How To Reflect On The Year You’ve Had – And Prepare For The Year Ahead

by | Nov 23, 2023 | Wellness

The end of the year brings a time to press pause and look back on your time in the sun. But learning to reflect on the year you’ve had takes a bit more skill than just writing down a few thoughts. We’ve spoken to Hilary Davies, Social Psychologist and Development Coach,  about how to structure your reflections in a productive way that brings about actionable results. “It is important to spend time thinking about the future to be clear about what we want to do and how we want to be. As we strategise for the future, we create an outline of what we are working towards, be it in our personal or professional lives,” says Davies. 

Why you should reflect on the year 

It’s a time to learn 

“Firstly, reflection is a key component of adult learning, giving us the time to explore our lived experiences and understand them in retrospect rather than in the moment,” says Davies. “This often means we have more information and fewer emotions that may be influencing our responses.”

It boosts self-awareness 

“Reflection can also teach us about ourselves and increase our self-awareness, especially linked to emotional and subconscious influences. Reflecting on how we felt in the moment, what was driving that emotion or behaviour, and understanding our triggers gives us a greater ability to manage how we respond in future,” says Davies. 

You’ll fine-tune a new mindset

“Reflection on positive situations can create sensations of gratitude and well-being, which in turn have a positive impact on how we show up in the present,” says Davies. “Similarly, reflection on negative situations can help motivate us to create change in our lives. We often get stuck in repetitive cycles of behaviour and thought patterns that become automatic. Reflection can help us to take a step back from the “as is” and explore how we can be more intentional about what we do.”

READ MORE: 11 Ways To Get More Energy When You’re Feeling Tired

Reflecting 101: Your Guide 

“The overall process for reflection and strategizing can be compared to planning a road trip,” says Davies. In this way, ask yourself probing questions that frame the year and you can start working forward from there. 

Ask yourself questions 

What did you enjoy? Was there anything you did not enjoy? What could you have done differently? Per a Harvard Business School study, three themes that shape what executives in business reflect on are failure, success and frustration. Tap into these themes in your reflections to uncover some truths that could help you shape your future. 

Decide your new direction  

If you compare a year’s reflection like you would a trip, you can strategise your moves, says Davies. For example, ask yourself where you want to go and what you’d like to do. Is it something new? What kind of information do you need to get to this new destination? How long do you plan on being there? Do you need a budget of sorts? 

READ MORE: How To Really Harness Self-Care

Plan your next steps 

Now, you can break down your goals into bite-sized steps that will help direct your path. What would you need before embarking on this trip? 

Change gears if you need to 

“The most important part to remember is that once you are driving, you can decide to change your destination or the route to get there. In the same way, in real life you can continue the process of reflection and adjusting the strategy,” says Davies. “Reflection is a continuous process that helps us to optimise our decisions and behaviours in the moment so that you can get the most from whatever you’re doing.”

Don’t hold yourself back 

When you reflect on the year, be careful not to criticise yourself too much, cautions Davies. “We should not be overly self-critical – reflection is a learning opportunity, not a chance to beat yourself up. To do this, it is important to adopt a growth mindset,” says Davies. “If you find yourself being overly self-critical during reflection, think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation as you. Remember – we all do the best we can with what we have at the moment.”

Look at things holistically 

Whatever happened in the year, remember that things don’t work in isolation. Various factors influence the happenings in our lives and we only have a finite amount of resources. “If you feel like you didn’t achieve what you wanted to in one area, look at the big picture. Did you overachieve in another?” asks Davies. “The key is to remember to find balance. If your reflective strategy focuses entirely on work, be aware of how this may impact your relationships with friends and family.

READ MORE: Enjoy Your Downtime (Without Feeling Guilty) In 3 Easy Steps

Get realistic 

When planning ahead and reflecting, it’s important to stay grounded and realistic. You want to strive towards things that you can achieve so that you don’t get burned out, says Davies. “Health and wellbeing, both mental and physical, are two of the most important life areas that often get overlooked as we focus our attention on other areas where we are seeking achievement or success.” Be mindful of how much time and energy you have.  Is it realistic to achieve everything in all aspects of your life?”

Prepare for change

Change is most successful if we’ve taken the time to prepare properly for it. If, say, your new goal is to ace a 10K run, prepare to make changes to your lifestyle to incorporate the training. “To train for the 10km run,  you may need to start getting up an hour earlier.  You may have to change our diet as we need more fuel,” explains Davies. “Understanding the future situation helps us prepare for the change we are about to make, both practically and mentally. Physical preparation helps us remove friction from the change – we know we need to get up earlier so we start going to be earlier, or we put the running clothes out the night before. Mental preparation is important so that we can manage any negative thoughts that create resistance to change. This is where mindset, agility and resilience are key in achieving our desired future.”

Hilary Davies is a Social Psychologist and Development Coach, supporting people in their personal and professional development to adopt change, find purpose and fulfil their potential. She also specialises in Gender Transformation consultancy, addressing social barriers in organisations that limit women’s growth. You can find her at or on LinkedIn. 

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This