It’s the 21st of December and, in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice. Eight miles from where I’m writing this, Stonehenge stands as a symbolic monument to this day and the transition from darkness to light which it represents. After today nights get shorter and days get longer, the world is reborn. In the southern hemisphere the shift is reversed as nature begins the slow primordial preparation for what will eventually become a winter’s sleep. In natural chronology, today is a turning point; in the human calendar it is the end of another year. In both cases, it is an opportunity for reflection.
Leading our lives at such frenetic pace makes pause and reflection ever more necessary and powerful, but applied to the course of a year such reflection can yield patterns, themes and lessons that set the tone for a more successful, prosperous and fulfilling year to come. This practice has two parts and invites reflection on four different dimensions of your experience over the past year:
1- Your personal interior
The stuff that nobody else can see: your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas – everything that defines your beliefs, sense of meaning and values
2- Your personal exterior
The measurable stuff that is clear for the world to see: your physical body (and its health), your behaviour, the things you get done
3- Your group interior
The stuff that can’t be seen in your association with other people: the ‘we’ domain, your relationships, the cultures you participate in, your sense of shared experience and reality
4- Your group exterior
All the measurable stuff in the ‘we’ domain: systems, frameworks, plans and strategy, group actions and behavior
Put aside 30-60 minutes to go through these questions. Schedule the time and make sure you won’t be disturbed. Have a notebook or word processing software at hand to record your answers.
As you reflect on the questions, think back over the last 12 months in a way that makes sense to you. Perhaps you think month by month, season by season, or perhaps you prefer to view the year as a whole and get a sense of it in its entirety.
Before you begin, take a deep breath and exhale slowly, giving yourself permission to engage with the practice fully.
Practice Part 1
With as much honesty as possible answer the questions below, knowing that – unless you choose to share – you are the only person who will read this.
Looking back over the past year…
- How do you feel about the last 12 months of your life? Does thinking about them evoke feelings of joy, sadness, fear, calm, gratitude, anger etc?
- What judgements do you have about the way you have been this year? Are you proud of yourself? Are you disappointed? Are you satisfied?
- What motivated you this year? Was it a sense of purpose / personal vision, or were you mostly responding to the needs of your circumstances?
- What achievements or accomplishments this year are you especially proud of? What do you feel you could have done better?
- Which of your choices had positive results and which choices had undesirable results?
- How well did you manage your physical health, energy and stress?
- How did relationships impact the quality of your year? Where were you challenged / supported / connected / disconnected / confident / confused?
- What was your sense of success and belonging in the groups or communities of which you are a member (family, work team, community organization, sports team, religious group etc)? How connected did you feel to the values of those groups?
- To what extent did you feel ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ this year?
- Did you have plans for this past year? If yes, how did they play out?
- How did major systemic shifts outside your personal control (economic, social, environmental etc) impact the course of your year? How did you respond to those shifts?
- How did this past year fit into or reflect the last 10 years?
Practice Part 2
If possible, leave your answers from Part 1 for a few hours or even a few days before reading them again with fresh eyes and a new mind. Then, reading through those answers, consider these five questions:
- What patterns or themes, if any, do you notice?
- How do you feel about what you see? What internal conversations arise? Was anything particularly surprising / exciting / disturbing?
- What were the major lessons you learned this year?
- If you had to pick one area to attend to, to have more success and presence in your life, which would you select and why?
- Which aspects of these last 12 months would you like to take with you into the year ahead, and which would you like to leave behind?
Once you’ve completed Parts 1 and 2, close your journal but keep your answers aside so that you can come back to them at a later date. These answers provide powerful material to help you set the course of your next year, and will blow your mind when if you look at them again this time next year.
Have fun and good luck!