Between the Winter Solstice and the New Year, I reflect on the prior year and plan for the new. I take a mental break between reflecting on the year ending and setting goals for the new. Putting a short pause — a day or two, typically — between the reflection and the planning works well for me.
This really sets me up for my year. It’s amazing what happens when I do this well or lackadaisical. Big diff.
You can use this exact same process once a quarter to put more intentionality, focus, and discipline in your life and work. However, I haven’t gotten there just yet. I usually do a mid-year review. In 2020, I’d like to hit all three interim reviews. More on that, later.
But planning isn’t the end game. It starts the game. It’s the game plan. But playing the game is another thing altogether. Plans change when they meet reality. That’s why quarterly reflections can be so powerful.
Before I walk you through my ten steps to reflection, let me share this. The third part of the process is this…
Taking Consistent Action
Above I said three things:
- Have a Plan–You need a plan for the year and you need to reflect on the plan during the year. I’ll share that with you next week, here.
- Reflection Sets Up Your Plan–The act of reflection gives you a needed perspective. It opens your aperture. Let’s more light in.
- Reflect During the Year–Your plan won’t survive sustained contact with reality. If it does, that’s a miracle (or rigidity).
There’s a fourth thing when it comes to accomplishing your plan–you gotta take consistent action. Otherwise, your plan is but a dream, impassioned wishful thinking. In this dimension, 2019 was a breakthrough year for me. Later in January 2020, I’ll be sharing how I organize on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis using a modified version of Bullet Journaling. So that’s our fourth ingredient.
4. Take Consistent Action–The way you spend your days is what you achieve for that year.
Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, let’s talk reflection. This is the ten-step process I’ll be using this year.
Ten Reflection Steps
Step 1: Goal Reflection
- When 2019 started, what is the ONE thing I most wanted to accomplish this year? Did I complete it?
- What were my secondary goals? Did I complete them?
- How satisfied am I with the progress I made on each?
- Why did I answer that way?
Step 2: Relationship Reflection
- What are my three most important relationships?
- How satisfied am I with the way I have “shown up” in these relationships over the last year?
- Very Dissatisfied
- Somewhat Dissatisfied
- Somewhat Satisfied
- Very Satisfied
- Why did I answer that way for each?
Step 3: Internal State Reflection
- When I think about my internal state in general over the past year versus how I started the year, how would I describe it in 17 words or less?
- How satisfied am I with my progress in working with my internal state?
- Why did I answer that way?
Step 4: The Not-So-Good Stuff Inventory
- What were my disappointments, bad decisions, failures, losses, setbacks, regrets, tough breaks, etc. this year? List them here.
Step 5: The Good Stuff Inventory
- What were my wins, victories, successes, and lucky bounces this year? List them here.
Step 6: Reconnecting to Purpose and Values
- Now that I have thought through all the above, take a more meta-view.
- Reconnect to my Purpose and my Aspirational Values.
- What comes up for me as I reflect on them?
Step 7: Stepping Back and Learning
- Scan all the above reflections. Now, in 17 words or less, what advice would I give myself?
- And, in 17 words or less, for what am I most grateful?
Step 8: Looking Forward and Doing
- Given the advice I have given myself above, what precisely might I do?
- START: What’s the most critical thing I should start doing?
- STOP: What’s the most critical thing I need to stop doing?
- CONTINUE: What’s the most critical thing I started doing over the past year that I most definitely should continue doing?
Step 9: Bridging This Into Real Life
- What will I do to bridge this insight into my weekly + daily life?
Step 10: Ending Well
- What are the top 1—3 most important things I took from doing this reflection process?
Other Thoughts and Considerations
How much time I spend in my reflection + planning each year varies a lot. I just work with my interests, mood, and time. But I do it.
Writing is much better for processing than typing, research shows. And I don’t need the research. I prefer to write it by hand.
You might be surprised how much comes up for you after you do this — just go back and update your notes accordingly. I carry mine around with me in my journal because the ideas and insights just start to flow. The better I am at capturing them, the more that seem to come.
You may want to gather some materials to preview or refer to during your reflection. I usually do. Here are some of the things I might look at and that I like to gather together regardless. Gathering these things helps me feel a sense of completion with the year (and more organized) whether I use them or not. And gathering them before I start the reflection seems to prime my brain and coalesce some mojo that gets me ready to go.
- My calendar for the current year
- Journals related to the current year
- Goal plan for the current year
- ITC (Immunity to Change) Map
- Personal Development Compass
- The Sky Within (an astrology report I got years ago — the best I’ve seen — and find helpful to review from time to time)
- DISC Report
- Enneagram Report
- Financial Statements
Share as much as you like with someone who cares about you. I like sharing my insights from my reflection with my wife, Sara. She usually has some additional insights to share, things that I’ve missed. And reflecting on the prior year sets up the conversation we’ll have about what we’d like to plan together for the upcoming year.
Be totally honest with yourself at the same time that you are kind to yourself. If you use this process to beat yourself up, you’ve lost your way. Doing this takes some courage, can be uncomfortable, requires some focus and discipline, and few people will, therefore, do it. So if you are doing it, that’s incredible. Rather being hard on yourself, be grateful you’ve got the grit to do it. And extend self-compassion to yourself if you notice your internal state going negative. You are doing something pretty amazing: you are adopting a growth mindset. You are creating a gap — liminal space — wherein you have an opportunity to create a new year that isn’t a repeat of the year ending. That’s magic.
Have fun! That’s the key. If you make it into a burden you squeeze the joy out of it. That’s why I may spend anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours in year-end reflection. I sense how much interest and time I have, and I cut things out and trim things down accordingly. When the joy is waining, I come back to it or I call it a wrap. I hope you give yourself permission to do the same.