As you approach the end of the year, it can be all too easy to focus solely on goals for the new year. While strategic planning is crucial, it’s also important to reflect on the lessons learned over the past year. This will help you avoid recurring pitfalls to your business and personal development.

Reflection is an effective way of documenting and indexing lessons learned in your business. Even NASA and the US Army practice an “After Action Review” to evaluate the performance of critical initiatives and improve upon them in the future. You don’t have to be too harsh or formal with yourself, though. Spend some time on those happy memories too!

Here is a handy exercise to get your wheels turning and help you reflect on how to apply what you’ve learned to set a course for success in the new year.

Start with an end-of-year reflection

Reflection exercises are about asking yourself four key questions: 

  • What happened this year?
  • Why did things happen the way they did?
  • What new problems or opportunities were created as a result?
  • What can you do moving forward now that you have these new insights?

Create a gratitude list

Set a timer for three minutes and think back over the last year. Write down seven things you’re grateful for concerning your business over the previous year. Here are a few categories that might spark inspiration that you can use as a starting place: 

  • People — folks who helped shape your experience or the identity of your business
  • Accomplishments — the things you’ve done with your team or as an individual that make you proud 
  • Mission — if you haven’t already written your mission statement, this might be the time to do it. Otherwise, read over your mission statement again and look for specific aspects of how you followed it and what factors you may have overlooked.
  • Insights — the lessons you’ve learned over the last year and any clarity you’ve gained due to those lessons

Observation

Now write down an example of a failure or challenge you experienced that you want to learn from the most. When did something go wrong or differently than you were expecting? When were you disappointed with the outcome? What stuck out to you? 

Make a timeline to visualize the last year based on your accomplishments and important events, both good and bad. Add what you had hoped to achieve over the previous year. This timeline will show all of your most significant initiatives—including the highs and lows of what you experienced. List goals you met. Then list goals you did not meet. 

Analysis and interpretation

Now write down what helped you reach your goals and get those wins. 

  • Relationships — which individuals or organizations did you network with who directly affect the outcome of your goals? This list could include partners, referrals, clients, or prospects. 
  • Assumptions — what beliefs about yourself and your business did you have that changed the outcome of your goals? What contributed to your success or failure?
  • Behavior — which habits did you lean on the most? Which actions made the biggest difference in your success? 

Implementation and application

Take two minutes to review what you’ve written down. Now divide your insights into two lists—the lessons you’ve learned and what you still want to learn. Now that you know who influenced your business the most, you can translate that learning into action and change. By writing down three or four ideas that you think your team should start, stop, keep doing or implement for the next year, you now have an excellent start to compiling your 2022 goals. 

Even though it can seem superfluous, reflections can help us parse through things and understand new angles that we didn’t see before. Making sense of the past year can help remind you and your team why your work matters, who it is helping, and what you can learn from it. Documenting how you are evolving year to year will prove to be beneficial to you over the long run and help you understand your core values and the mission behind your biggest goals.