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How To Reflect On The Past Year and Get Ready For The New Year

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How To Reflect on The Past Year | A Year In Review Guide

With the approach of the end of the year (2020, we can’t wait to say Goodbye to you), it’s very common to find ourselves thinking and reflecting on the past year.

But do we do it right?

How to reflect on the past year in a way that helps us do better in the new year? Because that’s the point of the end of year review – to enhance our performance in the new year.

Research published in 2014 by Harvard University shows that employees performed 23% better after only 10 days of practicing reflection at the end of their working day.

If we can improve our work performance by 23% after 10 days of reflection, can you imagine what that could do in a year?

What Does Reflection Of The Past Year Mean?

Reflection of the past year is to look at the highs and lows, the wins and the losses, and to evaluate them in a way that will improve one’s overall performance in the next year.

Reflection is like giving feedback to oneself regarding how one performed throughout the past 12 months. In essence, the reflection will give conclusions and teach lessons one can use to benefit his future.

Now that you know the What of reflection, let’s talk about the Why.

How about having a 2-minute journal for all of the areas in your house that might require only two minutes of your attention but will make an overall contribution to a happier life?Click to Tweet

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Why Should You Reflect On Your Past Year?


I mean, seriously, it’s gone. You can’t bring it back (thankfully, we can only have 2020 once), and you cannot use a white marker to correct your mistakes.

But you can learn your lessons.

You could also notice your patterns of behaviour.

Reflection gives you an overview of the main events, action steps, and reactions you encountered throughout the year so that you could use them to your advantage.

You want to reflect on the past year because it will drastically improve your performance in the new year (exactly like in the research I mentioned above).

Moreover, reflection teaches you how to deal with similar situations better. Taking the time to understand Why you did something will help you decide If you need to do it again or modify it to serve you better.

The simplest example of Why reflection of the year is necessary is by looking at your phone’s Settings.

You probably have an application that tells you how long you stay on each social media. I have it. Every Monday morning, I get the notification on my phone that says I’ve spent on average “number” hours and minutes online.

Reflection is like giving feedback to oneself regarding how one performed throughout the past 12 months.Click to Tweet

I use this statistic, so I don’t overdo Social Media interaction (outside my work). Looking back at the time I spent interacting with often-useless videos of jumping cats gets me motivated to go out of the Social Media applications and get to work or relax differently (yes, that’s possible, I didn’t believe it either).

Reflecting on the year is very similar to getting a notification on your phone that says, “you did too much of this and not enough of that.”

How to Reflect On The Year in A Productive Way


Okay, after we have the What and the Why of end of year reflection, we must start talking about the big How.

How to look back at the past year and draw the right conclusions that will improve us and our lives in the new year?

How to squeeze out the right conclusions and the lessons so we never have to struggle to learn them again?

Tools You Need To Reflect On The Past Year

Either you got very excited after reading that headline, or nervous. What are the possible tools you might need to reflect on a year?

Honestly, the basics are pen, paper (or a notebook), and quiet, uninterrupted time.

However, there’s one extra tool only you could provide yourself with that will be the key point of your successful reflection: honesty.

Being ethical (yes, ethical) and direct with yourself (in a non-judgemental way) will be your most important trait in the process of self-reflection for the year.

Now that you’re inspired and motivated to get things done, it’s time actually to review your life in the past year.

You don’t want to find excuses, but you don’t want to use the opportunity to lower your confidence and “prove yourself you’re not worth it.”

Below you will see the process I would go through. Of course, you can modify and swap one section with another or completely ignore my thoughts and do as you please. I won’t get cranky on you, I promise (not!)

Areas to Look At When Reflecting On Past Year

Here’s a list of areas to look at when reflecting on your past year. You could go through the process with each one of them or pick only those that actually apply to you.

  • Health
  • Family
  • Love life
  • Career
  • Education
  • Kids
  • Mental health (self-care)
  • Personal growth/ Self-development
  • Spirituality

Finding The Highs and The Lows


The most popular way to reflect on the past year is by simply having the highlights in front of you.

What was the best thing that happened to you in the past year? What about your biggest achievement (that should give a different answer)? Write down your lows too. What didn’t go as planned?

Use the first page of your notebook for a simple event listing everything without getting into the details. You will have that opportunity a little bit later on.

Do you keep your list of goals for the year? How many of them did you achieve? Which ones you didn’t?

Examine the List


After writing every single highlight of the past year, it’s time to examine them.

What was out of your control (many things in 2020 weren’t in our control)?

Write the goals you achieved and opposite each one, specify the key point/action step you took that got you to the success.

Now, list the goals you didn’t achieve, examine why you didn’t work on them (external and internal reasons), and decide if you will transfer them into this year.

If you keep bringing them with you for the last three years, maybe you should reconsider having another year of staring at the list and doing nothing about it. Probably you don’t need that goal, or it should wait for later years.

What were the things you would do better if you had a chance?

Was there another way of going through the year in a more relaxed and/or focused way?

List the lessons you learned, the mistakes you kept making, the good behavioral patterns you followed, and so on.



Here’s a section nobody includes in their yearly reviews that I believe could take your reflection to another level.

If we have to be honest, most of the things you will focus on are the goals you didn’t achieve and the events that brought you negative emotions. Let’s not examine why; it’s human nature (fixable, though) to get hit by the lows instead of proud of the highs.

So I would invite you to open one more page on your journal and write all the things you’re grateful for the past year. Start each sentence with “I am grateful for…” and see where it goes.

Gratitude is the single most powerful tool that will help you appreciate the past year realistically. You might not want to skip on this one.

Free Writing


I also like taking a blank piece of paper and randomly scribbling the first things that come into my mind regarding the past year. Clearing your head from any questions and leaving the pen talk is one of the best ways actually to allow your subconscious to unravel its hidden secrets.

You might be surprised by the emotions you will open your mind and heart to. Keep writing until you feel there’s something to write.

This exercise is a bit hard to start, but once you’re on a roll… there’s no stopping. You will learn a lot more here than in any other part of the yearly review.

Annual Reflection Questions


To help you do your yearly overview most beneficially, I will also list some questions to help you reflect.

Read them all to the end as I have a surprise for you.

1. What were the best things that happened to me in the past year (that wasn’t something I did)?

2. What was the best thing that happened and I caused it?

3. What were the goals I achieved?

4. Why did I achieve them? What was the key point or the action step I took that got me to achieve them successfully?

5. Which ones of the goals I set at the beginning of the past year I didn’t achieve?

6. Why? Was the task to achieve them completely under my control?

7. Do I want to transfer them in the next year?

8. If yes, do they need to be adjusted better to my life?

9. If no, should I keep them around for future reference?

10. What was the main thing I learned about myself in the past year?

11. What other interesting traits I noticed about myself in the past year?

12. Did I discovered a new pattern in my life? How did I react in different situations – both stressful and not?

13. How would I wish I had reacted?

14. If I had to choose the one (personal) thing to change in the past year, which one would that be?

15. How would I change it? What would be different? Why?

16. In personal plan, how did the past year made me feel?

17. What was my word of the year?

18. What were the things I would do again and not regret?

19. What are the ways I worked on my personal growth? How would I rate my personal growth in the past year?

20. What were the ways I worked on my career goals?

21. Could I/should I do better in the new year? How?

22. How would I rate my personal life (family/partner)?

23. Did I make good decisions regarding my relationships (with family, partner, friends)?

24. Would I like to improve any of them? How? When could I start?

25. How would I rate my mental health in the past year? (hm… 2020 was a mental challenge for all of us)

25 More Questions To Better Understand Last Year


26. Did I improve my mental health in the past year? How? What were the best decisions I made regarding my mindset growth?

27. Is there anything I would like to change? (mental health related)

28. What are the things I wouldn’t want to change in the year? (again, related to mental health)

29. What were the bad habits I left behind?

30. What were the good habits I developed?

31. Would I change any current habit I have?

32. Who entered my life in the past year? How? Am I happy about it?

33. Who left my life in the past year? Why?

34. What types of relationships I developed in the past year? Should I change/improve/end them?

35. What were the moments I appreciated the most in the past year? Why?

36. What were the moments I felt appreciated the most? Why?

37. Who stood by me the most in the last 12 months? Did I say Thank you! or expressed any gratitude towards them?

38. Did I let down people in the past year? Why? Was it justified? How?

39. What were the biggest lessons I learned in the past year?

40. Were they lessons I could’ve learned earlier?

41. If you had to describe the whole year with one sentence, what would it be like?

42. What was the most profound realisation of the year for you?

43. Who was the person who had the most positive impact on your life in the past year?

44. What was the decision that changed the course of your year?

45. What would you advise your younger self from the beginning of the year? Would you warn her of something or encourage her in any way?

46. What skills you wish you had in the past year?

47. Which skills you learn and how?

48. Write a simple review of the past year.

49. Write your gratitudes for the year.

50. Brain storm about the past year.

Conclusion on End-Of-Year Reflection Process

So, there you have them. 50 Questions to reflect on the past year and the full process. Also, I have a great infographic below to guide you, so make sure you save it on your Pinterest board.


How To Reflect on The Past Year | A Year In Review Guide

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