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How to Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever

by Marshall Goldsmith

To make resolutions that matter, don’t look forward. Look back.

By February, half of all New Year’s resolutions are broken, a thing of the past, a distant, abandoned memory. You know this. So, why not take the time now to visit your goals and think about what you really want to change. If you do, you will make 2016 your best year ever. Wondering how to start? Try this exercise. It is one of my favorites and I teach it in most of my classes.

First, take a deep breath. Now take a deeper breath.

Imagine you’re 95 years old, on your deathbed. Before taking your last breath – you’re given a great gift: the ability to travel back in time – the ability to talk to the person who is reading this column – the ability to help this person, you, be a better professional and, more importantly, lead a better life.

The 95-year-old you understands what was really important and what wasn’t, what mattered and what didn’t, what counted and what didn’t really count. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this page?

Take a few seconds to answer this question – personally and professionally. Jot down words that capture what the old you would be saying to the younger you that is here now. My next suggestion is simple – just do whatever you wrote down! Make that your resolution for this year and next.

A friend of mine interviewed people who were dying and asked them what advice they would have had for their younger selves. The answers he got provide wonderful advice for all of us.

One recurring theme was to “find happiness and meaning – now,” not next month or next year. Many older people said they were so wrapped up in looking for what they didn’t have that they seldom appreciated what they did have. They often wished they would just enjoyed life as they were living it.

Another common response revolved around friends and family. You may work for a wonderful company, and you may think that your contribution to that organization is very important. When you are 95 years old and you look at the people around your deathbed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving good-bye. Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care. Appreciate them now and share a large part of your life with them.

Older people offer other valuable advice: “Follow your dreams.” Figure out your true purpose in life, and go for it! Old people who pursued their dreams are always happier with their lives. Few of us will achieve all of our dreams. Some will always be elusive. So the key question is not, “Did I make all of my dreams come true?” The key question is, “Did I try?”

So do this year, to make 2017 the best year ever, reverse your New Year’s resolution. Don’t look ahead. Look behind. And, most importantly, be happy now – enjoy your friends and family – and follow your dreams. This is great advice for everyone who wants a fulfilling career. It’s also great advice for everyone who wants to live a meaningful life!

Marshall Goldsmith won the Thinkers50 Leadership award in 2015 and is ranked in the top ten of the Thinkers50. He is the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and Triggers.