Best Practices for Reflecting on the Past Year

As the year comes to a close, you might wonder, “How do I reflect on the past year?” Or maybe you are even questioning why it is important. Reflecting on the past year is essential for several reasons.

These conscious reflections help us acknowledge the things we went through, recognize the lessons learned, and gather our thoughts and focus for the year ahead. It can enable us to be more self-aware and better prepared to challenge our thoughts and ideas for the future.

Of course, reflecting on the year is only part of the process. How you reflect on the year is just as important. These best practices will help you get the most out of your reflection and make sure the next year is your best one yet!

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” ― William Wordsworth

Ask yourself the tough questions

Questions related to how you felt this year will benefit you the most. Did you challenge your beliefs about who you are and what you believe in? What about the people you spent your year with? Are they who you thought they were, and should they remain a part of your tribe in the new year? Are your priorities the same now as they were at the beginning of the year, or have you shifted your focus?

This kind of introspective questioning will keep you honest with yourself. Figuring out what motivated and inspired you versus what drained you emotionally or physically can help you plan out the things you should focus on in the new year.

While recognizing your accomplishments is a part of reflection, getting real with yourself will help you more long-term. We view our accomplishments from an outside perspective. For instance, receiving a promotion is great and likely comes with more money, prestige, and pride. These are all other things that people can see or feel.

Ask yourself how you got there instead? Did you create a better morning routine or improve your time management skills? Did you learn a new skill that helped you get promoted? These are all great things. However, did you sacrifice time with your family or your mental health and work so hard that you are headed toward burnout? Can you keep that pace up, or do you even want to?

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung

Reflect on the right parts of your year

Have you seen that scene in The Lion King when Rafiki hits Simba in the head, and then tells him it is in the past and shouldn’t matter? A lot of times this is true. We can’t undo the past and letting ourselves become anxious and depressed over things we can not change is not the point of this reflection process.

The point is to focus on the areas that matter, and those where we can make a meaningful difference in the year ahead. These areas that we should spend some time reflecting on are:

  • Our health and the changes we need to make to either be or stay healthy
  • Our families
  • Our romantic relationships
  • Our career goals and future
  • Our education
  • Our mental health and the ways we practiced self-care
  • Our personal growth and self-development

Be honest about the high and low points of each area that happened this year. Don’t get caught up on the lows, but use them to help you set a path for the future. The lows have passed and you can’t make them go away, but can you take a lesson into the new year with you?

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” ― Yvonne Woon, Dead Beautiful

Practice gratitude when reflecting on the past year

Gratitude is such a tricky thing for people to practice. The human brain is wired to focus on the negative, so it just comes easier and more naturally. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can do about it, though, it just makes it difficult.

And it is difficult to find something to be grateful for at our lowest moments. Many people think that this means living in some crazy state of denial where you don’t acknowledge the bad things that happen. It’s not that all though!

If you went through something terrible this year, please take the time to grieve and acknowledge your feelings. Then look for something to be grateful about. It doesn’t make the loss or awful experience go away or change the outcome, but it changes your perspective.

Gratitude doesn’t have to be for some big elaborate thing, either. It can be a tiny shred of something, but when you reflect on the good things in your life, your outlook will change. Gratitude makes us happier, more optimistic, and healthier.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

Physical ways to help you reflect on the past year

If you are having trouble figuring out what the heck happened over the last year, there are a few things you can do to jumpstart your brain. First, grab the calendar and start in January. Go through it and write things down on the dates you remember doing special things on. Focus on who you were with and how those events made you feel.

Take some time to scroll back through social media. What did you comment on? What was your most commented on or liked post? Who did you spend the majority of the time with? Once you can remember all of those things, then go back and ask yourself those tough questions we talked about earlier.

If neither of those things gets your brain in reflection mode, then try paging through your email. What projects did you work on and what were the outcomes? Can you learn something from a past project that you can use to get your creative juices flowing?

“Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Benefits of reflecting on the past year

It is important to remember that reflecting is more nuanced than simple remembrance. Take the things you remember and analyze them to question your beliefs and actions. Then, you take that analysis and apply it to learning something different.

An opportunity to learn something should never be squandered and reflection is a process aimed at teaching us something. A thoughtful reflection takes all the random events, accomplishments, thoughts, relationships, and moments of the last year and gives you the chance to find some kind of meaning.

Undoubtedly, your brain is bogged down with countless information, observations, and events from the last year. This is your chance to pause and quiet the noise so you can sift through all of that and pay attention.

You may not like this process because it will be uncomfortable. The process itself might be downright difficult. But taking the time to go through it will help you learn and grow. The biggest benefit of reflection is that we can evaluate our actions and not just our thoughts. This will help you in the future when actions are once again required.

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

Will you reflect on the past year? Feel free to share your tips and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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