The end of year brings about an opportunity for us to reflect on the past year and use that for the year ahead. The Stoics, from Seneca to Epictetus, reflected daily and encouraged their students to do the same;
“I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully —will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil—that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” —SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 83.2, ~ 65 AD.
This guide will go over the practice of yearly reflection using your journal so that you become aware of the past and effectively plan for the year ahead.
1. Preparing for effective yearly reflections
Yearly reflections can be intimidating — reflecting on the full year and becoming aware of areas of improvements. To make this process a bit easier to do, here are a few preparation tips;
- Block off chunks of time to self-reflect — Don’t attempt to do it all in one sitting. Rather dedicate about an hour or even 30 minutes each day when you have the most energy. For most, this is during the morning.
- Setup the environment and focus — During the self-reflection time, find a place that will help you focus. This can be your bed, outside in nature, sitting on the floor, doing it with a friend, or at your desk. Additionally, some people find it easier to focus and get in the flow with a technique like pomodoro or putting on some background music.
- Keep it simple and free from judgements — during the reflection process, it is common to go get discouraged or go down a rabbit hole. For example, being hard on yourself for having identified an area of improvement. It’s better to have uncovered that rather than not having self-reflected. Right?
- Follow questions or prompts to self-reflect with — Starting with good questions and prompts helps solve two obstacles with yearly self-reflection. First, it eliminates the uncertainty and anxiety of HOW to reflect. Second, it eliminates the bias or influence of poor questions leading to poor reflections. Below, you will find quality questions gathered from research-backed sources.
- (Optional) Self-reflect with pen and paper — There is something tactile, human, and personal about the nature of reflecting with a pen and paper. I suggest all journal keepers to start the reflection in their journal and build on it for the days to come. If you are able to focus on a digital device, you can do that too.
With the preparation done, the reflection is going to in two parts — first the big picture review and then more specific review of different areas of life.
2. Big picture review and reflection of last year
Starting with the big picture allows you to answer big questions before you dig deeper into the details. This way you can come back to the big picture if you get lost or want to refer back when reflecting. These questions are inspired by a book by David Allen, Getting Things Done, and from observing the journals of successful people.
Answer the following questions as broadly as possible for last year. We will get more specific in the next section.
- Identify 3 top wins for the year. What made them happen?
- What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned this year?
- What were the risks you took this year?
- What was your most loving service to someone or something?
- What is your unfinished business from this year?
- What are you most happy about completing this year?
- Who were the three people that had the greatest impact on your life this year?
- What was your biggest surprise?
- What compliments did you receive this year? What would you liked to have received?
- What else do you need to do or say to be complete with this year?
- What one word or phrase best sums up and describes your experience this year? Reflect on this phrase. Is this phrase free from bias?
- What stories from last year are you letting go?
3. Review and reflect on different areas of life
Having done the big picture reflection, it is now time to focus and individual areas of your life that make up the big picture.
To become aware of how different areas of your life are currently, here is a quiz that you can complete.
After completing the quiz, you will get a score for each area of your life. Specifically;
- Career and Work
- Health and Wellness
- Contribution to the World
- Living Environment
- Planning your life
From the quiz results, pick 1-2 areas of your life that you want to be a priority for next year.
For those priority areas, answer the following questions;
- Why is this area important and a priority for me?
- What has been working in improving this area?
- What has not been working in improving this area?
- What goals do I have for this area for next year?
Continue reflecting on the above questions until you don’t have anything left to put on paper.
4. Reflect and plan for next year
Now, with awareness of the past, we can look onto the next year for reflection and planning. Again, as Seneca said, “… our plans for the future descent from the past”.
- What would make 20XX your best year ever?
- What new habits can you cultivate that will help you to achieve your goals stated from the previous question? Here are some tips to kickstart keeping a journal for next year!
- What bad habits can you remove that will help you to achieve your goals?
- What are your immediate next steps to achieve these goals?
- What would you like to be your biggest win?
- What advice would you like to give yourself?
- What are you planning to do to improve your financial results?
- What are you looking forward to learning?
- What do you think your biggest risk will be?
- Who or what, other than yourself, are you most committed to loving and serving?
- What about your work, are you most committed to changing and improving?
- What is one of undeveloped talent you are willing to explore?
- What brings you the most joy and how are you going to do or have more of that?
- What one word or phrase would you like to have as your theme?
Based on these insights and findings, you are ready to set the most effective goals and visions for the year ahead.
5. Setting goals and re-visiting reflections
If you have come this far, you are now armed with reflections and insights about your life — holistically and for each area. Now, turn this insight into action. Are there areas you want to improve or have a specific goal for?
Continue to re-visit these reflections throughout the year. Remember to set small manageable goals that will move you closer to where you want to be before next-year’s reflection!
Template and Prompts for yearly journal reflections
Here is a document that you can copy – digitally or in your journal – and fill out for reflections;
How do you do your early reviews? Have some tips or comments to share? Please do share it in the comments.