Depending on the type of year you’ve had, it can be challenging to engage in deep reflection on what has transpired in your life over the last 365 days. There have been years where my lows have definitely outnumbered my highs, and all I’ve wanted to do was close the door on that year and forge ahead. During these stormy seasons, the last thing I wanted to was sit down and think about why things unfolded the way that they did. And then, there are years (like this one, for me!) where you genuinely feel like you’re soaring. You’ve got a handle on things, you’re in love with yourself and your life, and you now have peace about the dark and stormy seasons you’ve gone through, because you are experiencing the growth and prosperity that they propelled you into. Things are going so well for you that you honestly don’t feel the need to spend time reflecting; you just hope and pray that life continues to hand you lemons as you enter the new year.Regardless of where you are in your life right now, it’s important to reserve time and mental capacity to ask yourself some important questions that will ultimately allow you to get more specific and intentional about defining your goals and your vision for your life.
Here are a few questions that have helped me find clarity and meaning at the end of each year. If you’re ready to be brutally honest with yourself, I encourage you to keep reading and think carefully about the answers to these questions below!
1| What did you set out to accomplish this year that you actually made happen?
It’s a healthy practice to start by affirming and celebrating yourself. Even if your year was sprinkled with disappointments and unfulfilled goals, chances are there is something out there that you set your sights on back in January and turned into a reality by the end of the year. In particular, reflect on how you made it happen. What sacrifices or changes were you willing to make? How much time did you invest in it? Why was it important to you in the first place? Answering these questions will help you clarify what your priorities were this year.Why? Because people do the things they want to do and make time for. I believe Gandhi said it best — “Actions express priorities.”
2| What did you set out to accomplish this year that you didn’t make happen?
If you’re anything like me, this list will
probably unfortunately be a tad longer than the previous one. This is where a willingness to be brutally honest with yourself is necessary, and where you need to stop yourself from making excuses or providing rationales that will let you off the hook. We all have unfinished items on our to-d0 lists that we have no justifiable explanation for; this question is about getting to the root cause of why these things didn’t happen. Why? Because at some point this year, they were important to you; but at another point this year, you decided (consciously or unconsciously) that they weren’t important enough to get accomplished.
As you populate your list, try to figure out what distracted you, or pulled your attention in another direction? Did you completely lose interest in these things, or just not figure out how to make time for them? Do you regret not making them happen, or do you realize now that they were lofty and unrealistic goals to begin with? Did you purposely stop working on these things, or did you get frustrated and give up? Do you remember when you got off track, or did you just look up one day and realize you were no longer working on these things? There are a variety of reasons why people don’t achieve certain goals, ranging from procrastination, to falling victim to negativity, to simply having too many competing priorities on your plate at one time. As you think about the year ahead, don’t wallow in the fact that these things didn’t get done. Instead, be more intentional, more deliberate, and more specific about creating a sustainable plan. Compare this list to the list of things you did accomplish, and figure out how your actions, mindsets, and approaches differed between the two.
3| How satisfied are you with the way you spend your time?
This is a lofty question, because answering it might reveal some realities that you’re not ready to face. For example, you may realize that your current routine doesn’t allow you enough time to spend with your family and friends,but you’re not ready to switch careers. Or, you may realize that you’ll never achieve your goal of working out 4-5 times a week or volunteering every other Saturday if the demands of your current schedule don’t change, but you’re not yet willing to give anything up. Ask yourself: do you spend enough time doing the things that you care about? Are you in a position to pursue your passion while being able to support your lifestyle? Do you have enough free time, or do you have too much of it? Answering these questions will help you determine if there are lifestyle changes that you need to make. Lifestyle changes are more involved and require a much larger investment of time and agility than short-term goals.
4| Who has influenced you the most this year?
Growing up, my mom would always tell me “what you feed your spirit is what you become.” If you surround yourself with fools, you will begin to act foolish. But if you surround yourself with champions, you will act like a champion. As humans, we are highly susceptible to our environments, and therefore, have to be extremely cognizant of what we’re feeding ourselves. A quick way to take inventory on your influencers is to ask yourself: who do you spend your time with? What do you spend your time doing with them? What are the key messages that are being reinforced in your life?
Your circle should be comprised of people who inspire you, and you make you want to take your life to the next level. Your circle should be populated with friends that you are consistently proud of, and have the opportunity to learn from. While self-discipline and personal motivation is at the root of all successful individuals, we can’t get there alone. What does your circle say about you?
5| What are the specific areas of your life where you have the most room to grow?
Personal growth isn’t something that happens passively; it is an area of your life that requires acute attention, continuous dedication, and a willingness to experience extreme discomfort as you figure out how to change for the better. For example, if you’ve identified that you’re not a great listener, you won’t suddenly become one without dedicating time to developing that skill. Instead, chances are that you’ll continue to be a poor listener, and resolve yourself to accept it as a flaw, rather than figuring out how to turn it into a strength.
This is the last question on the list for one simple reason: all of your answers to the previous questions were teed up to lead you here. At the end of the day, life isn’t about being perfect or having all of the answers; it’s about learning to become a better version of yourself every single day. It’s about showing up for yourself and for others, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s about accepting that while there is an inherent fallibility in your humanness, that fact alone makes life entirely about growing, learning, and improving.
Most companies review their employees by asking them to reflect on both their strengths and their weaknesses. We all have skills and talents that come naturally to us, or that we’re particularly passionate about, so we don’t mind investing time in them. But, we also all have things in our lives that we’re either not good at, or we’re simply not interested in (or probably a combination of the two). Those are the areas to focus on for this question. The areas where, if you had it your way, you’d just put them off or shove them to the back of your mind, because you know that your strengths and other capabilities can drown them out anyway. For example, because you’re such a compelling public speaker, people hardly notice that you’re not a great listener. But you know that you aren’t, and even though you love speaking way more than you love listening, you have to figure out how to improve upon the latter if you really want to grow.
/// Self-reflection is such an important part of life throughout the year, but it can be especially transformative as an end-of-year activity. Try reflecting on these questions in your alone time this week, and let me know how it goes for you! Was this activity encouraging? Uplifting? Frustrating? Enlightening? Directional? Confusing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!