Reflect on the Past Year

How to Reflect On this Past Year: Let it be Sweet and Empowering!

How to reflect on the past year? In today’s blog post, Dr. Maria Nemeth suggests a different way to review the past year by focusing on celebrating and appreciating what worked, rather than just fixing what went wrong. She outlines a process of reflecting on what worked and what could make situations even better and suggests doing this exercise with family, friends, or colleagues.

“I just want to take a moment to affirm the strength and courage that is still running wild within you.”

Morgan Harper Nichols

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

Whether or not you celebrated Thanksgiving, here’s hoping that this past weekend brought some delicious sweetness to you! And that you found something to celebrate or appreciate, no matter how large or small.

Today we consider a different way to review our past year. As you might imagine, it will be about what is there for us to celebrate and appreciate.  I’ve chosen the beginning of December to describe and define  “celebration” so that you might be ready to apply it to this past year in late December or early January.

Definitions of the word celebrate include: appreciate, salute, recognize, acknowledge, and honor. Look at what you experienced as you read those five words. What’s your energy? You may want to write your answer on a piece of paper.

Something happens to our brain whenever you or I focus on whatever we wish to celebrate. It looks for other items or events to appreciate, salute, recognize, acknowledge, or honor! It’s built into the system.

That exact mechanism in our brain is at work when we focus on other items, such as what we’ve learned after a particular event. It might sound like this:

  • My friends and I organized a local food bank fundraising event this past September. We had all of the invitations ready to mail. We forgot to put the time it was taking place! I’m glad Judy saw the mistake!  Next time we will make sure all three of us set our eyes on whatever we’re going to send! 
  • Two months ago, I learned an important lesson: check whether the email I’m getting from my bank is legitimate! I won’t go into details. I went through a lot of stress until I called my bank to verify. Bottom line: it was a scam! I almost answered the scammer’s email.

Like most people, you could list several lessons you learned over the past year. Many of them were valuable. Some might have occurred with what I call the “OOPS” factor. There was a sense of relief after discovering something that went wrong and how you could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

There’s no “sweetness” in many of the lessons learned. Let’s look now at what could bring you a sense that all is well as you look back over this past year.

The following is a strategy I’ve used with business teams as they evaluate their performance over time. It’s different from the usual process of groups tracking what’s going wrong and how to fix the situation.  I call it the “All is Well Process.” 

The Process goes like this:

  • First, look at what’s currently working instead of what’s not working. It may take some extra reflection time to do this since we’re not accustomed to finding evidence for the presence of positive attributes in situations, circumstances, or events. Our brain naturally looks for the danger of what isn’t working. It’s left over from prehistoric times when, for us to stay alive, we had to search for predators before food.
  • Second, look for what you want to have more of. This strategy takes some practice. It’s an automatic process for designing our next steps. Instead of fixing what went wrong, we’re adding to the list of what could go well in the future. That’s a clear signal to our brain to look for possibilities. It calls upon us to be creative.

When we engage in this process, we see that all is well. No lessons that we need to learn from events that have the OOPS factor attached to them. I am not saying that it’s unimportant to remember our life lessons. However, there’s some evidence that our brain learns best when our actions lead to positive outcomes. More of the good stuff.

So, I suggest you do this:

  1. Take some time to reflect upon what went right this year. In other words, look for what worked for you. Concentrate on your behavior and the outcomes it produced. Don’t be surprised if this takes a little more time. After all, the brain knows how to look for what has gone wrong.  You might need to look at this year’s calendar to recall what happened.
  2. After you have a list of what has worked for you, we’ll look at what you’d like to see more of. What would make situations even better? Concentrate on your behavior again. What would make you even more proud? Be as specific as possible.

You might suggest that your family, friends, and colleagues go through this process. I know one family that did the exercise together on New Year’s day. It was an empowering experience. As Jean put it:

It was the highlight of our New Year celebration. My husband, 14-year-old son, my mother, father, and sister Emily plus her husband joined in. I bought a small notebook for everyone. We took 45 minutes to write our answers to the first question. Then we went around the room, and each person read out loud what they had written. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. 

Then we had lunch, and after that, took another 45 minutes to answer the second question. Then we all took a 30-minute silent break. As we went around the room again, ensuring everyone had a chance to speak, something sweet happened. Each time one of us talked about something we’d want more of, one or two of us came up with possible answers about how to make it happen! The love in the room was palpable! 

Does Jean’s disclosure spark a possibility for how you could use this Process with people you know? Use your imagination! You might come up with the perfect group!

I hope you try this! I guarantee you will discover how to put sweetness and empowerment into your New Year’s reflections. Notice I didn’t use the word resolutions? That’s because everyone knows that resolutions are made to be…you guessed it…broken.

Until next time!


“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

C.S. Lewis

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