What happened in 2016? (A personal review)

Our American spirit points us toward the future. To build and advance until the land meets water is the typical posture. So, when the New Year rolls around, it’s common practice to fix our gaze ahead and forecast what we plan to do.

This habit is not inherently foul. After all, it follows the advice from Coach John Wooden: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

But I do think it’s incomplete.

Taking time to reflect on the past is an underrated act. Why? Because the past leaves clues. These insights can save us a lot of time, energy and resources if we use them to influence our decisions moving forward.

In sport, this is a critical aspect of success. The coaching staff requires the team to watch game film to dissect what went well and what went wrong. By doing so, it reveals strengths and weaknesses. This act of watching game film helps the players (and coaching staff) learn from its past and course correct for the future.

Without watching the game film — or performing a review — the team and its leadership are simply guessing on what the best strategies and tactics will be moving forward.

The same concept can be applied to our personal lives. The dynamic is different and probably takes more discipline because you and I are both the coach and the player in our own game. To combat this limiting factor, it’s wise to keep this exercise as simple as possible.

In order to do a personal review, ask yourself three simple questions:

1. What went well in 2016? (What were my wins? What did I do right? What shall I continue to do?)

2. What didn’t go well in 2016? (Where did I come up short? What needs improvement?)

3. What needs to get edited in 2017? (Where do I need to get rid off? What do I need to stop doing? What needs to be cut from my life?)

To give you an example — and to suggest you do the same — I want to share my 2016 personal review with you.

What went well?

1. Top 10% writer on Medium

One of my priorities this past year was to write at least 500 words a day for five days a week. To do so, I front-loaded writing as one of the first things I did each morning. This worked out well for few reasons.

Creative thinking requires a ton energy from the brain. By choosing to write first thing in the morning, my willpower tank is full. This subtle pivot exponentially reduces the activation energy (the amount of effort it takes to sit down and write), and thus, it was relatively simple to keep a consistent habit of writing.

My writing habit supported and triggered my reading habit. I learned this year that when I read 20–30 pages of a book before writing, it acted like a primer for my fingers to hit the keys. The result was that I read on average, one book a week.

This habit of reading and writing accumulated over the 12-months, and consequentially, I was awarded as a top 10 % writer on Medium. Pretty cool.

2. I launched The Ultra Wellness Program

I’ve always believed that fitness was more than sets, reps, and sweat.

Along my journey, I’ve tried a lot of things over the years to help people. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. But what I learned is that being healthy, lean and fit requires more than just an “eat-less, exercise-more,” prescription.

It demands a diverse plan that includes nutrition, stress management, mindset development, habit progression, accountability, environment design, and much more.

The Ultra Wellness Program is a 12-month course that teaches my students how to get in the best shape of their life.

This post isn’t mean to be a sales letter, so if you’re curious and want to know more, click here.

3. Charlie and I traveled all over the world

I hadn’t taken the time to realize how blessed we were to be able to travel like we did this past year. Below are the places we visited:

Rome, Italy
Barcelona, Spain
Mallorca, Spain
Paris, France
Miami, Florida
Nashville, Tennessee
Bloomington, Indiana
Bend, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Seattle, Washington

4. Largely due to my writing habit, I got hired as a brand experience copywriter

I sent an average of two emails a week to my mailing list over the course of 2016. I published an average of two essays, stories or articles a week on my blog too. This volume and consistency landed me a job as a brand experience copywriter.

Essentially, my writing habit helped me sharpen my skills as a storyteller. And since brands and companies need a story to tell in order to beef up their identity in the market, this skill of storytelling is apparently valuable in today’s economy.

I did not see this coming. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

5. I got offered a weekly column at The Good Men Project

Another bonus to my writing habits was the opportunity to write a weekly column at The Good Men Project. Check out my column by clicking here.

6. I took up meditation

Along with a daily writing habit, I made it an aim to meditate for 10 minutes a day during the year of 2016. I didn’t execute this habit every single day, but on most days I logged into my headspace.com app and sat for 10 minutes.

The largest benefit from this practice was the ability to watch my thoughts float by like the clouds. In other words, I’m not as quick to react to every thought (good or bad) that comes through my head. This skill has helped me manage the anxiety that can run rampant in the mind.

7. I donated 411 pieces of clothing

It was embarrassing to realize that I had so much unnecessary clothing. But, without the realization, I would have never taken the next step of jettisoning the clothes I didn’t want or didn’t wear any longer.

Some of these pieces went to my nephew and to my sister’s boyfriend. My Ma took the rest of it and donated it to some families in the Philippines.

I donated a total of 411 pieces of clothing (yes, I counted).

8. I read on average one book a week

I read an average of one book a week. Two books a week is doable for me, but I realized that it became a sport when I tried to read that fast. Thus, I didn’t really absorb anything from the book with this type of speed. So I slowed down and pulled back to one book a week.

My top four books in 2016 were:

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Essential by The Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

9. Agreed to an ambassador role with Olivers Apparel

Like the brand experience copywriting job, this opportunity came out of left field too. And again, I have to credit this to my consistent content creation online.

Olivers Apparel crafts men’s athletic apparel essentials with the best performance fabrics with detailed tailoring to ensure they will last for years to come. It’s subtle, sophisticated workout gear that you can wear to the gym, to the office or to lunch.

It fits my schtick and I suppose that’s why they offered me an ambassadorship. I love this brand.

What didn’t go well?

1. I intended to finish a manuscript for my book(s) and didn’t

I had this grand plan of completing two manuscripts by the end of 2016. One is a fitness book. The other a collection of non-fiction essays.

Neither of the manuscripts got completed. I don’t have an air-tight excuse to report. It simply didn’t get done.

I need to go to the drawing board and pencil in dedicated days to where I work on this project during 2017.

2. Decision fatigue has gotten the best of us

My wife and I have been wrestling with the idea of moving out of state. Southern California is a place that wanderers from the world come to visit and sometimes stay. It’s truly beautiful, with much to offer.

However, there’s a price for this beauty. Whether you think it’s worth the price tag or not is subjective. It’s really not about the money either. It’s about the time.

We are trying to create some margin in our life so we can free up some time. We’re also trying to start a family, so that throws in another layer to the decision.

If we can find a place to live where we can reduce living expenses by 30–50% while arranging remote work situations, this plan is possible.

Deciding on where to relocate is easier in theory than it is in execution. We’ve grown mentally tired thinking about this possible plan. I sense that we are near the “Screw it. Let’s just close our eyes and point to a place on the map and go.”

3. We had to give away Holly

I flirted with the idea of not even writing this part because it reminds me of the warm tears that fell on my neck when I held Charlie on this day. The day when the lady who adopted Holly — a boxer pit bull mix we brought home spontaneously — is one that is hard to talk about.

Holly was a monster, and we grew resentful of her. But we loved her, too. Our old boy Hank thought she was a monster as well. But I don’t think he loved her.

We both knew we had to provide a better home for Holly. She’s up on a farm in San Luis Obispo trained as a therapy pup. That’s a much better place for her.

4. I got laid off

Tiger Fitness let me go as a staff writer in 2016. Writing on deadline taught me so much and gave me the opportunity to crank out A LOT of words.

I loved writing for Tiger Fitness. My editor, Steve Shaw, gave me a shot even though I had no previous experience with writing. There are pivotal moments in one’s life that are hard to explain or stamp value upon. I’m forever grateful to Steve. His trust in me changed the trajectory of my work.

This opportunity had to end, though. The door shut on good terms. I felt proud of the work I had done during my time and Steve and I are still good friends.

Nonetheless, it still stung.

What needs to get edited for 2017?

Jocelyn Glei is an author who writes about work and creativity in the age of distraction. I like what she says about productivity: “Productivity is really about what you don’t do.”

Given that statement, I need get a hold of my phone habits. I seem to get sucked into the black hole of scrolling, liking, and retweeting far too often. I’m apprehensive to even measure how many times a day I check email or log into social media.

My subjective opinion here is that I’m battling a paradox: The connection that my mobile phone provides is also disconnecting me from what matters.

I have a plan that I want to try in order to get this under control. Like my writing habit, I schedule time each day where I devote to the practice. When I’m done writing for the day, that’s it. I’m really done. I don’t even consciously think about my writing for the rest of the day.

Perhaps setting a schedule for phone time will allow me to satisfy my desire to scroll, like and retweet with a hard deadline. And once I’m done, I’m done. This sounds good in theory. I must now execute and see how effective it is in real-time.

Write your own review

That’s my personal review. It’s your turn, now.

Since you read mine, maybe you can share yours with me? Send it to me@brianedwardmcfadden.com. I’d love to read it!


Hi, I’m Brian McFadden.

Every week I write an essay, article or story that I share with my mailing list. No gimmicks and no spam — just me sharing my best stuff so you can you live a healthier, happier and simpler life.

Click here to get my weekly stories.




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Brian McFadden

Brian McFadden

Welcome to my word.

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