How to Resolve 2017 and Move on

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind as you look back on 2017? Was it a good year? A bad year? A so-so year? At this writing, the S&P 500 total return is up 17.6% year-to-date, the NASDAQ has grown by 26.2%, and NYSE Bitcoin Index is up a whopping 684%. According to The Economist magazine, U.S. GDP is up 2.2% and some slight inflation is beginning to show up, now at 2.0% for the year. What’s not to like? We hear that managing a healthcare practice finds its way onto the “what not to like” list by many practicing physicians.

The administrative burdens placed on you have become enormous. So much so, that many of you would really like to give up on the practice of medicine. To that, I have one question. Why did you get into the field in the first place? And then, what stands in your way of achieving that dream today? So, let’s take an honest look at where we are right now and set our sights on making 2018 a really terrific year.

First, the look back. Rather than comparing your portfolio’s performance to Bitcoin and filling your life with “shoulda, woulda, coulda,” wouldn’t it be better to concentrate on what went well? Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach talks about The Gain and The Gap. While assessing interim progress on our predetermined goals, it is our human tendency to focus our first, and often only, attention on the space between where we are today and where we had projected ourselves to be, what he calls The Gap. Sullivan cautions against this and instructs that we might be better off to first focus our main attention on the gains that we have made. I know that it is simply a shift in mindset and doesn’t change a thing about where we currently stand, but the mindset change can make a huge difference in how we approach The Gap.

Now, I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Frankly, most of the time, they don’t work. You know how it goes, you go to your gym in January and can’t even find a parking spot. But, then come February, it’s a different story altogether—the parking lot is half empty. We can find multiple definitions of “resolution.” The usual “act of resolving or determining an action” puts the focus on the future. But, maybe we need to first shine a light on an alternate definition: “The act or process of separating something into constituent parts.” To begin the process of assessment, we must first get resolution on the past, lest we carry it with us into the new year. So, let’s figure out how we do that.

Years ago, the army taught me the benefit of an After-Action Report and how to construct one. 1) State what we wanted to happen. (Your goals were written down, weren’t they?) 2) Acknowledge what did happen. (Now is not the time for making excuses; nobody is going to shoot you.) 3) Learn from the experience. (Focus on both what went well and what didn’t.) 4) Adjust behavior based on the learning.

Over the last year, I visited a few times with New York Times best-selling author, Michael Hyatt. In our first meeting, back in January, he outlined eight questions for processing the past year: 1) How did you see your year going? (What were your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for this year?) 2) If this last year were a movie of your life, what would be the genre? (Drama? Tragedy? Romance? Comedy? Adventure?) 3) What were the two or three specific themes that kept recurring? 4) What did you accomplish this past year that you are most proud of? 5) What did you feel that you should have been acknowledged for, but weren’t? 6) What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? 7) What was missing from this last year as you look back? 8) What were the major life lessons that you learned this past year?

He went on to quote The Opportunity Principle, “Feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances of corrective action are clearest. What if disappointment was just a road sign pointing to an opportunity for personal transformation?”

Having seen a preview, I can recommend Michael’s new book, Your Best Year Ever: A 5 Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals, which will be out in January, just in time to head off the temptation to simply recite New Year’s resolutions that will soon be forgotten. For years I have said if we simply string together a series of best years yet, we will end up with a well-lived life. The time to get on with moving forward is NOW! I would love to know what goals you have for the coming year. One of mine is to help you achieve them through this column. I am honored to have had many of you tell me you look for my article each month. Happy Holidays!

Feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances of corrective action are clearest.

Scott Neal is the President of D. Scott Neal, Inc., a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory firm with offices in Lexington and Louisville. Find his blog at www.dscottneal.com or write to him at scott@dsneal.com