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Reflecting Back on the Year Ahead – 11 Ways to Make Your Reflection Session Pay Off (Ι) Time:2022/01/05 15:54:00 Hit:87

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As ever, with the approach of the New Year, there is talk of reflection.  Extracting the lessons-learned from the past year and using them as we look forward is a great path to continued growth.  But few are the people who will actually sit down and do it.  One reason may be that there is no owner’s manual to guide the process.  With that in mind, here are some ideas for how to go about reflecting on the year gone by so that the year ahead is as good as we can make it.


A Place to Think

In my den, I used to have a pair of very nice chairs.  They were hand-made out of cherry by Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania.  They were a simple but elegant complement to my desk.  With a small table and lamp between them, they looked great.


I hated them.


As good as they looked, they were uncomfortable after about five minutes; I never used them.  For my birthday recently, my wife bought me a nice recliner to replace the chairs.  I like it a lot better, and use it all the time.  It has become my “reading” chair, or at times, my “thinking” chair.  Away from my computer screens, there’s a place for my notebook, a lamp, and a coaster for my coffee mug.


Yesterday I sat in it and did some reflecting on the past year.  Since that’s something many people talk about when this time of year rolls around, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how to go about it.

Reflecting – Get Ready

Change the scenery.  We are products of our environment more than we suspect.  Visual cues cause us to think and act in certain ways that have become habit over the years.  That’s why stay-cations are hard – that mess in the garage is always in the back of our minds.  When we open the fridge, we automatically reach for certain things.  In front of the computer, there are specific sites we always check.  To help break out of any mental rut so we can think more clearly, choose a place out of the normal to do the reflecting.  Without the usual cues, we will be able to think more freely.


Remove distractions.   You know the drill here – if you set up shop in the living room where the kids are playing video games, the spouse wants to talk about that thing we were supposed to do, and the dog keeps dropping a slobbery tennis ball in our lap, reflection is going to be an exercise in futility.  Perhaps we’ll end up reflecting next year on how we should have chosen a quieter place this year. 

Find a place to unplug, and close the door.


Use paper and pen.  A couple reasons for this.  First – to get away from the screen and keyboard.  For many, these tools are near at hand all the time, and can impact how we think.  Resist the impulse to Google an answer, or check social media for what other people think:  reflecting is about what we think. 

Second, the act of writing with pen or pencil is different from what many of us do on a daily basis.  This approach to capturing thoughts can help signal thinking differently, too. 

And third, it’s concrete.  Whatever we write doesn’t disappear when we hit the off button or slip the phone back into a pocket.  Writing is a physical act that results in a tangible artifact.  If we are drawing lessons from the past or setting our sights on the future, doing them in pen will make them all the more real.  Lessons-learned should not disappear when the battery dies.

Reflecting – Get Started

Now that we’re in our “thinking chair,” here are some ideas for how to get started.


Compare.  One simple way is to list the goals we set for ourselves this time last year, and then write about how it worked out.  For places we fell short, write objectively about the causes and what we might do differently if given a second chance.  For things that went well, write down the keys to success.


Make lists.  Less formal than bringing out last year’s dream sheet can be to just draw a line down the middle of the paper.  On the left side, list the successes – what went well, what are we proud of, what good-news-story about the year would we share with a friend we hadn’t seen in a while?  What did we do that made it turn out that way?


Use the right side of the page to list the “challenges” we faced.  Some of them may have been out of our control.  Perhaps there was a world-wide pandemic that complicated work, travel, or family plans.  Other challenges may have been our own fault – we didn’t practice the violin every day like we planned, or spend two hours a week with Mandarin flash cards, or do the dishes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Write about what to do differently in the coming year to improve.  Focus on the things we can control, despite the things that remain out of our control.


Write the story.  For a third idea, Lauren Geall of Stylist suggests simply imagining the past year as a story, and writing about it that way.  As with all good tales, the main character has motivations and aspirations, and there are challenges along the way that threaten the outcome.  As the protagonist, we can write about how we coped with what went wrong, found ways to get beyond adversity, and learned from the experience to become stronger.  Write the positives into the plan for the next chapter.


Get a narrator.  As a variant of the story idea, and to help with gaining an outside perspective, think about how the year’s story would sound if narrated by someone else.  We can imagine Morgan Freeman talking about how we made it out the door to run three days a week and how that helped us complete a half-marathon.  Or hear the deep voice of that person who narrates all the movie trailers as he describes a challenge we faced:


In a world where a global pandemic brought fear and division, Jacob Smith found a way to keep it all together…



 

to be continued~