woman reflecting
Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

I started doing yearly reflections in 2016 and have been doing them ever since. As I am preparing to write my reflections for 2020 (what a year!), I thought a blog post describing the process and the true and tried benefits would be in order.

Doing yearly reflections is a part of my Life Guidebook, where I store everything to do with…well…guiding my life. That includes my values, my Mission Statement (yes, I do have one for my life), goals, desires, my vision board, quotes I love, my success timeline. I hope to write about all of those soon as I always revisit everything before I create my vision for the year ahead.

Of course there are many blog posts (and books!) out there on the same topic. In fact, I got the idea from another beloved blog and tailored it to my own needs. (I am a fervent advocate to an individualized approach to everything from dieting to organizing, because…really, nobody knows you better than you!)

Writing end of the year reflections allows me to put my year in perspective and to objectively assess what went well and what could have gone better.


How to do Yearly Reflections

The most important rule: Write it down!

It is important to write down your reflections for several reasons:

  1. Writing down your thoughts will bring about clarity to your thoughts and formulate them into clear, actionable or reflective sentences.
  2. It will help you brainstorm (you can always edit or rewrite later)
  3. Having it written down will help you create a timeline of your life and accentuate your focus and successes for the overall sense of achievement.

I used to keep mine in an excel file, but moved it all to Notion now from where I can easily export everything to PDF and save to my Evernote and/or Dropbox. I do both. And I also back them up on an external hard drive (I know, I know, I am just anal that way)

Block off at least one uninterrupted hour to sit down with a cuppa and write.

Screenshot of my Yearly Reflections Page in Notion

I like to do them in one go, start to finish.

I used to go to a coffee shop on my own to do these and just free flow write it down.

Then I go through them and edit later before I lock them down to posterity.

Step 1: First I read my past Reflections. This helps me get in the mood to remember the good things that have happened in the past year (as I will need to come up with at least 10 highlights)

Step 2: Reflect on the past year using the guiding questions provided below (or add your own questions)

Step 3: Freeform dive into the year ahead. Brainstorm.

Don’t censor yourself.

You will go back and edit it later. Or not.


A Personal Note on 2020

2020 was not an easy year for anyone for obvious reasons. And yet, when you sit down, pen to paper, and you start writing down your highlights, there will probably be more than you imagined.

For me, this year started in Vienna, on a little family trip that was supposed to be one of many road trips. Our daughter is older now, she can handle long road trips so much better and we wanted to see so much.

It was to be our last (tourist) trip of the year.

Then there was the lockdown, the unknown, but it was also the year when I finally started this blog, something I have considered doing for years, but never actioned it.

A year where we packed up and moved to New Zealand even though it seemed like the wrong time to uproot and get going. (side note if anyone is interested: this move was on the map anyway, my husband is from New Zealand, but we didn’t plan to move during a global pandemic)

But also a year of constant worry about the health of my family, especially my mum and other elderly family members. A year of uncertainties.

A year of living a little bit less vicariously. (which is a big thing for me, because I do tend to live vicariously through books, movies, and TV shows, something that I have embraced about myself, but also have to constantly keep in check)

It was a year of adjusting to tremendous change for all of us.

But also the realization that we are all, collectively, in it together. That to me is a highlight I take away from this year.


Yearly Reflections Guiding Questions

a woman writing yearly reflections

The questions below are the ones I use. I tend to add questions if I see one somewhere that I like or if one pops in my head. I encourage you to add your own questions, too.

For example, if you want to focus more on your relationship or your parenting or your career, then you may want to add more questions to reflect in that area.

Remember to write down your answers. (and store them for future reflections and use)

1. What were the highlights of 2020?

Go at it! Everything counts. What made you happy? When did you feel at your best?

Write down at least 10 highlights.

EXAMPLES:

One year one of my highlights literally read:

“I am finally putting in practice all the “good things” I learned. Getting rid of all the unnecessary things/to dos/projects in my life.”

And then I went on to provide some examples of that.

In 2016, when my daughter was born, I had 22 highlights, in 2019, one of my harder years in terms of coming to terms with change, I managed to muster 10 and one 2 of them were:

“Kids are doing great”

“My whole family alive and healthy

Which is something to be thankful for, but goes more into the gratefulness section than the highlights section, but I really couldn’t think of more specific highlights for that year.

But when reflecting on a year like that the rest of the questions really help.

2. What did you learn in 2020?

Write about any wisdom, lessons learned and if possible tie them to specific events or experiences.

EXAMPLES:

I had a real spark of wisdom back in 2017 when I wrote this down:

Realization that everyone really has their own reality and that everything we believe is good and right is actually just learned behavior.

And then I go on to explain more about it. The more you write about it the better (but even capturing it in one sentence will be good enough)

It can also be less profound, but still just as useful as in this example from my 2018 Reflections:

I learned to stop obsessing so much about kids and what they do and eat. I try my best and hope for the best, but I can’t control every aspect of their lives.

3. How are you different today than you were at the beginning of the year?

4. How did you grow as a person?

This will be very personal but I encourage you to take some time with this. It is so important to be honest and to really reflect on your answers.

It is important that even when you think you didn’t grow at all, you did, we always do… grow! A year is never wasted even if it feels like it.

That is why it is important to brainstorm uninterrupted and to write it all down.

5. How is your life different now than it was at the beginning of the year?

Zoom in on both physical and psychological aspects of this.

I usually just focus on the five questions above, because they encompass everything I want to reflect on. It also doesn’t take long to finish writing them. In other words, it is easy!


A Side Note on Writing Your Yearly Reflections

Some people like to list their failures, disappointments and regrets.

I do not like to reflect on those in this exercise as I don’t think they serve a purpose other than to make you feel bad!

And feeling good is how I want to finish my year no matter the kind of year it was.

All too often our regrets and failures are hovering over us, uninvited, anyway.

Besides, in a more gentle manner, we reflect on them in the lessons learned question above.

4 Great Questions

And to top it off, I love to reflect on these questions that I got from Brian Tracy’s, Million Dollar Habits (and highlighted and kept thanks to my Kindle Highlights)

  • What kind of world would this world be if everyone in it were just like me?
    (the failure to ask this question and inability to answer “this world would be a better place” is the cause of most of our problems in the world today)
  • What kind of country would my country be if everyone in it were just like me?
  • What kind of company would my company be if everyone in it were just like me?
  • What kind of family would my family be if everyone in it were just like me?
    (if everyone in your family treated everyone else exactly the way you treat the other people in your family, would it be a happier, healthier and more loving place in which to live and grow?)

Once I have finished with the Yearly Reflections I am ready to work on Setting my Theme and Vision for The Year Ahead.

Do you also have a formalized way to do your yearly reflections?

Yearly Reflections Pin

20 Comments

  1. This is an interesting idea. Most will put together resolutions and goals but I like the idea of reflections back on the year. 2020 was certainly a disaster of a year for many people but I think there are still good things to take away from the year after all is said and done. I love this and will be adding it to my to-do list for this week!

    1. Author

      Wonderful! I am still working on mine, I have to say. So much to reflect on for 2020 🙂

  2. I love this idea. I started a journal prompt that I have been using, but this idea is wonderful as well. This year was tough on so many, but I also like to think of all the positives.–This year I had my health, my family, and I learned so many new things. I was able to spend more time with the people I love, and that is definitely something to be added to my yearly reflection.

  3. I love the idea of writing down your reflections of the year that has just passed. I haven’t done this before but I think it’s a great way to reflect and learn from the crazy year we’ve just experienced.

  4. I try to reflect on a year that passed. what I achieved, what I enjoyed, what was challenging and what I anted to leave in 2020 and carry into 2021. it proves very calming for me

  5. Thank you Stela.
    My thoughts go along these line: Sharing is caring! So much care for oneself and others in your lines. It is heartwarming, kindful and so humanely classy.

    Bless your heart!

  6. Still got me thinking… how connecting what was to what is and reflecting on it with kindfulness and intention of accepting is far from force re experiencing.
    The brain relives everything that it has processed and remains relatively permanent, i.e. our past experiences, and associated feelings remain intact. Criticism from a boss for example may trigger a storm of feelings from our early childhood.
    It has always fascinated me how people learn to grow out of this state and change; Pavlov described classical conditioning, elicited behaviour, while with operant conditioning behaviour is emitted, people unconsciously create life stimuli to reinforce the belief. (They think that they make free will choice. )
    Learning to make better choices about own life IS possible. In order to formulate goals and ways to live own life, one first needs show capacity and intent to reflect on their past, just like you have done here Stela, and got me rethinking some of my ways.
    Reading recommendation: Rethinking Everything, Personal Growth through Transactional Analysis by Neil Bright

    1. Author

      Learning to make better choices, I love that. Reflect and learn. But in a gentle manner through an understanding of our own triggers. I remember how I used to be so angry with myself when I failed to change, pushing myself, reprimanding myself. I now try to take a gentle approach and incorporate making better choices as an act of self-care. Thank you for the book recommendation. I will definitely check it out.

  7. I love these prompts! It’s always so hard mid blog post to come up with things to say when you’re doing a yearly recap!

    These will definitely help that writers block!

    1. Author

      Yes, I love having prompts for uninspired days! they definitely help inspire me!

  8. I’ve never gotten around to doing reflections but reading yours, especially the examples have really inspired me! It would be such a great exercise to put down all the positives and come back and read them later – sure to be a mood-lifter!
    Bookmarking your post so I can use it for reference.

    1. Author

      That’s wonderful to hear. Hope they work for you and you find some value in doing them!

  9. I love this, especially this year. As you said, most people look at 2020 and all they see is all the negativity and anxiety that this crazy year brought us. However, if we take a moment, step back and look at it in a different light, there are also many great things that happened this year (even if they seem small or unimportant).

    1. Author

      As they say, even the small drops of water will fill up a large vessel eventually (I just read that in a book, loved it!), and focus on all the good things is such a… good thing 🙂

  10. Now this is a really neat idea! I hadn’t even thought of it, but I love it. I’ll be adding something like this into my journaling each day that I can reflect back on the highlights as the year goes by. 2020 was scary because there were a lot of unknowns. Yet there were so many positive and amazing things that happened too, especially when I least expected them.

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