By Andrew Snavely, Founder & Editor of Primer
We all have a million thoughts rocketing around our brain. Eventually, we choose some to respond to, either because of motivation or anxiety, and those are the seeds that become positive growth and change in our lives.
The trouble is that's an incredibly slow and passive process. It's pretty crazy once you realize it, but when was the last time you sat down with the sole purpose to think? We do it all the time when we're trying to troubleshoot a problem at work or figure out where we want to take a date. But that's not what I'm talking about: When was the last time you sat down for more than 20 minutes with the sole purpose to think about your life? Specifically, how it's going, what's working and what isn't, and what you want it to be.
For me, up until about two years ago, the answer was never. And not like “not very often” but literally never. Yes, I would think about how I want to lose weight or do a different workout program while running errands; or beat myself up about some frustrating bad habits while laying wide awake at night unable to sleep. But how much real direction do you think you can implement by only thinking about these big picture things in passing when they randomly come into your head? The answer is very little. And that's why these things persist over large chunks of time, occasionally popping into our head, and if we're lucky, enough times that we eventually make some changes.
So a couple of years ago I started what has since become a quarterly tradition. I rent a cheap AirBNB somewhere outside of town, grab my pooch, pack a few essentials, and go off for several days with the sole mission of reflecting on where I'm at, thinking about where I want to be, and then working backward to create measurable action steps to get there.
It's become an absolutely essential part of my process for continuing self-development. I've written about my work-cations a little bit before.
Some photos from my August work-cation in Pioneertown
Tomorrow, I'm driving 3.5 hours to the desert near Joshua Tree, where I'll spend 4 days with just my dog Leela. My goal is to devote some real time reflecting on the past year and taking an inventory of what I liked and what I didn't. When I was happy, and when I wasn't. When I felt my best, and when I was stressed. This will help orient myself so I can then begin to think about 2018 in terms of what I want to continue and what I want to do differently.
To help do that, I've been coming up with a list of questions I plan to invest solid blocks of time thinking about. I'll be jotting down my thoughts and answers in my bullet journal. Don't read “journal” and get scared away – most of my thoughts will be in the form of rough bulleted lists as a simple way of getting bits of ideas out of my head and into a collected place. I may write longer-form answers when inspired. This exercise grew out of a fascinating and inspiring conversation I had with one of my best buds, Ryan Masters of Sparta Strength. I've included my personal list below, with the hope they'll help you or encourage new questions.
For the questions like, “3 times I was happiest,” the number three is simply a placeholder for “brainstorm,” because a lot of these will be hard to answer. If the question was “when was I happiest?” I would likely work until I could think of one answer that seemed better than the others then stop. For these questions, the point is to just list with a stream of consciousness all of the times you can remember being happy, regardless of how intense the happiness was. Then, once you've done that, go back and pick the 3 that were the happiest.
I'll be curious to see what my answers are and expect the result to be either A) Ok awesome, do more things like these 3, or B) Man, these 3 things were the happiest I was all year? I need to work on doing bigger and better things in 2018. Or if I'm unable to think of any answers to “3 times I did something that scared me,” I'll know to prioritize that kind of growth. Once I do all the questions, I'll then work to create some goals for the new year based on what I've realized about the last year.
18 Questions to Ask Yourself
- 3 times that I was excited the most
- 3 times when I was most happy
- 3 times I was the most stressed
- 3 times I did something that scared me
- 3 people that inspired me the most
- 3 people that contributed most to my life
- 3 things I overcame
- 3 frustrations I want to fix
- 3 things I learned about love and relationships
- 3 times I was most proud of myself
- 3 people I could meet that will exponentially affect my life
- 3 things I could learn that will positively affect my life
- 3 times I was anxious and it was an overreaction
- 3 habits that are serving me
- 3 habits that could serve me
- 3 habits that aren't serving me
- Is my current way of thinking taking me where I want to go?
Life Area Check-ins
With a positive/constructive voice, what are your gut reaction thoughts to the current state of the following areas in your life:
- Work-Life balance
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Intentional living
Once you've spent some time thinking about these, your only question about your answers should be “Is this working?” Is my current diet and workout plan getting me closer to my goal? Is my current work-life balance working for me and for the rest of what I want in my life?
Some examples of realistic conclusions you could implement based on what you learn could be: Take at least 1 trip per month regardless of distance, no work or email on Sundays, no social media until 7PM, plan a weekend with old college buddies, or commit to taking your partner on one date per week without defining a “date night”.
If you realized learning web design or a language or lead guitar would improve your life, decide if you are going to learn on your own, through a service like Coursera, or with a local college course.
You may find some of these questions inspire more emotion than others, that's ok. That's also a telling indication of where you are. One thing I plan on doing to help jog my memory of the past 12 months is go through the camera roll on my phone for 2017. If it was worth taking a photo of, it probably relates to one of the questions in some way.
You can follow along on my trip to Joshua Tree on Primer's Instagram Stories.
I also create rules for each work-cation I take. Generally, I make my own food (grilled steak or chicken, and vegetables), don't allow any TV or movie watching, no drinking, and some simple bodyweight exercise goal like 100 pushups and air squats per day. If you're looking to make a diet change, you can use these days as a way to jumpstart.
Here's to all of the incredible positive and painful realizations these questions bring about, and to an even more kickass new year!
Update: Read A Follow-Up to My 18 Questions About The Last Year