Crafting a Life: Beyond Resolutions with Personalized Year-in-Review

daily habits reflection Dec 18, 2023

Embarking on a journey of self-improvement and goal setting has been a constant theme in my life—a compass guiding me toward a well-lived existence. For years, I embraced the tradition of setting New Year's resolutions, but recently, I've steered away from this norm in favor of a more personalized and insightful approach that I'm eager to share with you.

The Personalized Year-in-Review (PYIR)

Think of PYIR as a bespoke version of the traditional New Year's resolution. It's a process akin to a business year-in-review, offering a comprehensive look at the past year, diving into highs, lows, lessons learned, and opportunities for growth. It involves a reflective pause and a strategic plan for the year ahead.

Reflecting on the Past Year

During my PYIR for 2021, a revelation struck—our family's most memorable moments occurred in nature. This insight led us to intentional planning in 2022. We committed to more outdoor experiences. I booked two vacations centered around the outdoors and set an ambitious goal to complete 50 hikes within the year. The difference? It wasn't just a resolution; it was a tailored plan derived from reflective insights.

The Pitfall of Traditional Resolutions

In the traditional resolution-setting approach, I might have simply vowed to hike weekly. The PYIR, however, led to a deeper understanding: it's not just about the activity but recognizing what truly brings joy. The reflection step uncovered a passion for nature, fueling a more nuanced and effective plan. For the nerds out there, it's akin to the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) strategy, where the objective is clear (spend more time in nature), and the key results are specific (two nature trips and 50 hikes).

Why PYIR Works Better

PYIR outshines traditional methods in two crucial ways. First, decisions for the upcoming year are based on intentional review and reflection of experiential evidence from the past. Second, it incorporates a planning component, significantly boosting the chances of success.

Two Approaches to PYIR

Tim Ferris's Simple Approach

Tim's method involves a straightforward yet powerful process:

  1. Preparation: Create a notepad with "Positive" and "Negative" columns.
  2. Review the Past Year: Delve into your calendar, focusing on each week.
  3. Reflect on Highs and Lows: Note activities triggering strong emotions in respective columns.
  4. Reflect on Peaks: Identify the most impactful 20% in each column.
  5. Plan for the New Year - Positive Actions: Schedule more of the top positive items.
    • Make these plans concrete by booking events, activities, and time with friends.
    • Prepay if possible to commit yourself.
    • Remember, an activity isn't set until it's in your calendar.
  6. Plan for the New Year - Negative Avoidance: Label top negative items as your "Not-To-DO List."
    • Label the top negative items as your "Not-To-DO List."
    • Keep this list in a visible spot, especially during the first few weeks of the new year.


While I’m a big fan of Tim’s elegant approach, it has one big flaw. It lacks guidance on evaluating what might be missing entirely from our lives. Here are a few different questions one can reflect on to address such a worry:


  • Was there anything missing in my life last year that I want to plan for in the year ahead?  
  • If this had been my last year alive, would I have been satisfied with how I spent my time?  What would I have done differently?
  • In what areas of my life am I letting limiting beliefs and fears hold me back?


With any of the above added to the reflection step, Tim’s approach is both practical and effective. 

The Wheel of Life Approach

The second approach incorporates a "Wheel of Life," visualizing various life aspects. Developed by Jake Kahana, co-founder of Caveday, this method adds complexity to the review process:

  1. Preparation: Download guides, choose digital or traditional methods. 
  2. Review the Past Year: Focus on each month, recall key events, feelings, and changes. 
  3. Reflect and make top 10 lists: 
    • What went well.
    • What fell short.
  4. Reflect using the Wheel of LIfe
    • Choose 4-8 categories for your life.
    • Review your life in each category, scoring 1-10. 
    • Why are certain categories higher than others?
    • What worked, what didn’t, and why?
  5. Reflect and identify three things  
    • To do more of.
    • To do less of.
    • To stop doing altogether.
  6. Plan for the next year using the Wheel of LIfe
    • Choose 4-8 categories for your life. 
    • For each category: 
      1. What will make it a score of 10?
      2. What goals, habits, and intentions serve this category?
  7. Summarize insights and plan for the year ahead


Use Vacation for Behavioral Changes

The conventional New Year's resolution often falters, at least for me. The start of the year is a notoriously busy time for most people. The spark tends to dwindle before January ends. 

The last few times I built a new daily habit, I started the new habit while on a vacation. I think this was successful for two reasons. For one, being on vacation I had the time to truly reflect. Second, I used the vacation to get started, build momentum, and return home with a foundation in place. 

Am I really suggesting you start a new food plan, exercise regime, or mindfulness practice while on vacation? Yes, that’s exactly what I'm suggesting. Vacation is the perfect time to start that new habit you’ve been telling yourself you plan on starting for years. 

Choosing Wisely

Every year during my own PYIR, I have so many aspirations: I want to read more books, write daily, meditate longer, train for an Ironman, spend more time in nature, serve more clients, mentor more young people, nurture my marriage, deepen my friendships...and I’m torn because I know I can’t do it all. We have to make choices about how we are going to spend our most valuable resource, our attention and time. 

For me personally, I understand I’m in a position of privilege to be able to conduct this activity. But it isn’t mere navel-gazing reflection. This is about deciding how to spend my time and energy so that I’m living according to my values and having the greatest positive impact. This is why conducting your PYIR is not only smart, but sacred. 

If you have questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from you. 

In love & gratitude,
Karson Kovakovich

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