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Looking Back Before Looking Ahead

First of all, let me officially say, “Happy New Year!” I truly hope this is a great year for you and yours.

One of the most valuable things I do each year is to take time on the first day or two of January reflecting back on the previous year.  It’s something I’ve been doing now for about four or five years and although it is a bit time consuming, slowing down and being intentional about this has been one of the most beneficial things I do all year.  Here’s what it looks like for me.

SPACE & TIME – I set aside about 5-6 hours (preferably uninterrupted) in a quiet space.  This year, I ended up having to break the time up over three days, which was not ideal.

RECORDS – I put in front of me: my journals from the year, my blog, and my personal calendar.

DOCUMENTING – The next thing I do is open up a fresh journal and record key moments and events that I felt had any sort of meaningful impact on me over that year.  I begin with January and browse through my records – creating bullet points and a brief description of key “earmarks”.  Sometimes they will be quotes from my journal, a mention of a trip taken, a key conversation that impacted my thinking, things I prayed about, felt God speaking to me about, etc…

THEMES/BIG IDEAS – After documenting the entire year, I begin to go back through to start looking for and identifying themes, key ideas, patterns, changes in thinking, answers to prayer, areas that have improved, and in some cases areas that haven’t

POSITIVES/NEGATIVES – This year I started doing something I’ve never done before.  As I went through and looked at the major themes and ideas, I put a “+” or “-” symbol next to each one, indicating which of those seemed to have had an overall negative or positive impact on my soul at the time.  (Ultimately, there is no real way to judge this since over time we often end up seeing negatives as positives and vice versa…  But it does help me see and understand why there may have been seasons I felt depleted, depressed, or discouraged….or others where I felt energized and strengthened.  Identifying patterns or rhythms is important!)

GRATITUDE – Through this process, there almost always comes a point where my heart swells with an immense amount of gratitude and thanksgiving for what God has done in my life and in the lives of those I love and lead.  So I take time in the midst of this reflection to offer thanksgiving and gratitude to God.

QUESTIONS – At the very end, I’ll take some time to journal and write my response to a handful of questions that I’ve borrowed from Michael Hyatt:

If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be?

What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring?

What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of?

What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?

What was missing from last year as you look back?

What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year?

LOOKING AHEAD – By the time I’m done with all of the above, I’m usually pretty overwhelmed and just need time to digest and process it all.  So my first week or two of January is spent praying,  thinking, and setting goals for the year ahead.  Then comes the personal adjustments and changes that are needed to help me move towards those goals.

That’s pretty much it!  Tweaking and improving on this process seems to be on-going, so this is certainly not a formula.  It’s just what seems to work for me at this juncture.

What about you?  Do you take time to reflect back on each year?  If so, I’d love to hear what your process currently looks like.  Please share!