With the start of a brand new decade, you might be excited to plan for the future. Dreaming up your plans for the year, setting goals and getting absorbed in the ideas for the future can be one of the most fun parts of January. But before you go down the rabbit hole, you might want to consider the power of reflecting on the year that just passed.
Neuroscience backs up this idea and highlights the benefits of travelling back in time inside our mind as self-reflection reinforces the memories that form our self-identity, aids with planning, and also enhances creativity.
So give yourself an advantage before you plan your big goals and take some time to reflect on all the things you’ve accomplished so far.
Before you start, make sure you give yourself the space and time to reflect:
1. Try to find a quiet room or space where you can be with your thoughts without anyone disturbing you, tell your partner that you’ll be busy for a bit, send the kids on a playdate and most importantly – put that phone on mute.
2. Bring notebooks, pens, highlighters and paper for note-taking and reflections. Put everything in your golden circle.
3. If you’ve been using monthly journals throughout the year to track your schedule, your habits, your thoughts, get them out of the closet.
4. Make yourself a hot cup of tea, coffee or a delicious hot chocolate, so you keep hydrated.
5. Create an ambience that relaxes you. Try using candles, soothing room sprays or relaxing music to help you set the tone for a pleasant time with yourself.
Now that you’re ready to get started, here are seven creative questions to kickstart your year-end reflection:
1. If your year got turned into a book or a movie, what would the title be?
Think of your year as a whole and try to give it a title. Let your emotions come to light, notice the memories that go along with them and make a mental note. Pay attention to the memories that are top of mind and those that need a bit more nudge. Notice the ones that make you smile and the ones that make you frown. Judgement has no place in this process.
2. What areas of your life made you happiest this past year?
Give yourself a quick win and a boost in spirit by remembering your favourite moments of the year. You might want to make a list, some notes to hone in on what made them so special.
Did you get to spend more time with friends or family? Did you have an excellent year for your career? Maybe you were happiest working on a challenging project? Take a bit of time to dive deep in your favourite moments and see precisely what part fulfilled you the most.
3. Looking back, where did you spend most of your energy?
As we dive into our daily lives, it’s easy to get swept away by the flow even though we try our best to stay on track with the goals. Distractions happen, but it is beneficial to be aware of them. Be as honest as possible with yourself and see where you spent your time vs where you would have wanted to spend it.
Then dive deeper – what stopped you in your tracks? What was the challenge? These questions will give you more ideas on how to handle similar situations in the future.
4. Are the long-term goals you set yourself in past years still relevant?
Noticeably there will be many goals that you have already completed during the year, but you need to make sure you’re still on the right path that you set out on. Maybe you discovered new passions? Maybe personal situations changed and you need to adjust that long-term goal?
Now is the time to reflect on whether or not you still want what you think you want.
5. What is one thing you’re committed to achieving in the brand new year?
The best part of self-reflection is the ‘aha’ moment we get when we realize how and why something went a different way than we imagined it. It might be a goal you’ve been nurturing for years; it might be a relationship you keep wanting to develop, or a big dream you find yourself day-dreaming about. Noticing our emotions about the past tends to solidify our commitment to the future. So leverage your past to commit to one big goal in the future.
6. How are you planning to cultivate the relationships you have?
Humans are social creatures. We crave a community, close friendships and supportive groups around us. And like most good things in life, great relationships require work.
So looking back on this past year, start reflecting on your connections – are you spending the time you need with them? Are your own needs met? Are you bringing the energy you would like into your interactions? What could you do to feel connected to your community?
What if you notice that there is one person or one group of people you want to improve your relationship with? You might notice that you don’t want a big circle of friends, you just want to improve what you have with your partner, kids or family. Or you’re setting out to make new acquaintances.
Notice where your thoughts and emotions take you when thinking about your relationships and let that be your guide.
7. If you were your own mentor, what would you tell yourself about last year’s accomplishments?
It’s important to treat ourselves with the same empathy and care that we would treat anyone asking for our help. Reflecting on the past without judgement can be challenging, so remember to be just as kind to yourself as you are with others. All experiences are learning opportunities.
Bonus Exercise: If only I…
Do you ever day-dream of the different paths your life would have gone if you had made different decisions? This exercise is meant to challenge your current path by focusing in on aspects of your past that could improve your present.
Start writing a list of ‘If only I’s and start noticing the thoughts and feelings that come with it. Was there an instrument you enjoyed playing as a kid that you’d like to play again? Is your dream of working in a different field still relevant today?
You might discover that you’re still holding on to dreams from the past that you could start actioning as goals.
Did you ever try a version of these questions in the past? And what are your favourite queries to ask during year-end reflections? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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