The end of the year marks a threshold and invites a pause for reflection. It's a great time to take stock of the year behind and look ahead. Each year at this time, I write and reflect on 12 reflection questions for this very purpose. This year's questions includes some of the old favorites (some truly need to be asked each year) and some new ones.
Whether you are in a leadership role, an aspiring leader, or you just want to be your best in work and life, the habit of reflection can build self-awareness, efficacy and resilience. If done right, it can also help you establish and achieve more meaningful goals.
In the days ahead, I encourage you to take the time with these questions over several sittings. Let your thoughts percolate and stay with the questions over the next few weeks.
THE YEAR PAST:
What went well?
This question is a keeper from year to year. Twelve months have gone by -- most likely too fast! How did it go? Acknowledge all that worked out well: the goals you achieved, the events and circumstances you feel good about.
Your first take on this will likely not capture enough of the good. Your brain is built to default to remembering more of the negative (blame it on evolution). The positives -- albeit nice in the moment -- tend to be more fleeting in memory. Be intentional in remembering more of the good. This will fuel you and likely surprise you, too. Perhaps enough to make your year better than you first thought.
Who needs to be acknowledged?
After acknowledging what went well, think about the people who played a part. Let them know. Consider all the contexts in your life (personal, professional, volunteer, etc.). Expressing gratitude will not only make the receiver feel good, it will make you joyful as well. It's a great gift and 'tis the season, after all.
How did you grow this past year?
If you are having trouble answering this question, then you aren't creating enough stretch goals for yourself. Leaders -- at any level -- must continually learn, evolve and grow. By the end of the year you should be a better version of yourself in some way. Maybe smarter, more informed, more skilled in some areas? Stagnation is not a good thing for personal and professional well-being.
What were the stand-out, peak moments for you -- and why>
This is different from "what went well." This is about identifying the truly stellar, stand-out moments where life just felt "right and good." Then ask why they were so meaningful. Mine those peak moments to strengthen self-awareness of your values and character strengths. Leaders know that when one lives and works in congruence with their values and strengths a whole lot more good happens.
What's not working?
Whoa! What happened to all that positivity from those earlier questions? This question is just as important, but make sure you reflect on it without judgment. Resist the whine-fest and instead just take an honest look to acknowledge what isn't working.
Perhaps a situation (work or life) that was fine or great for a long while isn't anymore. Times and conditions change -- have you changed, too? What are you putting up with? What are you settling for? Where are you playing too small? Where are your values being compromised? This is a tough question, but if you are true with yourself this could reveal insights leading to more meaningful goal-setting for the year ahead.
Wrap up your year by giving it a theme or name.
For instance, 2015 was the year of ___________.
THE YEAR AHEAD
What thresholds will you be crossing?
As you leave 2015 behind and begin a new year you are crossing a threshold. What other thresholds do you need to prepare for? Will there be some big changes happening at work (or elsewhere)? Or perhaps an intentional change you want to create? Naming the threshold can sharpen your focus and planning to help you get ready.
Who will you connect with more in the year ahead?
We all need people but sometimes the busyness of our lives gets in the way. Is it time to put more priority in your relationships? Consider your work, social, community and social relationships. Who do you need to reconnect with or perhaps start new relationships with? For inspiration? For career well-being? For other? How about you with you? Time to take more time to tune in, reflect and get to know yourself better.
What kind of leader, peer, friend, partner (and other roles) do you want to be?
You wear many roles in work and life. Think about how you are showing up in each of them. Where do you want to be better? Get specific and create intentions that you will act on. If you want to be a more open, collaborative leader, then set goals for how to achieve that. Make time to give more meaningful and frequent feedback, connect authentically and learn to be a better listener.
What do you want?
Now it's time to think about your goals, intentions and possibilities for the year ahead. Perhaps something in this reflection has spurred you to a new goal that's now ready to be declared. Write your goals down and make them specific and concrete.
How will you put this into action?
Of course, naming the goal is only the start. You also have to back it up with a plan, commitment and action! What will you do?
What's the mantra for 2016?
I like the idea of having a theme, mantra, or even a powerful question to define intentions for the year ahead. I recently heard a great one at the TEDx Toronto conference in October. As emcee, Drew Dudley presented this question and said we should ask it of ourselves daily: "Am I capable of five seconds of courage right now?" This is powerful if you have big goals and big changes ahead. I will be trying that on myself. How about you? What's your word/phrase/question for 2016?
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Take the time at the beginning of the year to go through your mailing lists and unsubscribe from all but the essentials, Lisa Gasson of New York suggests. It’s a good way to clear out inbox clutter, and also to reduce shopping temptation from constant emails from merchants. Try using Unroll.me to unsubscribe easily and keep things manageable going forward.
Take some of the time you spend mindlessly poking around on the internet and spend it with an actual book, says Megan Hamilton of Ontario. That’s her resolution for the coming year, and she’s solicited suggestions from friends for recent favourites to add her her library list.
After a couple of tough years for the her own health and that of her family, Carol-Ann Cole of Newfoundland and Labrador decided to cut out the little things she couldn’t control, including those to do with the lives of other people. "I try now to not gossip -- well, maybe just a little juicy stuff, ha ha -- and just live each day happy and healthy,” Cole says. "So far it’s working and I feel so much happier and contented."
Dry skin getting you down? That’s worth a small resolution all on its own, especially during Canada’s dry winters. "After making big, thought-out resolutions -- and then feeling stress and guilt about not keeping them -- about 15 years ago, I resolved to put lotion on everyday after showering,” says Erika Serviss-Low of the Yukon. “Easy to do, no guilt, and -- after scratching my skin raw and frantically searching for lotion by mid-day -- life changing."
Jenny Hinko Polischuk of Alberta picks a theme for her family for each year and focuses on that instead of a specific resolution. "Our theme was to 'CHOOSE HAPPY’!,” she says of their 2015 theme. "I got it printed in vinyl and put it up on a wall in our kitchen. I also found a great print on Etsy and framed it. To kick it off we brainstormed as a family situations where we consciously have to choose happiness. We put that up in our mud room about 3 feet high so my little women could see it."
Instead of picking a resolution that restricts or removes something, pick something that adds joy to your life. "I do ones that make me feel good, not that are challenges,” Julia Cain of New Jersey says of her resolutions. "'Say yes to travel,' for example, which will be a continuing resolution this year, or 'snuggle with babies as much as possible.’"
If you do want to make a list of things to accomplish this year, break it all into a very specific itemized list—maybe 101 items for the year, or a number that makes sense for you. "those worked really well because they were incremental and accumulative,” says Lisa Schmeiser of California of her itemized lists for the year, "so by the end of the year, I had momentum and completed tasks on my side."
"One of my students gave me great advice: Make three tiers of resolutions,” says Vanessa Vakharia of Ontario. Make the first tier something easy to immediately implement, like wearing eyeshadow or flossing daily. Get a bit higher-concept for tier two: a promise to run regularly, for example. And then think big for the third, like finishing your degree or planning a major trip. "I think it's a good way to level goals out so that you can get instant gratification, which motivates you to work towards those higher level goals,” she says.
"I don't know if they're resolutions, but every year I go back and assess how I'm doing as far as becoming the person I want to be,” says Carolyne Whelan. Think about how you respond to strangers, your friends and family, how you treat yourself, and the way you move about in the world. "Obviously there is a lot of tweaking, but since it's all a learning process with a wide curve, every year just presents the opportunity to be closer to the person I want to spend all my time with,” she says.
What’s something you enjoy, that is easy to do and adds a bit of light to your day? Pick something, then do more of it! "A few years ago, my only resolution -- after years of the same 'lose ten pounds, learn Spanish, write a novel' flailed if not failed -- was 'sing more,’” says Paige Conner Totaro of Virginia. "I did and it felt great. The next year it was 'dance more.’"
Is there something you need to do, even want to do, that you keep finding a way to get around or avoid or not actually work on? Stop doing that, and just do the work—every day, over and over, says Jennifer Polk of Ontario. You’ll get a lot more done if you put the energy you spend worrying, procrastinating, avoiding, and over-planning into just doing. "Everything's better when you do the work,” she says.
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