As 2021 comes to a close, many of us are feeling exhausted. While this year brought progress in the fight against COVID, we are still living through a global pandemic. Many of us are experiencing high levels of burnout, a diagnosable state of exhaustion brought on by long-term stress. As a result, many are seeking ways to change our lives, through moving, shifting our relationships, or changing jobs. (read more about burnout and The Great Resignation here)
Luckily, the new year brings hope for new beginnings and a better future. I can think of nothing better than to set aside time to reflect on where we’ve been and more importantly, dream about what can be.
Each December, I use 10 powerful questions to guide my goals and intentions for the next year. I’ve edited them to align with our current reality and help us make sense of the past as we launch into the future.
Reflection is an important part of how we rise to our potential. Taking time to review and reflect allows us to see things from a fresh perspective as well as gain valuable insights from our successes and challenges. Our ability to grow and change is sourced in the act of taking stock.
We see the benefits of reflection in everything from the annual performance review process and the most effective leadership development models to the core competencies of emotional intelligence and the benefits of mindfulness on our health and wellbeing.
“Reflection is one of the most underused yet powerful tools for success.” ~ Richard Carlson
Every wisdom tradition around the world has a process of reflection and it’s no accident that this time of year finds people of all backgrounds engaging in a time of review. The winter equinox signals a change in seasons as we start gaining more light each day, and as we end one year and turn our sights to the next, it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect with intention.
First, you want to do a quick review of the past year. While it seems that we have been living through the pandemic forever, you likely have been up to more than you remember. Take a spin through your calendar and photos to refresh your memory (but put a time limit since it’s easy to get distracted). If you journal, flip through the pages and notice the major themes. You might also want to turn on some music, brew a hot beverage, light the fireplace, and allow yourself quiet time to reflect.
“Time spent in self-reflection is never wasted—it is an intimate date with yourself.” ~ Paul TP Wong
Below are 10 questions arranged in a specific order to help you gain new insights. Let yourself blend together professional and personal reflection—they are not separate pieces but part of the integrated, whole person that you are.
10 Questions to Reflect on 2021
- What are your 9 greatest successes and miracles of 2021? This may seem like a big ask during a pandemic but successes and miracles still happened. It may be something big or it might be those very small, but meaningful wins. Try to find at least 9 (more is fine too).
- What was a key challenge of this year and what did you discover about yourself in meeting this challenge? Consider what new skills, knowledge, or insights you received as a result of facing this challenge.
- What are some of the most joyful moments of 2021? Spend some time on this one and list as many as you can. They may be the small joys, but in this crazy year, all moments of joy count! Consider making a post-it note for each one and put them around your room so you can see the abundance you have.
- What “risks” (taking action though fear is present) did you take this year and what greater freedom did you discover in the process? What did you learn about yourself in taking these risks?
- In what key ways have you been of service this year? What meaningful purpose have you contributed to through sharing your time, or your talent, or your resources? Being of service includes actions that protect our community health so if you’ve been wearing your mask, you’ve already been of service. Take time to appreciate yourself for that.
- What has been the underlying, unifying theme of your year? "2021 has been the year of…" It’s OK if your first sentence is full of swear words but after you have vented, go back and dig a little deeper. For you, in the midst of all the chaos of 2021, what has been your underlying, unifying theme?
- Looking back on 2021, what 3 people had the greatest impact in your life (could be positive or negative)? What has their presence stimulated or awakened in you?
- Is there anyone whom you need to forgive? Forgive means to release judgment and blame that is causing you unnecessary pain. Who is it? What quality do you need to forgive them for? Can you find that same quality within yourself (to any degree) and love yourself anyway?
- What are your greatest blessings of 2021? List those people, experiences, and insights that fill your heart with gratitude.
- What are 3 key lessons you’ve learned through your experiences in 2021?
“The way we experience the world around us is a direct reflection of the world within us.” ~ Gabrielle Bernstein
Looking Ahead to 2022
As you look at the lessons and insights of 2021, what wise counsel would you give yourself as you move into 2022?
Now, articulate your goals and intentions for 2022 and beyond. Consider having at least one for each of these areas so that you have work/life balance: career/calling, relationships, health/wellbeing, happiness, creativity/play, and community.
Since many people are experiencing burnout, spend some time identifying how you can help yourself recover. Rest is the primary cure for burnout so how can you do more of that? Time in nature, mindfulness practices, and play also help us recover from burnout. Set some goals for how you can utilize these strategies to get your groove back.
Once you finalize your goals/intentions, consider posting them in various places where they will remind you of your focus like your bathroom mirror, smartphone, car, computer screen, etc. The goal is to keep them visible and present to support your success.
Is there anyone you need to reach out to as a result of this reflection? You might be moved to send a note of gratitude or appreciation. Keep it simple—often a quick email or voice message can really make someone feel great and you will enjoy acknowledging them too.
That’s it. This process takes less than an hour but it’s one of the best hours you can spend each year. Start this ritual alone but then gather with friends (safely) to share your insights and intentions. This can connect you, not only this one evening, but throughout the year. You can even build in a quarterly check-in to continue to support each other, remove any roadblocks and celebrate successes!
You can also do this process at work with leaders and teams—it's amazing what comes out of those discussions and how much it boosts everyone’s energy and engagement at work.
If you wish, make a vision board and/or music playlist to anchor your intentions. Both are surprisingly powerful tools that can support you in staying focused throughout the year, and are often more fun to make than a traditional list. Make a playlist of songs that represent who and how you want to be in 2022. A vision board is essentially a poster of images and words that can be made with old magazines and glue or put together using your computer. Use a presentation or graphics software, adding images and words or phrases. Print it out and post it at home and at work to keep your eyes on what you prize.
Reflection is one of the most powerful processes for achieving your potential. And when you do it in community with others, it creates a sense of engagement and accountability that helps everyone achieve more than they could alone.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver