For many of us, 2020 can’t end soon enough. Between a global pandemic, social unrest, and deeply divisive politics, who could blame us? But as eager as we are to turn the page to a new year and forget the old, we shouldn’t ignore the rare opportunity that this most disruptive of years has brought us.
What I’m referring to is the “forced reflection” that so many of us are faced with. This period of soul-searching was certainly not planned, or even something we necessarily wanted to do. That said, it’s still a gift. As our worlds have been turned upside down, self-discovery inevitably comes from the chaos.
Not that life has slowed down as we entered December. It hasn’t of course. Many of our clients are immersed in a maelstrom of heads-down activity, trying to complete projects and finish client commitments before year end. As essential as that work is, it’s important to be intentional in dedicating time to fully process what we’ve experienced this year … what we’ve discovered about ourselves, our work, and what really matters.
We’ve all uttered the phrase “new normal” countless times by now. As tired as it sounds, that is what we are creating, both for ourselves and our organizations. To help you define that new normal and thoughtfully reflect on your own journey of discovery over the past year, we offer the following questions to spark your thinking. We call this exercise “structured reflection.” It’s a practice we use regularly with our clients, and it doesn’t require an extended time commitment. You can tackle these questions one or two at a time over the course of several days, or you can dive into them all at once.
The point is to give yourself the time and mental space to truly digest these questions. Find a quiet spot, think about the questions below and write down your responses. The act of physically writing down your answers helps with cognitive processing and improves the quality of your reflection.
- What were your three biggest accomplishments in 2020? Give yourself credit for both your professional and personal accomplishments. . You might need to recalibrate your definition of “biggest accomplishments” due to the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. Helping your kids navigate virtual learning is every bit as important as a new promotion or closing on a big client account.
- Which of your relationships had the biggest impact on you in 2020? (These could be personal or professional relationships.) We may be isolating at home, but our relationships are more important than ever. Who have been your rocks, your inspiration, your go-to sources of support in 2020? Personally, it’s been a welcome change to be able to spend a lot more time with my family. Even with the disruption and challenges of remote and hybrid school programs, and the inability to travel to meet with clients, I’m grateful that we’ve gotten to spend more time together as a family, especially getting to eat dinner together almost every night.
- When were you at your best this year? What were the circumstances, situations, contexts in which you feel like you were at the top of your game? Look for any patterns that might reveal an important lesson for you.
- What did you find most challenging about the past year? This may be the toughest question of all, as there was so much that has been challenging about 2020. Be honest with yourself. Working virtually 100% of the time was more challenging than I expected, especially since we had already been doing a lot of virtual work. It took me far too many months to realize that I needed to rework my daily routine to create a better strategy for breaking up my day, being more intentional about exercising (especially since my gym closed) and developing a more workable daily routine.
- What are the three most important things you learned this past year? Don’t limit yourself to lessons related to your work. Look deeper. What did you learn about yourself, or those closest to you?
- Which habits or routines served you best in 2020? Many of our routines were completely reimagined this past year. Possibly for the better in the long run. How are you living, working, relating differently now? Is it something you can build upon?
- What can you put to rest or leave behind to help you prepare for 2021? Part of self-reflection is letting go. What have you realized is no longer needed in your life, is self-defeating, or simply does not bring you joy or satisfaction?
- How happy are you today? This is a really important question, yet many people don’t take time to think about their own happiness, as they’re often distracted by noise and activity of modern life. One place to start would be to consider what happiness means to you. The definition will be different for everyone, and it evolves as we move through different stages of life. So, think about where you are right now and what constitutes a “life well-lived”.
Finally, this might seem counterintuitive, but resist the urge to think about the future as you explore the questions above. That will come naturally as an output of your reflection. For now, stay focused on what you’ve experienced, learned, and felt over the past year. This is a time to process what we’ve been through.
I will be writing a follow-up piece early next year with questions specifically designed to help you build off your 2020 reflections and plan for a brighter 2021. Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season with those closest to you.
Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that works with senior leaders to enhance their leadership capability and build thriving, sustainable organizations.