Reflections on the past year

Just a few days into 2021, my dear friend Brian shared a reflection document with me which he had been using more than once in the past to reflect on the previous year.

Some of us might have been doing a similar exercise to take stock of the last year, reflect on what’s happened, and also set an intention for the next one. As 2020 was quite an unusual and highly challenging year for all of us, such an exercise is now even more important to get the perspective right. After all, even in this challenging year not everything was bad.

What I really like about this approach is the focus on things to be proud of, enjoyment, connection, inspiration, gratefulness, new experience, growth and learning. 

Good to get started early in January while the last year is still fresh on our minds, before we get swept up by our daily life, work and all the tasks that need to be done. We tend to forget so quickly, and it would be a pity not to pause for a moment, contemplate our successes and learning, and especially all these invaluable, joyful moments we had. 

Focusing on our achievements and experiences will also help to set the balance right. Because the human mind has a tendency to remember negative things far easier and more strongly than positive ones, there is a need to counterbalance.


  • What are you most proud of and why? What dream did you achieve?
  • What did you begin last year that you will stick with? And what might you abandon in turn as it is not serving you anymore?
  • When did you take a risk, have a pleasant surprise or exceed your own expectations?
  • What new experience did you enjoy most and why? Which new skills did you acquire?

When it comes to being courageous and trying something new, especially if treading a new pathway that might be risky, we are often not sure about where it will lead us or if we can succeed at all. Sometimes we doubt ourselves too much and are in for a nice surprise when we achieve something we did not believe we could manage that well. 

That happened to me last year when I started taking singing lessons. My goal was to improve the strength of my voice – not only for singing but also when speaking – as I need to speak a lot in my job and my voice usually got hoarse very quickly. 

Being a contralto I had no ambition to sing high notes, but to my surprise my vocal coach told me that this was definitely within my range. Her encouragement made me selecting and practising musical pieces outside of my comfort zone and making good progress as a result.


  • Which value did you bring to others? Who did you help?
  • What inspired you – people, events…? Who had the most influence or biggest impact on you?
  • What gave you most joy – being yourself, in the flow – and who were you with?
  • What are you grateful for?

Connection with others is particularly important for us – we need other people. This became very painfully clear last year when we suddenly had to stay away from elderly family members, and maintain a physical distance to our friends and neighbours on a daily basis. We skilfully managed to find creative workarounds though – which are helpful – but of course, they cannot replace the real thing. 

We will need to continue the distancing for some time still, but thankfully there is hope to return to a more normalized way of life this year.


  • Any loose ends to tie up, e.g. relationships, apologies, any unfinished business?
  • Where did fear prevent progress towards your goals and how will you overcome this next time?
  • In hindsight, what would you have done differently? What was your best decision? What advice would you give yourself?

Sometimes things work out and sometimes they just don’t. Whatever we discover about ourselves in the process has an impact on the path we are walking, on our mindset and our approach to life. It is important to know what we want to change from now on, continuing on our way to find our purpose or at least getting closer to it. 

Such insights always make us grow as a person and we need to approach them in a non-judgemental manner.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contemplating like this on the past year feels comparable to a success diary focusing on achieving the next level – so it’s important to invest the time and take notes, before our busy mind takes over again.

Once I got started answering those questions the list quickly became quite long. You could easily spend a few hours on it and still revisit it later to complete some bits and pieces which had almost evaporated from your memory. 

Let’s not forget our unique value we are adding to the lives of others around us – and also what makes our own life worthwhile.

I found it to be a very uplifting exercise and hope you will enjoy it, too.

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