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The end of the year marks a threshold and invites a pause for reflection. It's a great time to take stock of the year behind and look ahead. Each December, I write and reflect on 12 questions for this very purpose. This year's questions includes some old favourites (some truly need to be asked each year) and some new ones.
Whether you are in a leadership role, an aspiring leader or you just want to be your best in work and life, the habit of reflection can build self-awareness, efficacy and resilience and, if done right, it can help you establish and achieve more meaningful goals.
As we step into the last weeks of the year, I encourage you to take the time with these questions over several sittings. Let your thoughts percolate and stay with the questions over the next few weeks.
THE YEAR PAST
What went well?
This question is a keeper. Twelve months have gone by – mostly likely too fast. How did it go? Acknowledge all that worked well: the goals you achieved, the events and circumstances you feel good about. Your first take on this will likely not capture enough of the good. Your brain is built to default to remembering more of the negative – blame it on evolution. The positives –albeit nice in the moment – tend to be more fleeting in memory. So be intentional in remembering more of the good. This will fuel you and likely surprise you. Perhaps enough to make your year better than you first thought.
Who needs to be acknowledged?
After acknowledging what went well, think about the people who played a part. Let them know. Consider all the contexts in your life (personal, professional, volunteer, etc.). Expressing gratitude will not only make the receiver feel good, it will make you joyful as well. It's a great gift and 'tis the season, after all.
How did you grow this past year?
If you are having trouble answering this question than you aren't creating enough stretch goals for yourself. Leaders – at any level – must continually learn, evolve and grow. By the end of the year you should be a better version of yourself in some way. Maybe smarter, more informed, more skilled in some areas? Stagnation is not a good thing for personal and professional well-being.
What were the stand-out peak moments for you – and why?
This is different from 'what went well'. This is about identifying the stellar, stand-out moments where life just felt right and good. Then ask why they were so meaningful? Mine those peak moments to strengthen self-awareness of your values and character strengths. Leaders know that when one lives and works in congruence with their values and strengths, a whole lot more good happens.
What's not working?
Whoa! What happened to all that positivity from those earlier questions? This question is as important but make sure you reflect without judgment. Resist the whine-fest and instead just take an honest look to acknowledge what isn't working any more. Perhaps a situation (work or life) that was fine or great for a long while isn't now. Times and conditions change – have you changed too? What are you putting up with? What are you settling for? Where are you playing too small? Where are your values being compromised? This is a tough question, but if you are true with yourself this could reveal insights leading to more meaningful goal-setting for the year ahead.
Wrap up your year by giving it a theme or name.
For instance, 2015 was the year of ___________.
THE YEAR AHEAD
What thresholds will you be crossing?
As you leave 2015 behind, what other thresholds do you need to prepare for? Will there be big changes happening at work (or elsewhere)? Or perhaps an intentional change you want to create? Naming the threshold can sharpen your focus and planning to help you get ready.
Who will you connect with more in the year ahead?
We all need people but sometimes the busyness of our lives gets in the way. Is it time to put more priority in your relationships? Consider your work, social, community and social relationships. Who do you need to reconnect with or perhaps start new relationships with? For inspiration? For career well-being? For other? How about you with you? Time to take more time to tune in, reflect and get to know yourself better?
What kind of leader, peer, friend, partner (and other roles) do you want to be?
You wear many roles in work and life. Think about how you are showing up in each of them. Where do you want to be better? Get specific and create intentions that you will act on. For example, if you want to be a more open, collaborative leader then set goals for how to achieve that. Make time to give more meaningful and frequent feedback, connect authentically and learn to be a better listener.
What do you want?
Now it's time to think about your goals, intentions and possibilities for the year ahead. Perhaps something in this reflection has spurred you to a new goal that's now ready to be declared. Write your goals down and make them specific and concrete.
How will you put this into action?
Of course, naming the goal is only the start. You also have to back that up with a plan, commitments, and action! What will you do?
What's the mantra for 2016?
I like the idea of having a theme, mantra, or even a powerful question to define intentions for the year ahead. I recently heard a great one at the TEDx Toronto conference in October. As emcee, Drew Dudley presented this question and said we should ask it of ourselves daily: "Am I capable of 5 seconds of courage right now?" This is powerful if you have big goals and big changes ahead. I will be trying that on myself. How about you? What's your word/phrase/question for 2016?