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14 – Look Behind and Look Ahead

by Jill
white notebook on brown table

You know how I always dread a whole year? Well, this time, I’m only going to dread one day at a time – Charlie Brown

How do you look at a year in reflection? And how do you look at planning the next year? It’s complicated, even in the best of years but this one’s a doozy. We’re recording this right in the middle of the pandemic, and a lot of us have been through many different things. Some of us had plans and those maybe didn’t come out the way we expected. Some people had unexpected loss. Other people had major life changes. Some other people found themselves with a lot of time on their hands, and not much to do. And whatever it is, and whatever year it is, it’s great to reflect and think about what kind of impact this last year has had on us. They’re all different. They’re all weird. They all do something to us that’s a little bit different.

Piñata, Party, Celebration, Birthday, Play, Wedding

End-of-Year Rituals

Gretchen Rubin in the Happier podcast mentions about how do you usher in a new year, and she talks about it as exorcising, not exercising, the previous year. People wrote in and talked about how they like to end their years and what types of rituals they do. They had someone who’s going to build a 2020 pinata and fill it with all sorts of dreams for next year, and candy. The whole family was going to beat on it and enjoy New Year’s Eve. There was a lot of burning too. People were going to throw a lot of things in the fire. Having these kinds of traditions always helps people do that reflection on the previous year, but then also try to come up with the plans for next year. Some people make this the time where they do charities and donations. I know a lot of nonprofit organizations get a majority of their gifts at the end of the year. People clean their house; they make room for new things in the house. Sometimes it involves food. In the chilly Midwest, we have cocoa and mulled wine and that goes a long way to keeping us cozy. The fireplace gets going. My friend always bakes and shares Christmas cookies. And she loves to watch all the classic Christmas movies, and Die Hard which by the way, is not a Christmas movie. I always watch It’s a Wonderful Life. One Christmas a few years ago, we had this perfect snow where it was gentle and twinkling. Wasn’t too cold out and I went into my garage and found the skis that I bought 30 years ago and never used. I went cross country skiing. It was downright magical. I could hear the snowflakes hitting the ground. My new hope is that every Christmas, I can go cross country skiing in the woods. I just loved that. I also pull out a book that is special for the end of the year. There’s also a lot of things that have to the end of the year to do with money. Everyone does something that’s a little bit different. And I know I’m single, so my list is a little bit too much a me, me, me.

Men, Women, Apparel, Couple, People, Happy, Love, Pet

End-of-Year Questions

Think about what you can do with your spouse or your friends. And it’ll help you to with this type of reflection that people love to do. Having that other person who can ask those questions of you and write them down for you and then go through their list is helpful. Or even doing these things together and think about how the year went. Always remember that when you look at these past years, life always brings change for the good and for the bad. It’s never one thing or another. And I think that what you have to do is give yourself a lot of grace at this year in particular. There were things that you have planned that you just can’t get done and you’re not going to get done just because of the nature of the year. There were things that you probably hope to tackle, and you just didn’t have the energy to do it. This is that time to be graceful to yourself and to give yourself a little forgiveness. When you look back at a year, there’s nothing you can really do about it. Unless you built yourself a time machine, that year is done and over with. All you can do is go forward. The only purpose of reflecting on your previous year is to give you a stronger perspective for the future. And so just remember that when you look back at your year, this is not a time to beat yourself up. This is a time to learn from it and learn how to go on and do better next year in everything that you do.

So, one of the things that I do is I have created a OneNote planner for myself. And I asked a lot of questions about the previous year in this OneNote journal. And here are some of the questions I asked:

  • How did the year go?
  • Was I happy last year?
  • Did I do interesting things?
  • Did I see key areas of my life improve?
  • What really made me laugh?
  • What went wrong?
  • What did I do about the things that went wrong?
  • What do I need to forgive myself for?
  • What do I need to forgive others for?
  • Are their trends of the things I did last year?
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • What helped me spiritually and helped me feel closer to God?
  • Did I gain friendships or lose them?
  • What about my career?
  • Did I take a step forward in my career or back?
  • Did I have a good working year?
  • Did I like the work that I did?
  • What makes this year unforgettable?
  • What did I enjoy doing this year?
  • Who are what is the one thing or one person I am grateful for?
  • What is the biggest win this year?
  • What did I read, watch, listen to that made the biggest impact on my year?
  • What did I worry about the most before this year? And how did it turn out?
  • What was the biggest regrets and why?
  • What was the one thing that changed about me the most?
  • What surprised me the most about this year?
  • And if I could go back to January 1, and tell myself something, what would I say?
  • Were there goals and plans that I had? How did they go? Do I want to continue those plans next year? Or do I want to consider them complete?
  • What surprised me the most?
  • What was my favorite meal?
  • What was my favorite book, favorite trip, favorite quote, favorite event?
  • What made me laugh the most?
  • What changed the most about me this year?
  • Were there any big milestone events in terms of marriages? Or birthdays are anything that happened?
  • What was my biggest influence this year?
  • If I were to write a book about the previous year, what would the title of the book be?
  • If I were to write a paragraph that would go on the back cover of the book, what would that paragraph say?
  • How is that going to influence what I am going to do next year?
  • Is there anything or anyone I need to tie up any unresolved issues with?

What I can tell you is to dig deep inside of all these issues. This is a chance for you to really reflect and it’s not about listing one thing per question. It’s about listing an exhaustive list of all the things. What went right can be a list of 100 things that went right. It’s important to get those down. And again, this might be fun to do with other people so that you can reflect on them with another person.

Santa Claus, Christmas, Parties, End Of The Year, Noel

Have an End-of-Year Project

The other thing I do when it comes to the end of the year, is I always have an end of the year project. One year I sewed pajamas, I don’t know why. I got my sewing machine out and learned how to use it.  I got some flannel material. I said I was going to sew myself flannel pajamas, and I am going to wear them on Christmas Day. And sure enough, I did that. They weren’t the most comfortable pajamas in the world. But you know what I made them, and I wore them on Christmas Day. Last year, I worked on a project where I changed every password on every website and started using a password manager. Oh my goodness, that was not a fun project. Usually, I try to pick fun projects. But I benefited from that all year long! This year, my project is going to be my Day One journal. Day One is a journaling app that is found on iOS and MacOS. I’m going to try to fill in a lot of holes where I failed to journal. I’m going to go through Facebook and find all the pictures, I’m going to look through my picture files and look at the dates. And I’m going to put them in my journal. And I’m just going to try to come up with lists of pictures and events that I did. I plan on working on that now until the end of the year. I also plan on working on this podcast and making it better.

Arm, Hand, Desk, Notebook, Pen, Writing, Write, To Do

Planning for Next Year

So next let’s talk about planning. You know, it’s one thing to reflect on the previous year. But then there’s another way of taking a look and saying how can we plan for the next year? We talked in previous episodes of this podcast about planners out there like the Full Focus Planner. That planner is really engaged in reflection and planning. How can I look back at the things I did? And how can I look forward to the things I’m going to do? A lot of people like journaling on paper with a pen and they find it much more meaningful to them when they write it out. I can’t read my own handwriting.

Develop a Perfect Week

Everything for me must be digital. So, I have this OneNote journal that I created, where I took a lot of ideas from books and journals. But some things that I do for a year is I first start out with what would the perfect week look like. It’s just a grid of every hour in the day and every day of the week. And you don’t fill it out by typing in each of the grid areas. What you do is you draw these big color blocks around it. So, you’d say this is the time that I work. This is the time that I sleep. Maybe I want to read a book every night before I go to bed. I want to pray every morning before I go to work. I want to exercise every morning when I get up. Every weekend, I want to be with my friends and have lunch and every Sunday I want to go on a hike. Whatever it is, you block these out as your perfect ideal week. And then you place it all over your house so that you can look at it. And I will tell you that once you start planning out what your perfect week looks like, it starts to happen. You start moving more and more towards that perfect week. And suddenly your real week start looking like your perfect week. I remember my boss asked me how my weekend was. And I said, “You know what, it was perfect!” And I really meant that because I did exactly what my perfect week for a weekend was supposed to look like and it really actually helps a lot.

Create Planning Questions

Then I have planning questions. My planning questions are sort of this combination of my OneNote book, but it also comes a little bit from that book I talked about in a previous episode, The One Thing and remember, his thing was to ask that question, “What is the one thing I can do this day, this week, this year, that by doing such, everything else becomes better or easier?”

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

One thing that really helps is this thing called the Happiness Project, and this is a book by Gretchen Rubin. We talked about her in the past. She wrote that personality tests that talked about Upholders and Obligers. But this was an earlier book where she was happy, but she wondered if she could make herself even happier. To learn about her Happiness Project, she has resources on her website. She also has the whole book which you can read. But I will tell you that one of the really interesting things that you can do is just search on the internet for Happiness Project and see the amazing things that people have done with their own happiness projects. So, for my take on it, the Happiness Project starts out with these 10 Commandments, and they’re for the year. And to give you an idea, here’s my 10 Commandments

  1. Be the best Jill possible
  2. Face things honestly and say things honestly.
  3. Be with God and that includes prayer and reading the Bible every day.
  4. Health is what we do every day, and not something we do every once in a while.
  5. Focus on strengths and minimize weaknesses.

This one was a bit of a premonition because I hadn’t even thought about doing this podcast yet.

  • Small steps and if it’s not working, make the steps even smaller. Wow. There you go. A whole podcast right there.
  • Focus on actions, not outcomes.
  • Stand up for yourself.
  • Listen more, ask more questions.
  • Controlling your behavior starts with controlling your environment.

Then the next step is to take 12 ideas of improvement one for each month. You’ll focus on one thing each month. So last year, my focuses were daily exercise. Then the next month was going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. I had a sleep project where I worked on making my sleep better. My third month was about controlling snacking, and getting only one snack every day, I had a house cleaning project where I had to every day throw out something every day organized one thing: a drawer, a shelf, just something. And by the time I was done with it, my kitchen was incredibly organized. It still is today. But that was because I focused on it to clean everything within one shelf one area and made it so much better. It’s a really good way of just having these mini goals to tackle some of the issues in your life.


  1. Come up with a list of questions for your reflections of last year. Make sure you look at good things and bad things. Examine plans that went right plans and didn’t go right.
  2. Work with friends or spouses to come up with reflections of last year together. See how the year went for you.
  3. Develop an end-of-the-year rituals so that you can put a close to the last year and start thinking about next year.
  4. Ask good questions about what you want your next year to look like. What is the one thing you could do next year that by doing so would make everything better?
  5. Consider doing a Happiness Project including 10 commandments for the year and 12 themes for each month. And then little mini goals that go under them. You can tackle each of these overarching themes and make it better each month of next year.


  • Come up with next year’s 10 commandments, what would be the 10 rules that would make the biggest impact on your life in 2021.

Now we’re going to look at our advice of the week. This quote comes from it’s a wonderful Life and our friend, the angel Clarence.

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives when he isn’t around and leaves awful hole, don’t you think?.”

I think everyone understands what their life means to them. But what they don’t realize is everyone has an impact on everybody else they touch. everybody else’s lives are interlaced in theirs too.

I appreciate all of you and I hope you have some good reflections on the last year and some good planning on the next year.

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