Images: Austin Yoder

I almost didn’t write this. The last year of my life hasn’t gone entirely according to plan, entirely as I mapped it out. I get a little bit anxious when I think about sharing some of my most personal thoughts with the entire internet, but I decided to write this piece anyway.

Regardless of the shortcomings, failures, and success I’ve encountered over the course of 2012, I believe that the process of mind mapping your upcoming year is a helpful one. A simple process that I believe the right type of person can benefit from, and if this post can help even one person achieve something good in 2013, it will have been more than worth the feelings of discomfort and insecurity that arise when I think about sharing my goals with any substantial audience.

It’s nearly three weeks into 2013, and according to statistics, the majority of people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions. There are lots of reasons people might forget about or surrender their goals for the year. I think that the format in which people chart their goals is an important factor in their success. Where some people write up a Word document with their resolutions, or jot down a few things on the back of a napkin on Dec. 31, I use a mind map.

Mind mapping my goals for the year has been one of the most important and helpful processes I’ve ever in incorporated into my life. The first time I read about doing an “Annual Review” was over at Chris Guillebeau’s blog (thanks for the inspiration, Chris). I love how Chris conduct’s his review, but for visual and auditory learners like myself, mind maps work better.

Click to enlarge

Before we go any further, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

At right is the mind map I created at the end of 2011 charting the course and direction of my year in 2012 (click to enlarge; right-click + download to view with zoom). The goal of this mind map, when I made it, was to map out the biggest year of my life.

I’ve used this mind mapping process as a foundation to travel to six countries and see the aurora borealis while in my senior year of college, to work three to five part-time jobs while in school to save thousands of dollars, to connect with millionaires and amazing mentors, and, more importantly, to form meaningful relationships with great people, people I can call true friends.

Even though I didn’t hit 100% of my goals for the last year, 2012 was undoubtedly the biggest year of my life, and so I consider the mind map a success. I know that if I hadn’t mapped out ambitious goals for every area of my life, and scrambled to achieve 60-70% of everything I mapped out, my year would have been much flatter.

More dull.
More boring.
Less successful.

I want to take a moment to break down what’s going on here to share the ideas, motivations, and methods behind creating this mind map so you can create one for yourself, and map 2013 to be the biggest year of your life.

Step 1: Break it down.

In your journal, chart out the most significant areas of your life. I use the following standard categories from year to year (feel free to steal them for your own mind maps):

  • Health
  • Relationships
    • Friendships
    • Romantic Relationships
    • Family
    • Learning
    • Personal Development
    • Business
    • Money
      • Earning
      • Saving
      • Spending
      • Giving

For each of these categories, write at least a page in your journal about what has gone well in the last year, and what could be improved for the year to come. For example, if I were writing about the “health” category for the past year, I would be writing bullet points in my journal like:

Health mind map section

Went well in 2012

  • Stuck with diet for first six months
  • Good about going into gym for first six months
  • Learned how to make greek yoghurt in rice cooker, want to cook more for next year

Didn’t go according to plan

  • Didn’t do amateur powerlifting competition
  • Stopped tracking body weight and composition after about Feb. 15 (likely one of the reasons I stopped being good about diet and exercise)
  • Didn’t experiment with fasting
  • Wasn’t good about doing exercise for the last quarter of 2012. Although there are reasons for this, I definitely neglected my physical health much more than I should have for the last quarter of 2012, and need to revise my habits for 2013.

Needs improvement in 2013

  • Need to refocus on healthy eating re: slow carb diet
  • Need to rebuild exercise into my daily routine, starting with small steps
  • Need to monitor and actively track body weight and composition to help me stay connected to health goals on weekly and monthly basis

This personal breakdown is all about introspection. It’s about thinking through where you want this area of your life to be in the next year, and how and what you’ll do to get there.

Step 2: Solidify it.

After you go through each category of your life and reflect on what’s been working well and what needs improvement, it’s time to get concrete about what you’re going to do to improve in 2013. Everyone can think about things, but this is the step that separates people who achieve their yearly goals from people who forget their yearly goals.

Make all of your goals as specific and actionable as possible. This means they should be things you can take action on with a clear deadline, with a consequence for what happens if you don’t achieve your goal by your deadline.

  • Example of a terrible goal: “lose weight and work out more.”
  • Example of a solid goal: “drop ten pounds by March, twenty by June, and maintain 190lbs bodyweight from June–Jan. Lift weights 3x/week before lunch (chest/tri, back/bi, legs, core), and a mile-long run every other Monday. Want to put on 5lbs muscle by March 1. If haven’t met these goals, I will wear a bra on the outside of my shirt to the gym and allow my brother to photograph me, and post the picture to Facebook for all of my friends to see.”

Articulating your goal clearly, as a plan, is highly important. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t put your goal into your calendar, and put in concrete milestones towards achieving that goal, it probably isn’t specific enough. Start again, make it more specific. Articulating a consequence is equally important. Promise to wear a bra on the outside of your clothes to the gym, pledge to your spouse that you’ll repaint the house, tell your sister she can have your iPad — make it something that will hurt a bit.

You can write all of these goals down in a journal, or you can type them into mind-mapping software like Freemind. Just make sure by the end of your “solidify” phase that you have a clean, extremely focused list of things you’re excited about.

Step 3: Map it.

Take your solidified goals from your journal and put them into your mind map. A mind map centralizes all of your goals. It consolidates everything you need to do to make 2013 the biggest year of your life into one easy, visual format. Feel free to refer back to my mind map above as a point of reference, or totally ignore it and make a mind map however works best for you.

Step 4: Make your mind map accessible for review.

Create a PDF or image file of your mind map. Send it to your smartphone, your tablet, any device you use regularly, so you can scroll through your goals on a daily basis. By putting your mind map on all of your devices, you ensure you can review it standing in line for coffee, sitting on a bus, or when you have five minutes before your next meeting. This regular review helps keep your goals front and center in your mind (people often forget their goals, and thus fail to achieve them), and having them in mind-map format ensures you can review them all lightning fast.

Go further: Make a home-screen shortcut for this document on your smartphone and tablet so you have super easy access to it on the go, or put in a recurring calendar reminder to yourself to review your goals first thing every day. Help yourself now (when you don’t have to think about it) to review your goals when there are a billion things pressing for your attention.

Step 5: Share it.

Take your mind map, email it to 5-10 trusted friends or family members, and ask them to help you stay accountable. See step 6.

Step 6: Update it.

I highly recommend updating your closest friends and family on what’s going on in your life on a regular basis. This could be once a month, once a week, once a quarter — whatever feels right to you. I send updates once a quarter to the people I send my mind map to. It’s just a brief update on where I’m at, what’s going well, and what I need to keep focusing on for the year. I send these updates out as emails and am consistently overwhelmed by the positive and thoughtful responses I get from people.

Here’s the exact email I use. Feel free to steal it, modify it, save it for later.

Email subject: Annual Review 2012 Q1(Q2/Q3/Q4)

Email script: Hey hey!

Some of you know my spiel already, some of you may be receiving an email like this from me for the first time. Every year in January I lay out goals to attempt to challenge myself for the coming year. I share those goals with my closest, most respected friends and family members and ask them to help keep me accountable. I send out an update on those goals once per quarter in the spirit of accountability, and to keep in touch.

Please find attached my update for _________.

Please don’t feel pressured to read all of it. You could archive this email and never look at it, and I’d already be grateful to you for reading this far. If you have feedback, positive or negative, of course I welcome all of it.

Likewise, if you feel like sharing any of your goals with someone for the sake of accountability, I’d love to help however I can.

Have an awesome day whatever time it is wherever you’re at.

Peace,
Austin

More than anything else, these quarterly updates are a way for you to keep yourself accountable. Most people will not ever call you out for not accomplishing your goals on your own timeline, so you must make the active effort to have positive updates to report.

This is a great way for you to keep in touch with your family and friends on a regular basis, and to keep them involved with what you have going on in your life. It’s a great way to update your mentors and leaders on what steps you’re taking towards progress.

Step 7: Review, review, review.

When people write their goals on a napkin, in a journal, or on a chalkboard in their room, they limit the mobility of their goals. You will lose that napkin, spill coffee on your journal, and chalk is easily erasable.

I know that even if I tell myself I’ll review my goals on a daily basis, I’ll forget some days. That’s why I try to give myself every possible advantage, bypass my own laziness, and put my mind map on every device I have, with an icon shortcut on the home screen.

Whether or not you actually review your goals on a daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly basis is entirely in your hands. By creating an electronic mind map of all of your goals, you make them portable and give yourself the opportunity to review them regularly.

Step 8: Go make 2013 the biggest year of your life so far.

Seriously. What are you still doing here? Go get started.