It’s easy to coast through life. Before you know it, a week, a month, a quarter, a year, or ten years has passed and you’re left wondering, Where has the time gone?
One of the best ways to use life well is to practice reflecting.
This simple act of reflecting today is going to help you gain clarity about where you are going tomorrow.
The Power of Reflection
The end of the year is the perfect time for reflection, but let’s start from square one. Reflection is simply this,
Serious thought and consideration.
It requires time and space as well as thought and intentionality. I recommend setting aside one day retreat to do this. As a matter of fact, I’m on one right now!
Let’s start with some preparation. If you are going to have an effective retreat, some preparation is required. Here are a few simple steps to set yourself up for success:
- Book a place to do it. I’ve written about this before , but it’s impossible to do a retreat from home. As my friend Mark Batterson says, “Change of pace + Change of place = Change of perspective.”
- Jot down thoughts and ideas. In the days leading up to the retreat, take some intentional time to jot down some notes about things you want to process on your retreat. You can use a note on your phone or if you carry a notebook or journal with you, use that.
- Put it on the calendar. Don’t wait! Pick a day, plan it, and make the preparations.
Let’s dive in. Here’s what to do on your day of reflection.
#1 – Measure Backward
It’s important to review and evaluate the previous year before diving into the next one. It was Maya Angelou who said,
“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.”
A word of caution: don’t try to measure your progress against your ideal; measure backward against where you started. Then use that backward measurement to guide your actions going forward.
According to Hardy and Sullivan, your ideals (one’s concept of what is most perfect or suitable) are general and immeasurable. They are constantly changing and moving as you change and move, therefore they cannot be your benchmark for achievement. Rather, they are to be the source from which you create specific, exciting, measurable, time-bound goals. When you measure against your ideals, you are living in the “Gap.” Your ideal is a moving target and therefore it’s impossible to make progress. But when you measure from a specified starting point, it’s possible to live in the gain and appreciate your accomplishments.
Ideally, says James Clear, you want to measure backward from the recent past. The shorter the better, because it’s hard to determine your next step when the data is too old.
In this case, we are looking at the past year, but you can also do this quarterly.
This strategy is helpful for many reasons, but here is a big one. It’s hard to be happy when you’re not making progress. The research is clear, says Hardy, “We are happiest when we are improving.”
Here are some questions and exercises to go through. You can look back through your journals, planners, notebooks, or other tools you’ve used throughout the year.
- List your biggest wins from the previous year and celebrate your progress.
- What goals did you have this year? How did you do?
- List your biggest losses from the previous year and grieve them. People grieve differently, but make sure you take time to feel the loss and the pain, lament it, and then let it go. Don’t take it with you into the New Year unless it’s a big loss that you’re not done grieving (the death of a loved one or some other big loss).
#2 – Dream Big, Take Small Steps
Once you’ve taken some time to look back, now it’s time to look ahead.
What are your dreams and goals for the upcoming year? If you don’t have a goal-setting system, you can start with my ONE THING Worksheet . After years of failing at my New Year’s resolutions, this system allowed me to gain traction and start achieving my goals.
Something I’ve learned the hard way is this,
Dream big, but take small steps.
The best plans focus on taking small steps you control in service of something bigger than yourself. You can’t control the dream but you can determine the steps you take to get there.
When you focus on what you can’t control, you end up living for tomorrow instead of being present in the here and now.
In other words, keep the big picture in mind as you live each and every day with intentionality.
Here are some questions as you look ahead:
- What do I want to take with me from this year into the new year?
- What do I want to leave behind as I enter a new year?
- What are my dreams and goals this year? What do I want to accomplish or where do I want to grow in my faith, family, personal life, job, and finances? (You can also zoom out even more and dream about where you want to be in three years or five years. I recommend being as vivid and specific as possible, Where are you? What are you doing? What does it look like, smell, like, and feel like? Who is there?
- Who are the most important people in your life?
You may have other questions you want to ask. There are lots out there, but this gives you a starting place.
A Sample Schedule
8 – 9 AM: Arrive and prepare your mind and heart. Take a walk, pray, or do whatever will help you get in the right frame of mind.
9 – 11 AM: Look Back and reflect
11 AM – 12 PM: Read, nap, or take a walk.
12 – 1 PM: Eat lunch slowly
1 – 2 PM: Read, nap or take a walk
2 – 4 PM: Look ahead and dream
4-5 PM: Set goals that emerge from the day’s reflection. Be sure to write them down and share them with someone you trust to hold you accountable.
Don’t Miss the Meaning
When you spend time reflecting, you gain the much-needed perspective to move forward with confidence. In his famous poem Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot said,
“We had the experience but missed the meaning.”
He was of course pointing to our propensity to miss the deeper meaning of things.
You lived another precious year of your life. Be sure not to miss the meaning.
In the next 24-48 hours, set aside a day to reflect and make the preparations. I promise you won’t regret it!
PS – Need some help? I’m available for coaching. Book your free call now!