Reflecting Back and Looking Forward


The week between Christmas and New Year’s causes me to pause and reflect each year. The last few years I’ve spent time reflecting on the last year and then looking forward to the new year.

Looking back is important, but it can be a bit of a pitfall. While I would like to paint myself as a happy, glass-half-full kind of person, the truth is that I’m a bit of an Eeyore. My natural tendency is to see things as woulda-coulda-shoulda with a strong tinge of regret. I’ve worked -and keep working- to see things in a positive light. After all, there is multiple ways to see a situation. It doesn’t do much good to focus on the negative and regrets. Doing that zaps my energy and leads me on the search for something to eat.

SO, I say that with a word of warning to my fellow Eeyore’s. It’s important to reflect but keep it in perspective.

Looking Back

I take my journals and calendar and look through them, skimming through journal entries and noting where I spent my time on my calendar.

  • What themes, good or bad, come up?
  • What were the unexpected gifts, the answered prayers, the good things that happened? Write those down in a current journal entry. Often, this is a bulleted list I’m keeping as I leaf through pages in my calendar and past journals.

It’s amazing what we forget about over the course of a year. For example, I had developed a painful knee condition this past spring. It prevented me from running (one of my favorite de-stressing activities) and even walking hurt. It did heal, and I was able to walk and run without pain! What an answer to prayer! It was such a relief. But I had already forgotten that had happened.

Reflecting back on that filled me with a sense of gratitude for the healing and renewed appreciation for my knees!

Look for themes in the hard times.

  • What didn’t go so well? This is the time to be honest, but not harsh. Did the same thing go wrong multiple times? Was I contributing to a pattern that I can STOP and prevent future frustration and/or pain.

Unless we do the same exact thing year after year after year, we’ll have flops. I had some creative business ideas that I implemented and they just flat out flopped. Who knows why? I could point to a few reasons, but other things remain a mystery. Yes, it’s frustrating when we invest time, money, resources into something and it doesn’t work out. But, as someone much wiser told me, “Problems are part of life. You’re either going into a problem, in the middle of a problem, or coming out of a problem.” As I get older, I realize my big job in life is being a problem solver.

Once I review the journal entry or marks in my calendar, I note anything of value to help me avoid the same problems in the coming year and then, with a prayer for grace, let them go.

Next, I look for the expected and unexpected joyful times.

  • What were the special people times? Were there good surprises during the year?

I was laid off during the summer of 2018 when my company was bought. That was really a bummer! However, during the few weeks I did not have a job, I caught up with many people. I took a trip with my sister to Bodega Bay. I saw my Grandma for lunch. I traveled to see other friends that normally, during the busyness of working in the corporate world, I wouldn’t get to do. That was a very rejuvenating time for me, an unexpected gift in the middle of a challenging season.

Sometimes, I’ll write out a prayer of thanks or a journal entry expressing what I’m thankful for this past year. It’s a wonderful way to let go of the past year and all that it contained.

Looking back on the year is a mixed bag. For each one of us, there have been hard times and good times. Some years are more brutal.

If you look back and let yourself go through the exercise of reflection, give yourself a pat for courage. We live in a society that more and more doesn’t like to be still and reflect for a bit.

Looking Forward

Looking forward it is (almost) all rosy.

Again, if we’re honest though, this is a sobering exercise as well. Many of us have made plans for the future only to see them vanish as the year progressed. This too is part of life. I don’t have an answer if looking towards the future fills the heart with angst, but my sister said something I think may resonate.

My sister, who is the tender age of 14 shared something over the Christmas holiday that I loved. She wanted to know if I was setting New Year’s Resolutions or goals. I talked about goal setting and some ideas I had. She said she was going to set 3-month goals that would stretch her, but weren’t “too-too hard” and then re-evaluate to see how she was doing.

That’s a pretty good grasp on what I want to do. I extend it over the course of year with quarterly check ins.

  • Where do I want to go?
  • What needs to be true of me to make those goals happen?
  • What’s working now that should keep going?
  • What are my key people I want to spend time with and invest in?

I got the last question from Michael Hyatt’s book, “Your Best Year.” He made the point that when we say ‘yes’ to people and commitments we are, by default, saying ‘no’ to others.

So, who are the people I want to say ‘yes’ to, the top tier people in my life, right now. Next, who would the middle tier people be?

For most of us, work and life are full. We have limited time to dig deep into relationships. If I want depth of relationships, I need to invest in maybe 5-7 and then say ‘no’ to many, many others.

Once I identified the people I want to invest it, it frees me up to say no and not feel guilty.

  • What needs to be let go of in the coming year?
  • What am I anticipating?

When I look back and re-read journal entries and notice when I was down and felt really, really stuck, I didn’t have a future focus on something I was anticipating and was a good thing.

This can be as simple as being part of a writer’s group that meets monthly, anticipating a weekend getaway with a friend or spouse, going to a conference, starting a community project in your neighborhood or going on a date night once a month with your significant other.

It doesn’t have to be big or grand, but we are wired to anticipate, to look forward with hope towards things. It’s part of what keeps us fresh and enjoying life and helping others enjoy life too.

If we don’t have natural times of anticipation going for us, add them in!

For me this year, I have a few things in my calendar….

  • Retreats are life-giving to me. I have one scheduled and working towards another one in the fall.
  • One of the most meaningful times of my life was the year I spent in a monthly writer’s group. I’m planning on starting a group of some sort in 2019.
  • Planning some specific, relationship building stuff with other women I want to be better friends with. My goal is to do something once a month with them.
  • Creating Joyful Journals has been a blast this past year! I want to keep it up and am scheduling the time to create these journals quarterly.

So that’s what looking back and looking forward looks like for me.

Feel free to use my method or do your own twist on it. I hope you spend time reflecting, savouring the richness that the past year has been AND doing a bit of dreaming and planning for what the new year might hold.

At the beginning of each year, I like to spend some time painting in the quiet, maybe with some music on. This year I’ve created a short watercolor workshop featuring a watercolor and pen painting of the Eiffel Tower. It’s my New Year’s Gift to you. Sign up here to receive it. You’ll also be subscribed to the email newsletter list. You can unsubscribe anytime.

Happy Reflecting and Looking Forward!

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