints to focus on what actually matters.
- Focus on playing infinite games like sharing cool ideas and having cool conversations.
- Live in the arena—because it’s the best place to learn and grow.
- Focus on the process and creating the best stuff I possibly can for the people I want to serve.
- Remember it will end—and let that guide how I show up in the world.
- Hit up more creator friends to grow together.
- Celebrate wins when they come—no matter how big or small.
Now I have an excellent life operating system to move into this next chapter of life.
My Intentions for 2024
Most of the creators who’ve inspired me for years all seem to have hit inflection points around the 3-5 year marks in their journey.
December 4th will be my 3-year creator-versary, so my intentions going into 2024 revolve around setting myself up for my own inflection points.
What are my priorities for this next chapter?
My main priority is my book—getting an agent, getting a deal, and writing it (or just writing it if I don’t go the traditional route).
My other priorities are growing the Creator Alchemy newsletter and my YouTube channel (which both serve my main priority).
What are the critical components I need to focus on to achieve them?
Instead of focusing on outcomes like “get a book deal,” it’s more helpful to focus on being process-oriented.
For the book—I need to make a list of literary agents to reach out to and develop a book proposal (which includes outlining the book, detailing marketing plans, and collecting collateral audience reach to show sales potential).
For the newsletter—I need to research deeper topics and unmet needs creators have that I’m uniquely positioned to address, improve my storytelling skills, and create content that’s valuable, memorable, and sharable.
For the YouTube channel—I need to focus on improving my hooks and intros and apply the same strategies I’ll be using to improve the newsletter (unique, valuable, memorable content).
What could get in my way, or has gotten in my way in the past?
The biggest obstacles to my three priorities will be getting distracted by Shiny Objects, overcomplicating things, and doing low-leverage work that doesn’t move the needle.
What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
I need to default to “no” for any ideas or opportunities that don’t ultimately align with getting a book deal, growing my newsletter, or growing my YouTube channel—period.
Reaching out to friends in the publishing industry can help me avoid typical pitfalls and distractions around getting a book deal.
Continuing to write for Psychology Today is a high-leverage activity that will allow me to access a broad audience to leverage for the book proposal and allow me to test out ideas to see what resonates with people to then put into the book (and gives me extra credibility).
What is my plan moving forward?
For the book—make a list of agents, do a book proposal, then send it to agents. Iterate from there. If I can’t get a traditional deal, self-publishing is always an option.
For the newsletter—do more outreach for collaborations, do more podcast interviews to plug the newsletter, double down on telling compelling stories and sharing valuable ideas to help creators reach their potential.
For the YouTube channel—get to 100 videos ASAP, keep the workflow simple, keep batch recording, and keep experimenting with formats and topics.
Overall, I’m going to focus on building a portfolio of massively valuable, evergreen content. Because when you position yourself as the resource for the audience you serve, success may take time, but it’s inevitable.
In one word, what is the theme for this next chapter of life?
The theme for 2023: Expansion
The theme for 2024: Contraction
Aka, “do less, but better.”
Seeing your life as chapters makes it easier to see a clear demarcation where one ends and another begins—so we can reflect on the last chapter with deep insights and look to the next with clear vision.
If you made it this far, I’d love to hear what this last chapter looked like for you, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store for you.
Cheers to the next chapter.