How to Reflect on the Past Year in 5 steps

Learn 5 steps to help you reflect on the last year so you can set goals for the new year ahead.

How to Reflect on the Past Year in 5 steps
Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

The holidays bring anticipation of a new year and what that might bring. The other side of that (and one I think is vital to set yourself up for a successful year going forward) is reflection. The practice of reflection powerful in that it can provide you with a measure of self-awareness and understanding of how you came to your present state. It gives you data to evaluate the decisions you made and the whys and hows of the last year.

As a society, North America tends to be naturally forward-facing. We are future-oriented, always moving on to the next task, event, or responsibility. We don’t often take enough time to think about why we succeeded at something, never mind celebrate. We also struggle to evaluate our mistakes and failures because it is hard. It forces us to take a look at ourselves and face things that we might not like. Both sides are equal parts challenging, frustrating, motivating and rewarding but are vital to goal setting.

Reflection helps us to learn

I have posted several times about daily reflection and how powerful it can be to keep yourself invested in the things that are important to you. The annual reflection is similar but on a larger scale. You are instead focussing on the major happenings of the year, what they meant to you and how they impact your decisions for the future. This type of reflection is important because it helps you learn about yourself and what you are (or are not) capable of. It gives you the tools to analyze things that happened, how you reacted, and what, if anything, you might change in the future.

Hard things happen, and we do our best to manage them. Wonderful things happen, and we do our best to enjoy them. Life is not binary but a large, complex spectrum. The greatest gift we can give ourselves each year is the space to look back and appreciate our experiences, good or bad, and learn from them.

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The following is a process that provides an analytical way to approach an annual self-reflection and gives you the information you need to be intentional in setting goals for the year ahead.

Look back through the calendar for the year

Like many people, my entire life is planned in my calendar. It is the best place to find most of the things you did, the people you met, and the places you went. You can note things like:

  1. Past events you attended and if there were any notable outcomes.
  2. People you met and what the relationships are now.
  3. Personal commitments and connections.
  4. Self-care time.

Look back through social media accounts

Social media is its own history. It is fascinating to look back on the things that you chose to post or like or follow and think about why.

  1. What was happening during those times for you to make those choices?
  2. What does the collection of activities say about you and is it what you want?
  3. Is there anything you should change about my posting habits?

Page through your email

Scan through your email, and see if anything catches your eye.

  1. What projects did you work on?
  2. Have you kept up with your customer relationships?
  3. Who have you been in touch with within your personal life?

Make some lists

As you are looking through your calendar, social media, and email write down:

  1. Major life events that happened over the year;
  2. Notable challenges or mistakes;
  3. Notable successes.


Then evaluate why each of these was relevant to you and what, if anything, you learned from them.

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The learning through this reflection process helps you appreciate the wide spectrum of experiences you have had, both positive and negative. Without looking back and reflecting on what has been, it is easy to make the same mistakes. Reflection is an important part of self-awareness, which is at the heart of self-improvement. Take some time to reflect on the last year so you can set goals for the new year ahead.