Mind & Body

Why writing a Nectar List will transform your year

We’re obsessed with making goals, but perhaps writing resolutions and chasing gratification isn’t the right way to go about it. Could it be as simple as listing our experiences? Perhaps…

“What a sh*t show…” This judicious tagline from Death to 2020, a new Netflix mockumentary, sums up 2020 perfectly, don’t you think? Equally funny and frightening, the hour-length moco takes a deep dive into what the world lived through last year – bushfires, COVID, Trump, Black Lives Matter and more!

While Death to 2020 is melodramatic and somewhat depressing black humour, it’s a powerful reminder to look back, reflect, ponder on…what the hell happened? At this time of year, many of us are obsessed with making goals, setting resolutions, and achieving our best lives in the year/s to come, but often we skip celebrating what we’ve done, achieved and survived in the year just past.

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There’s actually a name for all this—it’s known as a Nectar List. I started writing one about six years ago and it’s shifted my thinking when I approach a new year ahead. A Nectar List, well, lists the notable things that have impacted you in the past year. It’s a collection of those moments that mattered—the good, the bad, the funny and memorable—that shaped your year. Think bucket list…but backwards.

I came across this whole idea after American journalist, Sierra Vandervort, coined the term in an article for HuffPost. She called out our obsession with goal setting – lists, maps, Pinterest boards. Today, add to that Instagram “Saved to…” collections, life quotes merch and influencers of all varieties. The mindset: if we can see a visual for our future lives, we create it.

In the article, Vandervort wrote: “We’re always chasing gratification. We always want to experience the next best thing. We want to set foot on as many continents as we can. We want to be able to say we had the greatest life we possibly could’ve had. What we’re failing to see, is that we have the potential to do this without crossing anything off our bucket lists. We need to reflect on the good things that have come to us in our lives. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve done anything huge with your life just yet, I guarantee you can find something to look back on and be proud of.”

How it works

There’s nothing mathematical or science-y or magical about how to write a Nectar List – it’s simply a list. Written. That’s it. Let me give you a sample of mine for 2020.

1. I lived through a pandemic.

2. I helped my parents recover from the bushfires.

3. I published my first book.**

4. My savings are finally in order.

5. My son’s first footy games after lockdown.

6. I started my Masters in Public Health (thanks COVID for inspiring that).

7. …. And so one. You get the drift. I ended up with 24 for 2020, but list 100 if you like.

Goals are good, but a Nectar List makes them better

Don’t get me wrong, goals are as worthwhile as spending money at Kikki K. I have a few. Actually, plenty. And they work if you actually write them down, as many studies suggest. But when we’re always chasing, forever dreaming, non-stop wishing we can easily get caught up in thinking we never have enough. Our life is not enough. We’re not enough.

After years of penning a Nectar List, there are plenty of things it has taught me. I experience a deeper sense of accomplishment for what I’ve achieved—it renews my sense of pride. A little chest-beating, perhaps.

Goals take hard work, time, persistence and commitment to achieve. And it’s easy to forget that when we see everyone sprouting their achievements on social media. For example, my book took more than two years of (finger) sweat, brain drain, self-doubt and many tears from the initial concept to being slotted onto a bookshop shelf.

A Nectar List brings deep gratitude for what you’ve lived through.

One of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, psychologist Dr Robert Emmons of the University of California says we don’t always need good events in life to inspire gratitude, it’s about reframing what happens especially during the sh*t times.

Grateful people “don’t focus on what they’re lacking: they make sure they see the good in what they have,” he told Janice Kaplan in The Gratitude Diaries. Often when you’re in the trenches of a tricky time, caught up in the messiness of life, emotions are cloudy. Gratitude is zero. Instead, time brings perspective, learning and gratefulness.

A Nectar List also brings clarity. It’s helped me massage or manoeuvre something that’s lingered on my resolutions list for too many years. Yes, I finally faced up to the fact I will never run a half marathon… it’s not a priority and that’s okay. Delete it. Above all, a Nectar being on the side-lines at my son’s Auskick games and seeing my parent’s house in Lake Conjola intact despite a bushfire wiping out their backyard and beyond. These are the times when my heart truly swells, I can look past whatever sh*t show is going on in the world around me and appreciate the sweetness of life.

Felicity Harley’s first book, called Balance & Other B.S, is sitting on all good bookshelves now. Follow her on Instagram.