End Your Year with This Simple Reflection Exercise

Read about how this reflective journal prompt can help you look back on the year and plan for the next.

If you ask me, New Year’s is the most overrated holiday on the calendar because it’s attached to some pretty high stakes. You have to find an outfit with the perfect amount of razzle-dazzle, end up paying way too much to get into a bar (that for the other 364 days per year is totally free to enter), and, if you’re single, cross your fingers that your cute friend will muster up the courage to give you a little smoocheroo at midnight. It’s all just too much!

So a couple of years ago, I decided to shift my focus away from the frivolous bits about New Year’s — i.e., shopping online for the perfect sequin fedora — toward a more purposeful and fulfilling activity.

Goal-setting and resolutions are synonymous with the turn of the calendar year, but I believe that you don’t really know where you’re headed unless you can look to see how far you’ve come. I came up with a simple “3-2-1” journaling exercise that I really love.

This reflection helps remind me of how many wonderful experiences I had over the last year — big and small! — and outlines tangible ways in which I made strides emotionally, spiritually, professionally, physically, or otherwise. Every year, this reflection elicits an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the time I’ve had on Earth so far, and it builds within me sincere hope and joy for the future.

I recommend using colored pencils, markers, or even paint to make your reflection pages cheerful and uniquely yours. Unless you have an excellent capacity to remember things, you might also pull out your calendar/journal/inbox to help remind you what life was like 11 months ago — at this point, January of last year feels like at least seven years ago.

Schedule some time for you and your thoughts, make a cup of hot tea or cocoa, put on some chill background music, cozy up next to the fire, and get ready to reflect!

For each month, shape your recollection around a 3-2-1 format like this:

Three Highlights
Two Areas of Growth
One Summary Sentence

THREE highlights

Highlights to me are particularly joyful moments — trips you went on, shows you saw, good conversations with great friends, or that one game night where you laughed until you cried.

One year, a highlight for me was attempting to watch all eight Harry Potter movies during a stormy weekend with my roommates. We started making bets on how many times Harry would be “angsty” in the next 30 minutes of the movie. (Pro tip: take the over, every time.) What didn’t even make it into my calendar ended up something I laugh about to this day.

These “highlights” don’t always need to be what you might share on social media, either. Simply write down things you want to remember, stories you recall with great fondness, or intimate moments that meant a lot to you.

I often find these highlights in the recesses of my journal, because while my calendar will show me what I’ve done, my journal tells me how I felt about what I did. I’m able to decipher which things really meant a lot to me by re-reading what I wrote down. It wasn’t just “seeing Hamilton for the first time that rocked my world — if I go one level deeper, I remember that it was the moment that they sang the word “forgiveness” that made me cry like a baby.

Basically, if your heart was moved and it feels like a highlight to you, it definitely is.

TWO areas of growth

This bit of reflection is on the times when you feel like you were stretched, made uncomfortable, persevered, challenged, or learned something about yourself.

These moments could be anything from the time you took a risk and asked for a raise at work to completing an exercise program that you didn’t think you would. Think of two times in each month where it felt like you were up against a challenge or did something outside of your comfort zone.

You might also look back on the year and notice where you wish you’d taken a risk — maybe you didn’t end up asking for that raise, or your crush still doesn’t know how you feel. If you come up with these — good! You’ve identified areas in your life where you still desire to grow, and you can now confidently add those to your next year’s “risks I want to take” list. (Am I the only one who has one of these?)

Here’s also a great opportunity to make a mini-action plan for how you will overcome this or a similar challenge if it comes up next year. What will it take to save enough money to actually put a down payment on a condo? How can you end next year feeling stronger, more confident, and more like the person you know you’re created to be?

Reflecting on your areas of growth — both those where you feel like you rose to the challenge and where you may have fallen short — is a critical component of helping each one of us to show up as the best versions of ourselves.

ONE summary sentence

This is exactly what you think it is: summarize your month in one sentence. Not a run-on sentence — just one simple, beautiful sentence that will help you remember that life is good and beautiful, and that we are all works in progress.

If you put your summary sentences together, they’d almost read like a poem. Here’s what my year-end-review looked like last year:

January almost broke me, but I survived.
February was pain, change, and transformation.
March taught me to slow down.
April brought me back to myself, and into my future.
May was opportunity, new life, rejuvenation.
June embraced me with nature’s transformative power and majesty.
July was sun and mountains, praise and glory, and grief.
August spent with family, exploring, and being.
September felt permanent.
October broke my heart.
November was gratitude for the little things; most of all, for life.
December brought hope from the darkness, and strength from within.

There’s no better time than the end of the year to take stock of the many things you’re grateful for — to see how much love, hope, beauty, and strength there truly is in your life. Happy New Year, and may next year be your greatest yet.

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