end of the year

Ending the Year Right Starts with 4 Emotional Objectives

December 20, 2020

Endings are significant. And we are in the midst of one right now – the end of the year. Endings change how we act and what we remember. Get them right, and you add meaning to that which is completing and you energize yourself for the next season. Approach them instead, without intention and vision, and you leave to chance how you remember the previous year, its effect on your outlook for the coming year, and the psychological and physical resources you bring to the launch of the coming year.

Endings “reenergize our pursuit of significance,” says psychologist Daniel Pink in his book When. This is likely why those in the last year of their age’s current decade run marathons for the first time far more often than those of any other age. In fact, 48% of all first-time marathon runners are 29, 39, 49, or some other age ending in 9.

Another type of ending – a deadline – causes us to act differently as well. Kiva – an online platform that facilitates the making of small loans to entrepreneurs – found that application completions went up 24% when they added a deadline to it.

Perhaps, it’s this surge toward significance that makes endings disproportionately affect what we remember about a year or an event. Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls this the “peak-end rule,” which states that the most intense experience (the peak) and the final experience (the end) receive the greatest weight in our memory of an experience. Pink calls this power of endings “encoding.”

Not only do we remember endings more, but we feel compelled to ensure we experience a certain type of ending: a happy ending. Though, our pursuit of what Pink calls “sunny, smiley happy endings” is misguided. Purely happy endings are short on significance and shallow in the experience. A different type of ending is more powerful.

How do We Leverage these Unique Powers of Endings?

To seize on the year’s ending, many plan a series of tasks or projects to accomplish. These are task objectives. Task objectives can help add intention to your year-end, but they won’t guarantee you’ll experience the full potential of endings. To reap the full power of endings, you need to craft emotional objectives for the end of the year. Based on the research we’ve read about endings and the work we’re doing on burnout prevention and productivity, we believe four emotional objectives are worthy of pursuit by most.

During the final few weeks of the year, strive to feel:

  • Rested
  • Whole
  • Poignant
  • Envisioned

Emotional Objective 1: Rest

With surging stress levels, unprecedented demands, and rising burnout rates, rest is even more needed this year. Let’s be clear. Rest won’t end your problems with burnout or chronic workplace stress, but it can help.  It’s not a silver bullet because it does not change the out-of-balance depletion/refueling cycles that are happening in your normal day-to-day. Yet, it helps by elevating your internal resource level so that when you begin the next year, you’re starting in a better place.

Feeling rested is the opposite of feeling depleted. Rested people wake up in the morning without feeling exhausted and finish dinner without feeling like they have nothing left to offer. This is the goal of feeling rested.

Emotional Objective 2: Whole

During the year, the forces of life and work can pull you too far in certain directions, causing you to become out of balance as a human being. You invest too much in certain areas and too little in others, leaving yourself lacking in critical areas of your humanity. The end of the year offers a chance to assess your investments across life’s most important dimensions and determine if you need to take any corrective action to re-balance yourself and in doing so, move closer to wholeness.

Consider these dimensions of wholeness in your quest to restore balance:

  • Social: your relationships, groups, and networks
  • Physical: your health, energy levels, fitness, rest, strength
  • Emotional: your self-esteem, peace, joy
  • Spiritual: your meaning, purpose, values, beliefs, and transcendence
  • Intellectual: your learnings, thinking skills, expertise
  • Occupational: your career, role-related skills, trajectory, and projects

Wholeness is giving each dimension the appropriate attention. It’s to avoid sacrificing one to overzealously push ahead in another. When you are whole, you are your healthiest.

Note: If you’re not sure about these six, consider one of the many other variations of this framework.

Emotional Objective 3: Poignant

Poignancy is happiness with a twinge of sadness. Daniel Pink describes it and its power well:

…Many of the most meaningful endings aren’t happy in the sunny, smiley sense. Instead, they’re poignant. Poignancy operates by a peculiar form of emotional physics. Adding a few sprinkles of sadness to a happy ending can make that ending richer and more meaningful. The sadness enhances the experience rather than diminishes it.

Those pursuing poignant endings pursue meaning over happiness. They are willing to embrace some sadness in exchange for deeper purpose and significance. They don’t shy away from end of the year experiences that come to an end or are not be available for another year simply because they come with some sadness. Instead, they pursue poignancy, and in doing so, they cast meaning, connection, and joy over the memory of your entire year.

Emotional Objective 4: Envisioned

An old proverb says, “Without vision, people perish.” Vision creates motivation because motivation is the state of having a reason for doing something and vision is the reason for doing what you do. Motivation is critical to a productive life. It, arguably, has a greater effect on your productivity than your systems.

To feel envisioned is to have clarity around where you want to head over the next year and to feel excited about the prospect of reaching those destinations.

How do We Achieve these Emotional Objectives?

While there is a wide range of tools you can use to pursue these emotional objectives, we want to briefly share at least one tool for each objective that you can use this holiday season. If you want to go deeper on these tools, you can join our End of Year Planning Workshop.

Tools to Help You Feel Rested

Sleep Goals: Sleep is a key way to refuel your body and mind. Depending on your unique circumstances, you may find the end of the year an easy time to sleep more or a difficult time to get any sleep. Rather than leaving it to chance and process of elimination (sleep fills the time remaining after everything else is done), set one of three types of sleep goals if you’re not feeling rested:

  • Average (e.g., I want to sleep an average of 7 hours/night over the course of the holidays.)
  • Minimum (e.g., I want to sleep at least 7.5 hours every night.)
  • Segmented (e.g., During the first half of the holidays, I want to sleep 8.5 hours/night on average. During the second half, I want to sleep 7.5 hours/night on average.)

If you set a sleep goal, you may want to block time on your calendar to serve as a reminder of when you should be heading to bed. If that feels too regimented, at least make yourself aware of what time you would need to go to bed and wake up in order to achieve your goal.

Work Fasting: When we engage with a particular activity or stimuli repeatedly, we develop internal cravings to engage with that activity or stimuli repeatedly. This can be bad (eating sweets) or good (exercising). When we work a lot, we can develop cravings that keep pulling us back into work when we don’t want to be working. This is why many struggle to stop thinking about work even when they are not working. During the holidays, we want to end those cravings. 

One way to do this is to fast from work-related things. When we fast from food, we re-calibrate our appetites. In the same way, there are different intensities of fasting (raw fruits and vegetables fast > juice fasts > water fasts), there are 3 different tiers of work fasting. Should you decide to conduct a work fast, match the duration and intensity to the strength of your internal cravings and the size of your desire to get rid of them.

  • Tier 1: Fast from work activities, like checking work email and updating a document
  • Tier 2: Fast from life activities about work, like conversations with family members about work
  • Tier 3: Fast from things that may create accidental work exposures, like certain social media platforms and certain books or movies

A Tool to Help You Feel Whole

Balance Analysis: To conduct a balance analysis, look at the key dimensions of your life (see the list of six above). For each dimension, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does this area of my life seem healthy?
  2. If it does, did the time and energy I invested in this area cause me to be lacking in other areas?
  3. If not, did I under-invest in this area?

An unhealthy dimension may mean an under-investment. For example, you may wish that you had stronger friendships and acknowledge that you didn’t spend enough time with others to build those strong relationships. Yet, not all struggling areas are signs of underinvestment, however. For example, you may have failed to achieve your goals at work while working crazy hours that caused your health to suffer. In this case, you over-invested and still fell short of your goals.

Once you identify areas of underinvestment, note the effect your underinvestment has had. Becoming aware of the consequences of an underinvestment provides motivation to rebalance and provides hints for where to make targeted additional investments.

Tools to Help You Feel Poignant

The easiest way to “sprinkle a little sadness” into your happiness this holiday season is to craft experiences that you find rich and enjoyable and that end with the year. The experiences themselves create the happiness and their endings create the sprinkles of sadness.

Unfortunately, good, but ordinary activities of life rarely create a sufficient mark on our emotions or memories to create poignancy. To create memories that are positive enough to create poignancy when they end, you need to engage in traditions or create exceptional experiences.

Tradition Planner: Traditions generate poignancy because they become meaningful to you through their repetition. Traditions come to represent and associate with a whole constellation of emotions and experiences that act as a multiplier for their power. The challenge with traditions is that they can be more fragile than you’d assume – particularly in an unprecedented, pandemic-wreaked year. Some traditions die out when they face their first threat because you never recognized them as traditions. Other traditions never materialize because you don’t consciously decide to turn them into a repetitive experience.

To create your tradition planner, start by listing traditions you have for the final month of the year. Note what you do, who you do the tradition with, when you do it, why you do it, and what could threaten it. Then think of some new traditions you want to pilot. Define the same characteristics as recommended for existing traditions except that you can skip the threats.

Memory Creator: To create a lasting memory, the kind that will generate feelings of poignancy, your best bet is to do something out of the ordinary, something – as they would say – memorable. The memory creator is the opposite of traditions. It requires doing something you haven’t done before and likely won’t do again.

Start the memory creation process by brainstorming objectives for the memory. For example, you may want to do something to show your partner you love them in an unprecedented way. Or you may want to do something to prove to yourself you’re capable of more than you thought you were. Once you have a few objectives, determine who should be involved in each and then come up with ideas for specific experiences.

A Tool to Help You Feel Envisioned

Future Year Plan: You won’t be surprised that the way to fill yourself with vision is to develop a plan for the upcoming year. However, you may be surprised to learn that the best way to plan for the upcoming year does not include setting goals and then describing in detail everything you’ll need to do in order to achieve those goals.

That would be what Roy Baumeister and John Tierney call “fussy goals” in their book, Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength. People who pursue fussy goals are less successful than those who pursue “fuzzy goals,” goals which lack all the details around how they will come to fruition. Researchers believe fuzzy goals outperform fussy ones because their flexibility is better suited to our unpredictable world and their flexibility affords us more freedom which makes us more likely to stick with them.

To create your plan for the upcoming years, create fuzzy goals, and create them in these 4 areas:

  • Doing Goals: These goals are about completing some action, whether it be a singular action or a series of actions, like a project. For example, this could be running a marathon or writing a book.
  • Becoming Goals: These goals are about changing who you are. For example, you could say that you want to become a healthy person or become more patient or more organized.
  • Outcome Goals: These goals are about achieving some end or result that is not fully under your control. For example, writing a book is a doing goal, but selling 100,000 copies is an outcome goal.
  • Learning Goals: These goals are about building expertise, maintaining expertise, or exposing yourself to a field of information that is new to you.

For each of these goal types, there are a unique and limited set of factors you should define to increase your odds of success. You can learn more about those in our End of Year Planning Workshop.

Make this holiday season a powerful one, even if it does look different from years past because of COVID. If you haven’t ever been intentional about how you spend your time during the last few weeks of the year, add a measure of intentionality. If you have been intentional, setting task objectives for your holidays, then go to the next level and make this holidays about a set of emotional objectives. May your holidays be restful, balancing, poignant, and envisioning this year!