I want to introduce you to Birthday Lists!

What are Birthday Lists?

These are a fun, celebratory and PERSONAL way that you can set goals for yourself and see your own progress and transformations as you grow, year after year. I first learned about birthday lists in 2013 and have been doing them ever since. I want to share my experience of doing this birthday list practice and explain how it works for me and why I love it so much. Here’s why I think you should start a birthday list practice for yourself immediately. 

But first, New Year’s Resolutions

You’ve probably heard the same statistic or experienced the same experience that I have about setting a resolution at the beginning of the year and then not thinking of it past February. In theory, I love the idea of a New Year’s Resolution. New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays.I love the idea of saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new. It’s a clean slate. Anything is possible. None of us know what’s about to happen. So I love the idea of resolutions, but they don’t really work. When was the last time you heard someone talking about a New Year’s Resolution in October?

Why New Year’s Resolution Don’t work

We set them out of societal obligation. Maybe we’re not setting them out of a personal desire to set them. We set New Year’s Resolutions at a really awkward time. We’re just coming off a busy, bustling season of parties, vacations, and expectations. During the season we might have a lot of sugar, alcohol, social time, so there may be an expectation to set a New Year’s Resolution (or two, or three), but by February, most of us have forgotten and moved on with getting back on track with our lives. 

Why I want you to consider Birthday Lists. 

Birthday Lists have all the good parts of New Year’s Resolutions but they’re more personal to you. You might not run into the same pitfalls that you do with a New Year’s Resolution. The reason why Birthday Lists are so much better is because instead of thinking about the goals you want to set for yourself, you’re thinking about your own progression in your own life, tied to something you’ll never forget: your birthday! You know it’s coming. You look forward to it. You can match and mark your progress from birthday to birthday. 

What is a Birthday List?

I did not come up with the concept. I read about it in a book that I wish I could remember so I could recommend the book to you and give credit where credit is due. Birthday Lists are keeping track of what you’ve accomplished since your last birthday and setting plans, goals and intentions of what you will do by your next birthday. When I read about that, I loved it and started my first birthday lists immediately.

I grabbed my journal and wrote down “What have I accomplished since July 2012?” and I started making a list. I don’t remember if I made my first list a month or a few months after my birthday in July 2013, but it really gave me a chance to sit down and think about what happened since my last birthday. That’s the first list. This practice involves 2 lists. 

2 Birthday Lists

First, make a list of everything you created, achieved and accomplished since your last birthday. The second list is everything you hope to create, achieve and accomplish by your next birthday. In my case, since my birthday is in July, it’s the furthest possible place away from a New Year’s Resolution. But even if your birthday is at the end of December or beginning of January, you can still make Birthday Lists (as a slight, or major shift) as a switch from New Year’s Resolutions because it is so much more personal to you, your own growth and your own development. 

You’re not just making a goal or a resolution that you’ll carry through the entire calendar year. You’re making 2 lists to help you see what you’ve done and what you will do. I wish I would have started sooner

I’ve been keeping Birthday Lists for about 7 years now. I love flipping back and seeing what happened in 2018, and what did I accomplish by the time I was 39.  I would have loved to be able to flip back and see what I put on my list when I was 22. Or what I thought was important when I was 33.

So, now matter if you are 25 right now, or 75 right now, I implore you to start his practice. Your future self will thank you when you get to go back and see what you did a couple of years ago, or what you were hoping for a few years back.

These lists are forward-looking too. You are going to write what you will do by the time you get to your next age. 

What have I learned from Birthday Lists 

Keeping Birthday Lists has pushed me a little. I usually start thinking about my Birthday Lists about a month to 3 weeks before my birthday. I start to get a little curious and wonder “I wonder what I wrote on my Birthday List that I would achieve by my birthday?”I’m always curious to see if I achieved it yet, if I created it yet, and if I completed it yet. 

A few years ago, in late May, I looked at my Birthday List and I saw that I had completely forgotten that I had written that by my birthday, I wanted to have my mortgage paid down to $80,000. When I saw that and realized I was about 4-5 weeks away, I thought I wasn’t in the ballpark. But then I wondered “could I be in that ball park? Could I move some money and change some financial decisions and pay a big chunk of my mortgage so it would be below $80k by my birthday? 

There was no prize or accountability for this. No one else would know or care. The difference in interest saved would be negligible, but I just really liked having the benchmark and thinking “I did that!” So, I ended up doing it the last few weeks before my birthday. I stopped spending or decided to put all my extra money so I could get the mortgage right below $80k by my birthday. 

Full Disclosure: I miscalculated the timing (maybe because of the holiday weekend, or bank transfer times), so technically, when I looked at my mortgage online on my birthday, it wasn’t below $80k, but I knew it was about to be, so I still counted it. 

I love that having this practice gave me the push so I was able to achieve the goal so I’d be able mark it off. 

Another Benefit of Birthday Lists 

Because I’m making 2 lists every year, and check them occasionally, I can look at what I have achieved and what I will achieve. I can see what was on my list last year and what I completed. It’s such a good practice. I write what I have achieved first, then I write down what I will achieve. Then, on the next birthday, I end up re-writing what I did achieve onto the “have achieved list.” Sometimes, I’m editing it too. Sometimes, I’ve achieved more than I thought I would. Or sometimes the goal has changed. The writing, re-writing and editing is such an interesting practice as I move them from list to list. 

Acknowledging getting older

This list-making opens my mind to wonder “What do I want to achieve by the time I’m 47?” What do I want to complete by this time next year. It makes me wonder: “What’s next? What’s possible? What else?” It makes me ask myself these questions. 

Do you ever ask yourself these questions as you get older? Do you think about your accomplishment and achievement in terms of the years of your life? We all probably did that as kids, maybe we wanted to do something by the time we were 10. Or maybe in High School we wanted to have had an experience- but do we do it as adults?

Evolution over the years

As I flip back through the pages and see what I included on my previous Birthday Lists, it’s so interesting to see what was meaningful to me 5 years ago that I don’t even think about today. Or to see what was a major event 3 years ago that I think is “just cool” today. 

Significant and Insignificant

I’m surprised at the significant and the insignificant. I don’t think I had instructions or directions about how to create and use Birthday Lists. Some of the things I wrote on the lists were pretty insignificant, but something made me add it to the list- like “took my dog to the dog park.” I had never done it before. I was a little worried. I wasn’t sure how well she’d do off leash. Apparently, it was important enough for me at the time so I added it to the birthday list. Now I can always remember that first dog park experience, that I might have otherwise forgotten about. 

My Birthday Lists also include significant things like changing careers, paying off a mortgage, and going back to school. Maybe what’s significant to me is insignificant to you, or vice versa. 

I can see my evolution

I love that as I look back at my lists over the years, I can see my evolution. I can feel it. The more I keep these lists and see the mix of significant and the insignificant, and the lists of things I have completed and things that I discarded, I can see the evolution as I am progressing. Every single year on my birthday I get to see it in real time. I see how my own goals and priorities have changed. 

I look back at those early lists and see how I was spending my time and my energy and even what kinds of things I invested in. I can think “wow, I’m so far removed from that. Those things are not my priorities at all anymore.” I  can see how much I’ve changed. 

It’s also interesting to see how things have stayed the same and progressed. It’s interesting to see what things continue to be on my lists and figure very heavily into my plans, even though I’m not necessarily strategically pulling things from previous lists. I’m not necessarily doubling-down on things or taking them to the next level. It is interesting to see what thread is carried through the lists from year to year. (And what didn’t make it on the next year’s list). What would make it from year to year on your lists?

I want to check in with you. Are there multi-year goals? Would you want a certain debt paid down? Would you want a certain skill learned at a higher level? Do you have certain goals? It’s so interesting to see.

A shift in my lists

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m just sharing it with a question. Ever since the early years of making Birthday Lists, I’ve always made them in bullet points. The earliest years were kind of “tiny.” Maybe the lists only had 4-5 items. Over the past few years, I have seen a shift. 

The first list, what I want to accomplish, is kind of short. I think this is because I can’t see into the future so I don’t know what will be important to me or what offers I’ll get throughout the year. I don’t know what experiences I’ll want throughout the year. The second lists- which is what I have accomplished or created, those lists have bloomed and blossomed. 

Reasons for the Shift

I saw that shift in the lists and I wondered: “what changed?” What made me so much more aware of my accomplishments and achievements? 

Or, have I just accomplished and achieved more in the more recent years? Maybe it’s because it’s around the same time as when I left my corporate life. I was either self-employed or semi-retired so I had more time to do my own thing. And maybe I had more time, drive, energy and interest in creating and achieving more. 

Or, maybe it’s because, by then, I had been doing the birthday lists for a while, so I wasn’t in the learning phase anymore and maybe it became second nature to me. 

Or, maybe it’s because I’m maturing as a person. Or this time frame coincides with the time frame when I got super-steeped into personal development so I’m much more attuned and aware of my accomplishments and achievements. 

A lot of the things I’m including on my lists now are about thought work and beliefs that I’ve changed. Maybe the old me wouldn’t have counted those as accomplishments. 

Start your own Birthday Lists

Now I’m inviting you to start your own Birthday Lists. I’m still keeping my lists in the original journal that I started with. I love to have all the lists back-to-back, page after page so I can easily flip back and forth to see all the years. You could do that too. Or, maybe you want to keep them on separate pieces of paper, or keep them in a box or an envelope. Maybe you could tie your Birthday Lists with a ribbon.

Start your Birthday Lists today! Get out a piece of paper or a nice journal and write down what you’ve accomplished since your last birthday. Then ask yourself “what will I accomplish by my next birthday.” Sit there and think, then write it all down. You might be surprised at what comes out. 

Would it work for you?

And now I’m curious. Do you think this practice would work for you? Does this pique your interest at all? Does it sound better than a New Year’s Resolution? Can you see how it’s so much more personal? Or, do you have any resistance to writing Birthday Lists? Do you have a reason why it wouldn’t work for you. I want to now and hear about it if you’re willing to share.