1–2–3–4: Finding One Long-Term Vision, Two Mindsets, Three Goals, and Four Values for the New Year

Preparing for the new year (professionally)

Riikka Iivanainen
9 min readJan 9


Like someone wise once said, “if you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” But most of us need some prompts to imagine things.

The 1–2–3–4 visioning exercise* does exactly that. It makes you think of one long-term vision as well as two mindsets, three goals, and four values for the new year.

I accidentally came up with this exercise while preparing for the new year professionally. I was frustrated with adding my goals into the company’s HR system — it felt rigid and limiting — so I decided to do some additional reflecting on my own. When I was finished, I realized I had created a fun and simple structure that might be worth sharing.

This article is divided into two parts. In the first part, I share the instructions on doing the 1–2–3–4 exercise. In the second part, I share my own reflection. You can use it as inspiration — or just skip it.

The reflection takes about 60 to 90 minutes. It may sound long, but trust me, even 90 minutes will feel minuscule at the end of the year.

And if you’re like, “hey, I’ve got my professional life figured out” or it’s not one of your priorities, you can do this exercise for any another area of life as well. It’s not career-specific.

Let’s get started!

A visualization with the words 1 vision, 2 mindsets, 3 goals and 4 values.
The focus of the 1–2–3–4 exercise. By the way, I googled “future” and this shade of turquoise came up. Interestingly, it’s exactly the color I imagined in my mind’s eye for depicting future.

The 1–2–3–4 Visioning Exercise

This exercise is designed to be done by writing. So don’t just think about the questions or discuss them with a friend. Take your laptop or some pen and paper and write. It’s much easier to hold a thought while writing.

1 Long-Term Vision

Visualization with the question “Imagine the best possible future five years from now. What is it like?”

I haven’t really gotten into manifestation, but the last time I took a moment to write down where I’d like to be in a few years, it worked out surprisingly well: I ended up in a job very close to the one I was imagining. So I’m convinced about writing down your dreams.

The prompt for a long-term vision goes like this: Imagine the best possible future five years from now. What is it like?

Why five years? Well, it’s a time span that requires you to think big, but also one which you can still pretty easily grasp.

Dream big, but be as specific as possible. For example, if you’re creating a professional vision, you can think of what kind of work you want to be doing, who you want to be working with, when, where, and how you want to be working as well as how you want to feel while you’re at it.

I recommend phrasing your sentences as “In five years, I am…” instead of “I‘d like to be.” I picked up this recommendation from one of Ekhart Tolle’s YouTube videos: imagine it already happened — then write about that reality. Now that’s powerful.

2 Mindsets

Visualization with the question “Which two mindsets do I want to foster throughout the year?”

Instead of moving straight onto goals, I think it’s valuable to jot down the type of mindsets you want to cultivate throughout the year. These can be small notes to self or practices you want to keep up.

Answer this question: Which two mindsets do I want to foster throughout the year?

I encourage you to use positive formulations. As opposed to writing “procrastinate less” or “be less judgemental”, write “focus on small actions” and “cultivate curiosity.”

3 Goals

Visualization with the question “Which three things do I want to focus on this year to get closer to my vision?”

Some consultant might advise you to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. Luckily, I’m not a consultant. To protect your mental health and ensure you have fun along the way, I recommend setting goals that are inspiring, yet realistic.

The question is: Which three things do I want to focus on this year to get closer to my vision?

I like using the “-ing” form for goals; it makes the tone softer. So instead of writing “run a marathon”, write “running a marathon”. We’re always becoming anyway, aren’t we?

Once you’ve chosen three goals, jot down a few concrete actions, habits, or practices that help you progress towards each of them.

4 Values

Visualization with the question “Which values do I want to cultivate this year?”

In this final part, think of the qualities or traits that you wish to cultivate throughout the year.

Perhaps you tend to get irritated when things don’t change as quickly as you’d like and your impatience easily ruins your mood. Or you’ve noticed that you enter a highly intensive state while working and as a result, your stress levels are constantly elevated. (These are definitely not based on personal experience. . .)

The question goes like this: Which values do I want to cultivate this year?

Values are best phrased as single words or word pairs like “patience”, “feminine energy”, and “adventure”. Choose words that resonate with you. And if you feel stuck, check out Brené Brown’s list of values.

My 1–2–3–4 for 2023

This is where I share my professional 1–2–3–4.

But first, I’m going to introduce myself for some context. I’m Riikka, a user researcher** working in health tech in Helsinki, Finland. I graduated in 2020 with a master’s degree in International Design Business Management (and a BA in design) from Aalto University. After a few twists and turns I’ve found my way into user research. And I love it!

Now to the vision!

A close-up photo of the numbers on a line sprinting court.
Photo by Charlie Wollburg on Unsplash.

1 Long-Term Vision

Role. I’m leading the customer and user insight efforts of a company in the field of wellbeing, mindfulness, or human potential. I’m known as the person who helps companies build the right things — and avoid costly mistakes.

Skills. I’m great at talking to users and customers, identifying the problem space, sketching ideas, mapping assumptions, testing, and iterating, but also working with stakeholders, communicating, and motivating others. I understand the tech side of things well enough to effectively work with developers.

Organization. The company I work for runs on empowered, autonomous, and multidisciplinary (design, business & tech) teams. These teams are responsible for business results, but free to choose what and how they build things.

Team. I‘m working with a group of intelligent, kind, and reflective individuals who are eager to solve problems and keep developing their working practices. I have at least three colleagues who also work on making products and services more human-centered — either on a strategic or tactical level (and the rest have adopted it as a mindset). I’m not a superior to these colleagues, but more of a coach or mentor.

Working hours and style. I‘m working four or five days a week depending on the projects I have outside of my primary job (In five years, I’m still writing regularly and have published a book. Wait what, have I?).

Location. I’m working in Helsinki or another comfortable-sized city somewhere else in the world. Occasionally — when it truly provides value —, I travel abroad for an extended period of time to study the customs and practices of the people we’re designing products and services for. In 2024, I have taken a sabbatical (maybe six months, maybe longer) and spent extended periods of time abroad.

Atmosphere. I feel joyful, motivated, connected, grounded, and positively challenged on a daily basis.

2 Mindsets

1. Prioritize action

I’ve learnt that the most common fear in employing a user researcher is that they’ll just research and research and not get anything done. I don’t want to make people feel this way.

User research and testing hypotheses take time, but I don’t want to waste it unnecessarily. I’ll do just enough research, just enough design, and just enough testing. But no more.

2. Reach out and connect

Being a user researcher can be lonely. I’m the only one at my current company. And in general, there are very few of us (at least in Finland).

Sure, you can read books — and I do. But I also want to learn from real human beings, the other professionals in the field.

That’s why, in 2023, I’m going to actively reach out and connect with like-minded professionals, be they user researchers, designers, customer insight specialists, human-centered strategists, product managers, or CEOs. I also plan to participate in relevant events and conferences.

If you identify as a like-minded soul, please don’t hesitate to connect with me on Linkedin. But make sure you add a note (otherwise I won’t accept the invite). I’m happy to chat (preferably over a video call) about anything related to user research, but also psychology, behavioral science, holistic health, writing, etc.

3 Goals

1. Becoming a great interviewer

I already see myself as a good interviewer. But I’d like to be better (OK, let’s be honest, I’d like to be great).

I’ve held dozens of interviews and read a fair bit about the best practices, but when I’m in the field I occasionally make the exact mistakes experts warn you about: I share solution ideas with the interviewee or if they request something, I forget to ask follow-up questions like “How could this feature help you?”

So I‘m going to keep practicing.

Here’s what I plan to do

  • Conduct lots of interviews (not only remotely but also on-site whenever possible)
  • Do a quick reflection on what went well and what could’ve gone better after each interview
  • Read Just Enough Research
  • Share my learnings in the form of a Medium article and/or an internal webinar

2. Becoming effective at testing assumptions

Usually when things go wrong — say a company builds a feature the user doesn’t want or know how to use — the team has made incorrect assumptions about user behavior. What’s worse, most teams don’t even realize they’ve made any assumptions; they simply design and code and then wonder why the solution failed. Identifying and testing assumptions is something I want to become really good at.

Here’s what I plan to do

  • Always map assumptions behind a new solution idea and test at least the assumptions most likely to make the solution fail
  • Join a variety of projects to get more opportunities to practice
  • Discuss the importance of mapping assumptions with different people in the organization
  • Share my learnings in the form of a Medium article and/or an internal webinar

3. Demonstrating the impact of user research

To me, talking to and testing with users is a self-evident part of the development process. But it‘s not self-evident to people from other backgrounds. That’s why I want to get better at demonstrating the impact of my work.

If I can convince other professionals of the value of user research, it’s going to be easier to start a discussion on how to make it part of every design and development process.

Here’s what I plan to do

  • Say yes to all kinds of projects that grant access to customers and users, even projects that don’t initially involve user research (I see this as a Trojan horse method: first get in, then strike a.k.a figure out how to make an impact)
  • Document the user research and discovery process (project briefs, assumptions, prototypes, tests & their results, time used)
  • Read It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-in for User Experience Research Projects
  • Meet with people outside my team and share user insights with them
  • Present a case study of at least one project at work

4 Values

Courage. When you’re pioneering something at your company, you need lots of courage. Courage to share ideas. Courage to ask questions. Courage to take responsibility. Courage to make decisions. Courage to ask for help.

Patience. You also need to be patient and accept that change takes time. But remember: When people get to know you and see how you work, they’ll begin to trust you, get excited, and want to involve you in projects.

Observation. Observation is the antithesis of judging; it makes understanding easier. When you pay close attention, you’re a better listener and a better learner.

Pausing. Don’t just run from one task to another. Pause regularly throughout the day and the week. Pause to reflect. Pause to chat with a colleague — just for fun. Pause to breathe in and breathe out.

— — —

Now it’s your turn! And I know, I know, it’s already the second week of January. But it’s not too late. No room for excuses.

If you try out this 1–2–3–4 exercise, I’d love to know how it went in the comments. ❤

— — —

*Yes, it’s inspired by the 3–2–1 in James Clear’s weekly newsletter. ❤
**A little clarification: My official title is Customer Insight Specialist, but I’m not using it in this article, because “user researcher” is a more widely recognized title — at least inside the design community.



Riikka Iivanainen

Fascinated by all things design and human behavior. Especially curious about how and why we make the decisions we do.

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