Maybe this year was shiny, bright, and amazing. Maybe it was 12 months you’d rather forget. But as the New Year hovers just around the corner, regardless of how this one went, reflecting can be helpful—and not in a ‘learn from your mistakes’ way.
"Looking back on the year is not about beating yourself up and seeing what you need to do better," says Lodro Rinzler, meditation expert and teacher at MNDFL in New York City. "It’s about rejoicing." Even if you have plenty to rejoice about—a job, good friends, daily meals—it can be tough to know where to start. Or it can feel all too easy to dwell on disappointments.
“We tend to spend a lot of time and attention watering the weeds,” says Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation. “And then we’re growing the weeds. So this is a moment to water the flowers and pay attention to those.”
In other words, as you think about the past year, if negative thoughts start to creep in, it’s OK to sit with them for a moment, but then bring your attention back to the positive. “Remember to be gentle with yourself,” says Ellie Burrows, a personal development coach and one of the founders of MNDFL. For these exercises, it's important to let your thoughts flow freely rather than scrutinizing them, Burrows says.
With that in mind, we’ve outlined two approaches for reflecting on your year: One involves a month-by-month breakdown, and the other looks at the different areas of your life. Pick the one that feels most approachable. After that, we’ve included a few easy (and fun!) steps to help focus your year ahead.
The Month-by-Month Review
1. Find a quiet place, and block off about 30 minutes.
Do whatever you need to relax (maybe make yourself a cup of tea or take a few deep breaths), free yourself of distractions, and get out a pen and some paper.
2. Deep dive into next year month by month.
Write down one thing you can rejoice in from each month, Rinzler says. And don’t be afraid to have your calendar or iPhone nearby to refresh your memory. “It can be any number of things,” Rinzler says. “Nothing is too small, and nothing is too big.”
Think: a summer weekend outdoors, that time your boss complimented your work, your birthday, trying a new workout class that you loved, or your friend’s wedding.
3. Name one quality you appreciate about yourself.
In an effort to be thankful for the year you just had, Rinzler suggests taking a few moments to sit quietly with your own breath and think about one quality you enjoy or one quality you’re working on.
"It could be something I'm currently enjoying in my work, or it could be one aspect of my body," Rinzler says. And that doesn't mean you need to be in peak physical condition either. You could delight in your hearing and all the great music you get to listen to, or the use of your legs and the long walks you've taken.
4. Practice a mini-review each morning.
This last step might not be for everyone (what is this, homework?!), but it can be very helpful to take a few moments each morning in the new year to think about everything on your plate. “What are you tackling? What qualities do you need to cultivate to accomplish the day?” Rinzler says.
Then again in the evening, reflect on your day. Did you accomplish what you wanted? If so, be happy about it, Rinzler says. And if not, remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day. By making reflection a (quick) daily practice, you'll also make your next end-of-year review much more manageable, Burrows says. "Think of it as crawling before walking—easy and approachable," she says.
The Life Area Review
1. Go somewhere quiet and block off about 20 minutes.
Like in the first approach, make this one feel a little sacred, Fletcher says. And yes, that means closing your laptop. (If you’re following along with this story, close all other windows, and disable any pop-up notifications).
2. Let your imagination wander.
For the first few minutes, simply let your mind wander back on the year. Fletcher asks: What were the happy moments? The sad moments? What was the best part of your vacation? Did you start a new job? When did you cry the loudest? Laugh the hardest?
3. Ask yourself: What type of movie would last year be?
Would the film be a documentary—because you learned a lot? Was it a hapless rom-com of failed Tinder dates and hilarious friends-only nights? Was it an action film filled with exciting adventures? A drama because, well, the year made you sad?
4. Write down one accomplishment from each area of your life.
On a piece of paper, write down something you’re proud of from your personal life (this includes family), professional life, romantic life, physical life (for instance, sleeping more or drinking more water—not necessarily something related to fitness), spiritual life, and financial life.
Go One Step Further
1. Plan for next year.
Close your eyes again, and this time play what you want life to look like next. “You’re not limited by time or finances or anything really,” Fletcher says. “The point of this exercise is to get clear on what you want.”
After a few moments, begin to zero in on some of the bigger aspects of the year: your birthday or a vacation you're planning. Like before, pick a new film genre for the upcoming year. “Once you feel like your imagination has kicked in, you can stop,” Fletcher says, “But the most important thing is that the things you’re thinking of bring a smile to your face.”
2. Write down one goal for each area of your life.
Similar to your review of last year, now it’s time to write down one goal for each area in the coming year. Pick something for your personal, professional, romantic, physical, spiritual, and financial lives. They can be simple. Maybe it’s building a profile for yourself on Match.com. Or reading a book. If a big idea doesn’t jump out, pick something small and concrete.
3. Pick one word to help guide you next year.
Don’t get bogged down trying to come up with the perfect word, Fletcher says. Think of one quality you’re looking to cultivate. Some ideas include: discipline, compassion, patience, drive, joy, and bravery.
After you’ve taken time to get clear on your past year and where you’re headed, Fletcher says it’s equally important that you put your notes away. Hide them in the bottom of a drawer, put them under your bed—don’t have them in a place where you see them every day.
“Get clear on your intentions, and then take inspired action,” Fletcher says. “But don’t stay too rigidly attached to how you think it should be.” Translation: If you get to June and things aren’t shaping up exactly how you envisioned, don't beat yourself up—it’s simply time to reevaluate and pivot your goals.