January 2nd. My least favorite day of the year. Three-hundred-fifty-plus days until the next long holiday. Why is January 2nd so depressing? Why are we so hopeful in November and December?
Christmas. New Year’s. Maybe. The prospect of a long holiday – family, friends, food, fun, and festivities. Eff, why do I have to go back to work after this? Some love Christmas morning. Some hate winter darkness. In between is the anticipation of reconnecting, happier people, and living like a king if only for a few days. Anticipation matters. The event might bring a brief high – the ripping of presents, giants smiles from children, a day of peace and quiet. But the high isn’t what makes the season great. Anticipation means everything.
Torture victims say the worst part isn’t the actual torture. It’s the anticipation of it. Think about it. How much pain do you experience in the moment? How much more do you experience when you know you’re walking into a bad situation? Days, weeks, months. Pure anxiety. Pardon me, I’ve gone from happy holidays to misery without explanation.
Invert. Always invert. If victims hate the anticipation of torture more than the torture, then happy people will love the anticipation of fun more than the fun.
Enter anchor events. Anchor events pull you forward. Reminds you to look forward to the next day. Picks you up when you’re feeling down. Sounds like some kind of new-age magic? Nah. It’s just like Santa Claus.
Anchor events are hard to move. Like the holidays. You can’t reschedule them. Anchor events have built-in peer pressure. Like a weekly Sunday dinner ritual. If you don’t show up, your people are disappointed. Anchor events are reliable. Like that weekly fitness class. It never cancels.
Anchor events fall into two categories:
- Weekly anchors for upgrading life
- Yearly anchors for boosting happiness
If you’re feeling post-holiday doldrums, use the yearly anchors. If you’re thinking about goals, maybe try weekly anchors instead.
Weekly Anchors for Upgrading Life
My weekly anchor events define who I am outside of work. I go to Toastmasters every Wednesday at 12 pm. I go to physical therapy every Monday at 6 pm. I join the CrossFit endurance WOD every Saturday at 10 am. I teach martial arts on weekends. I take hot yoga every Sunday at 3 pm. I go to dinner, a movie, or a social event with my wife most weekend nights. I make her a steak dinner once a week. If there’s a good fight on, I watch the UFC. I write Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
So who am I? A guy who cares about his health, likes training people, wants to improve his communication skills, likes quality time with his lady, movies, protein, and fighting. Do you know me? Does this sound like me? No drama here – this is me to a t.
So if I want to change who I am, what do I do? Do I create an elaborate plan with detailed step-by-step directions, backup plans, and rewards? Sure, but that’s only because I’m a neurotic engineer obsessed with habits. The easier path is to inject a new anchor event into my week.
Want to get fit? Join a small exercise class.
Want to improve a skill? Find a friend who will do it with you, same bat-time, same bat-place every week.
Want to improve a relationship? Set aside a regular day and time to have fun.
Details matter in the groups you join, teachers you choose, and friends you rely on for these weekly anchor events.
- Find groups small enough that everybody knows your name and might call you out for not being there.
- Look for teachers you love so much you don’t want to disappoint them by missing their class.
- Use friends that will hold you accountable for not showing up.
So what’s a change you want to make in your life?
Who will join you or what group will you join to anchor this change into your weekly schedule?
Yearly Anchor Events for Happiness
Now the fun part.
Christmas is the mecca of yearly anchor events. The event you look forward to months in advance, even if you loathe Christmas music in October.
Summer beach vacations are the bookend yearly anchor event for many families.
Somehow my mom managed to set aside a thousand dollars a year for our yearly summer trip to Ocean City, New Jersey even though sometimes the electric heat and water would get turned off in the winter for a few days to compensate. Why? Because that thousand dollars amplified our happiness a thousand times over between Christmas and our summer vacation. Yearly anchor events pull you forward with hope for happier times.
My wife’s family went to Bethany Beach every summer. One year they went to Disneyland. Every family should visit Mickey Mouse once in their lifetime, right? Wrong, she and her sister complained to their parents. They wanted to go back to the beach. Rituals matter. If you don’t have a standard summer vacation, plan one.
If you already have your bookend events in place – winter holidays and the summer vacation – what else is there to do? Take your happiness up another notch by doubling your yearly anchor events. Quarterly anchor events. Really? Really. These could be short weekend trips to a city nearby, a concert, a show, a big sporting event. These in-between events should be big enough that you’ll smile about it in the back of your mind for months but not so big you’ll break the bank. Always book your plan months in advance. Remember the anticipation drives much of the happiness you derive from these experiences. You can imagine this as a happiness graph with the actual event the moment of peak happiness but the months preceding the event increasingly contributing towards your overall happiness.
In the graph above the orange, red, and yellow is your happiness related to an anchor event. Just committing to a plan for your next anchor event yields a short-term high as you dream about your future. Now imagine if you eliminated the orange from the area-under-the-curve. That’s what happens when you decide to take a spur-of-the-moment vacation on a day’s notice. Nothing wrong with spontaneity but you’re not extracting maximum value for your dollar and time.
One of our favorite ways to pull off quarterly anchor events is trips in May and September booked using Scott’s Cheap Flights. We’ve been to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Barcelone, Vancouver, and soon London for about $300 per flight. Spring and fall are perfect times for avoiding crowds but enjoying warm weather. Also, the emails from Scott’s are a semi-daily anchor that reminds me to dream about all the places we could visit. Best forty dollars I spend every year.
Adding two more anchor events may be a bit much your first time, but one is fun to think about.
What would you love to do between the holidays and summer vacation?
Keep dreaming and when the right idea strikes, book it.
- Upgrade skills, fitness, relationships with weekly scheduled events
- What’s a change I want to make in my life?
- Who will join me or what group will I join?
- Standardize your bookend holidays and ritual summer vacation
- Boost happiness with quarterly anchor events between the bookends
- What would I love to do between the holidays and summer vacation?
Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, choose anchor events to automate the life changes and mood you want. The hardest step is the first. Start the automation now. Schedule a reminder for next December 15th to revisit your anchors with a service like Schedule Recurring. Include a link to this article or just your own thoughts.
We should not moor a ship with one anchor, or our life with one hope.Epictetus
What he said. Automate hope. Automate execution. Anchor down.
- Temporal Adjustments in the Evaluation of Events: The “Rosy View” (behind a paywall but you can read the abstract)