Reflecting on the Year Gone By

Reflection

The final days of the year are here and soon 2014 will be a distant memory. Like every year, it has brought numerous gifts and opportunities, as well as challenges and setbacks to so many. As the media recaps the best and the worst of the year, our emotions can run the gamut—from joy and laughter, to anger and despair, and even hope and inspiration. So much life has happened in such a short span of time. It’s remarkable.

Aside from these very public events that replay over and over on our televisions and in our minds, much has also occurred in our own lives—stirring the same emotions along with many more.

For some, reflecting on these past moments and events can be difficult, and almost too painful to extract real value. After all, shouldn’t we just forget what’s happened and move forward?

Not necessarily.

Reflection is a uniquely personal experience. Reflection gives each of us the opportunity to process and celebrate where we’ve been, and dream and define where we want to go next. It provides us that indispensable view of our peak performances so we might repeat and surpass them, as well as gifts us the mental distance from our mistakes and failures—showing where we can learn and improve next time. With the pain and the sorrow, we can learn to distill joy, wisdom, and gratitude.

If we hope to reflect in a constructive way—taking the good, the bad, and the ugly—with the goal of gaining the most value from the process, there are a few things we can do to ensure it’s not a wasted exercise or a passing thought with emphasis on the bad.

Let’s begin from a place of stillness and solitude.

Find a Quiet Spot

“It is necessary … for a man to go away by himself … to sit on a rock … and ask, ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?” — Carl Sandburg

The most powerful way to truly reflect and get the most from the experience, you first must find a quiet place to be completely alone for at least an hour, preferably more.

Turn off and tune out all distractions, including phones, email, social media, music, and people. The idea is that as you build your lists and think of the context and content of the year, you want to have the proper head space to identify and absorb the most you can from the experiences you’re recalling.

As you’re alone with quiet, you can feel what you need to feel, and you can concentrate on renewal.

List Your Accomplishments

If you aren’t someone who regularly writes down your accomplishments everyday or week, pull the necessary resources you have which provide mental triggers of what you did throughout the year. This may be a personal journal, a project notebook, it could be your electronic calendar, or maybe you need to review past emails if you’ve saved them. Whatever you have that gives you the historical lens of the past year, both personally and professionally, pull those resources and start reviewing them beginning with the very first day of January 2014.

Once you begin reviewing these resources, capture the items you believe were accomplishments, successes, interesting experiences, powerful interactions, or even positive moments. The list should include those things that moved you forward on some level.

If you’re finding it difficult to identify what you would consider accomplishments, you may be overthinking it or simply aiming too high.

Consider completed assignments, starting new high-profile projects, recognition you received, business decisions made, connections with old friends or colleagues, family events, money saved or invested, weight loss, fun trips taken, or even that visit to the dentist you put off for far too long. There are many things, even smaller than these, we get done all the time and then quickly move on to the next task, never acknowledging or seeing how it impacted our overall plans and goals. These smaller things add up and really matter. Give yourself the credit.

List Your Failures

After you list the accomplishments, start again listing what you consider failures or negative events that occurred in the year. I’m suggesting you list them after you go through the accomplishments list first because I want your mind to be in the right state to distinctly identify those, but also so you can come from a positive state knowing you did and experienced some great things this year.

Remember, with all the events and activities that can appear like failures or mistakes, there are great lessons learned and a clearer view into what doesn’t work. The more you understand what hasn’t worked for you in the past, the more you can shift your tactics and try something else that may work better next time rather than unnecessarily repeating past mistakes.

As the great Tony Robbins says, and I’m paraphrasing here, but rather than ask ourselves how we could have made that obvious mistake or failed so miserably, change the quality of the question. If an event occurs which was totally awful, negative, sad, or a complete disaster, change what it means so it doesn’t tear you down and throw you into a depressive state.

Listing the things we consider negative or utter failures allows us to flip the question or the event, and empowers us instead of destroying us. Look for the joy, what you learned, or what you came away with after the experience. Write down that new perception of the event.

Consolidate and Summarize

Once you have both lists completed, and you’ve changed the meaning of those negative events, try to consolidate and summarize them in a way that shows the greater impact. By this I mean, consider incorporating some metrics and measurements as part of your consolidation.

Examples might include:

  • Completed 20 writing assignments.
  • Discovered 3 actions that do not work for my business, but gave me greater insight into what will.
  • Saved and invested $5,000, or 10% of my salary.
  • Was gifted with 10 extra hours per month to spend with my loved one so I could give my personal care and attention to them during their illness.
  • Connected with 4 friends each month.
  • Took 3 short trips just for fun.
  • Decreased my digital time by 6 hours per week.

It’s more powerful seeing it this way, isn’t it?

Review, Reflect, Celebrate

Now that you have your final list of consolidated accomplishments, it’s important to spend focused time and attention with them so you really feel their impact.

Read your list as many times as you like. Stop and think about each item and what it means to you. How does it feel as you read those words? Do you feel pride, joy, surprise, or maybe just exhaustion? Which items did you expect to be on the list that are? Which items did you expect that aren’t?

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” — Peter Drucker

What about your original plans and goals—did this list help you to reach or exceed those goals? If not, did it at least move the needle in some way? Should you be adding those items to your 2015 plans or have your dreams changed?

Listing your accomplishments and then tossing them in a file somewhere is a waste of time. You probably achieved more this year than you thought, so make a big deal of it to yourself. You worked your ass off, so share it with others if you’re so inclined. Or shout it from the rooftops. Enjoy the list. Relish it. Roll around naked in it if you want, but celebrate your achievements, because in tough and challenging moments you still made progress. You made it through and got things done. Congratulations!

Keep that list handy so you can look at it again as you need a boost or motivation, but also so you can compare it to next year’s list.

Start a New List

In the middle of 2014, I started a new practice for myself. I always carry a small notebook around with me to capture notes and ideas. For the past 6 months I have incorporated capturing my accomplishments, things I’ve enjoyed, failures, and lessons learned for every day of the week. It’s great to use for this end-of-year review, but it also allows me the opportunity to do a checkpoint at any point in time. If I feel I’m getting in a rut or discouraged, I can use those daily lists to see that I’m actually doing good things, taking real action, and making progress toward my goals.

Don’t wait until the end of 2015 to capture your new accomplishments. Keep a running list every day starting on January 1st. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but jot down a few bullets at the end of each day itemizing those things that you consider notable–achievements, things that made you feel good, things you are grateful for, or people with which you connect. Whatever it is that you categorize as an achievement or learning experience based on your goals, capture it.

Another benefit? If you work for a company that does self-performance reviews or asks for some type of proof when it comes to salary reviews or promotional cycles, you can leverage your list to quickly recall your accomplishments for the year as you’ve already captured them.

Once we see our activities in ink, and regularly recap and review them, it can leave an indelible mark on our psyche and our spirit, motivating and inspiring us to do even more.

How do you reflect? Is this something you find yourself doing only at the end of the year, or do you practice some state of reflection more often? Are there any tips and tricks that make it more meaningful for you? Share your ideas and experiences below.

Image Credit: ©iStock.com/lolostock

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