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Dec 14, 2017

Your Year in Review

Three powerful questions to ask yourself at the end of the year.

In the hectic rush of holiday parties and finishing up projects by the end of the year, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to reflect. And yet it’s a wonderful time of year to consider: What was your year like? When you skim through your calendar and ask yourself some good questions, you can relive your year and think about a few ways you want to fine-tune the way you live your life.

Here are some questions to help you along. Pro tip: Doing this with a spouse, partner or close friend helps you get more out of it. It also helps set both of you up to make small positive changes for next year.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU THE MOST JOY?

When you skim through your calendar you will notice that most of the things you do every day are pretty neutral. You have your work life, your home life, your various activities. Most of us tend to swim along in our days and weeks and months just doing what we have to do, putting more and more things on the calendar. When someone asks how we are, we say, “Busy!”

But there are inflection points, and when you look at the moments that gave you the most joy, those are clues to what is most important to you. They point to your most dearly held values. Take a few moments to tune into those moments. Did they relate to time spent with your family or friends? Was the time you spent volunteering the most joyful? Does your joy come from specific kinds of accomplishments? What do these most joyful moments point you to?

My client Craig tried this last year with his wife. Craig is the president of a large division of a chemical company. He travels about 170 days a year. That’s a lot of time away from his family. When he and his wife looked at their calendars together, they found that they got a lot of joy out of their alone time (away from their three kids—no disrespect to their kids). They also loved their time with a set of four families they knew from their neighborhood.

This may not have been the most revelatory insight, but by being conscious of it they changed their behavior. They made sure to have one date night every week that Craig was home. They also banded together with the families in the neighborhood to plan easy and informal get-togethers. The rules were that everybody would bring food—leftovers were acceptable—and that they all agreed to turn a blind eye to the cleanliness of their homes. That way they got to enjoy spending more time together without causing extra stress. Craig told me that by consciously making these changes he and his wife inserted more joy into the “busy” of their lives.

HOW DID YOU CONTRIBUTE?

The good life is made up of meaning and purpose as well as happiness. Meaning comes from your contribution—that you know you make a difference. For some people contributing to their families and home lives is enough. For some this has to do with volunteer organizations or service to the community.

Look back on your year and notice where you think you made the most meaningful contribution. Was it to your church or synagogue? Maybe within a charity or some community group? Some people take an opportunity to serve on the boards of their housing or condominium association.

One of my clients, Stuart, a very successful entrepreneur, visited his grandmother regularly in her senior citizens independent living home. While he was there he would often play the piano so that all her neighbors could enjoy some spontaneous music, and some of them would start to sing.

When we discussed his year early in December, he said that these experiences were among the most meaningful of his year. He saw the happiness he brought to the seniors, he saw his grandmother’s pride and he felt a sense of accomplishment. (Those years of piano lessons really paid off!) Stuart also realized that the stress of startup life and the “real world” melted away when he was playing piano for the seniors. With this insight, he decided to make it a more regular part of his life for next year.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

You’re either growing or you’re dying. If you want to grow, make sure you learn. My client Maria, chief legal officer for a large insurance company, embraced this philosophy all of last year. She actually asked herself the question, “What did I learn this week?” at the end of every week and jotted down her responses to herself.

I asked her what she got out of that practice. She said that seeing what she learned each week simply improved her mood—she liked the feeling of accomplishment, of growing. And she said she got more out what she called her “life lessons” just by being more conscious of them. That helped her solidify them in her mind and put the insights into practice.

Here’s a final bonus question: A year from now, what will you have wished you started today? Do that.

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