“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
As we approach the end of 2020, a rather tumultuous year spent mostly on our couches and bedrooms, it would do us good to step back and engage in a bit of self-examination.
Writing this, I am filled with a level of excitement that only seems to be cropping up at this time of the year. Excitement for a new chapter with a fresh start, hoping to make 2021 better with new goals and new targets.
But, what is fuelling this excitement?
Was 2020 better than I had planned? Absolutely not. For many of us, this was a “year that does not count” kind of year and we’re glad to see the end of it.
But if we step back for a moment and reflect on the year that was, amidst all the chaos, we’re sure to find some moments of sanity, happiness and personal growth.
Whether you are a student, an entrepreneur, working comfortably in a job or still looking for one, gaining a holistic perspective on this year is great to conclude.
Just like corporations have annual reports, consider this your personal annual review. I have put together some exercises to help you gaze into the mirror of 2020.
Wait, but why reflect?
To borrow a saying of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Quite an assertive statement by someone who was found guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens by getting them to think about their decisions using reason. He could’ve chosen exile as a punishment but instead chose death. Clearly, Socrates is willing to stand by his words.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting such extremes but it is imperative that we think carefully about how we lead our lives.
All of us want to get better. The data proves it. The self-Improvement industry is estimated to grow to $13.2 billion by 2022.
A common theme in all the self-help books I have read is to progress in any area of your life, you need to introspect who you really are and what you want.
Mahatma Gandhi’s examination of self through his autobiography ‘My experiments with truth’ highlights the significance of reflection on life. Mahatma Gandhi was not only able to map his weaknesses and vulnerabilities through the examination but was also able to question his prejudices and understand his strength as a human being.
Whether we realise it or not, everyday we are required to make decisions on how we go about living our lives where we are met with making choices about:
- the company we keep
- how we interact with others
- how we spend our time
- choices on what we say
- how we spend our money
- what work we do
The question to ask yourself is, whether we make these choices by reason or driven by emotions without any conscious thoughts invested into it?
Habit 2 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “begin with the end in mind.” In our digitally distracted world, sick of instant gratification, we rarely do that. If we do not develop our self-awareness and reflect on our actions and behavior, we empower other people and circumstances to shape much of our lives by default. Basically, we are not behind the steering wheel of our life.
Our conscious decision making is what is special about our species. Reflection helps us judge our decisions and plan according to our end goals.
“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions – we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep the card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.” – Amor Towles, Rules of Civility
There’s nothing new about this
Thoughtful introspection and living a well planned life is not new. We’ve been examining different parts of our lives, intentionally or unintentionally.
People who use self-tracking apps or devices for physical activity, diet and weight constantly check their stats and plan improvements.
When I signed up for a quantified diet program, my dietician asked me to track my calories and weight for 3 months. He used to make changes based on my progress.
Funnily enough, during the end 19th century, weight scales in France were advertised with the message that those who weigh themselves, know themselves well; and those who know themselves, they live well.
Let’s dive in
Before we start, some tips and tricks:
- Schedule alone time for yourself – block out several 1-2 hours slots on your calendar
- Find a quiet and comfortable space
- Turn off your Wi-Fi/mobile data
- Be honest and genuine
- Get Help – If doing this alone is daunting, reflect together with a close friend
- Have fun and enjoy the process
A.) You will notice that a lot of these exercises revolve around penning it down, but for good rson, writing makes it easy to revisit your memories, achievements, and regrets (more like improvements) in future. Even if you never look at them again, research says recording these things helps to drill them in.
B.) Feel free to play around and add/remove questions because eventually it should be meaningful to you.
C.) All exercises can be easily modified to reflect on your business, your job or studies.
By the end of the exercises, I hope you’ll find yourself with:
- Improved self-awareness;
- Zoom out and see 2020 with a different point of view;
- Take stock of your feeling and emotions;
- A deeper level of learning about yourself that helps you with goal setting for 2021
Exercise 1: Reflecting on Yourself
Estimated Time: 60-90 minutes
The first part of the process is all about asking key questions to yourself. Some will be easy to answer while some challenging.
Remember you can switch things up and be flexible. Go within and be patient.
Name your year:
2020 – the year of ________ (learning / growth / being uncomfortable etc.)
The Good Stuff
- What went will this year?
- What am I most proud of personally and professionally?
- What was my most memorable, stand-out moment that made me smile?
- Which relationships have been the most fulfilling?
- What new skills / habits did I learn?
The Not So Good Stuff
- What did not go well this year?
- What was my single biggest time waster this year?
- Which relationships have been the most draining?
- List 3-5 top lessons learned this year.
- What do I want to stop doing in 2021?
- What do I want to do more of in 2021?
- What’s going well in my role? What isn’t? (Job Focuses)
- What challenges did we face as a company? (Startup focused)
- Which features were appreciated by customers?(Startup focused)
- Do I enjoy studying this subject? What’s the most fun about being in uni? (Study focused)
- What could I have done differently this year? (General)
Exercise 2: The Wheel of Life
Estimated Time: 30 – 60 minutes
This exercise gives you an idea of where you are in – or out of balance across areas of your life which are important to you.
This is a great tool that many coaches in the personal development space have used for years. While the original wheel of life dates back to Buddhism, the modern wheel of life was created by Paul Meyer, founder of Success Motivation Institute, Inc.
- Brainstorm life areas important to you. Health, Money, Career, Relationship, Impact etc.)
- Step back and meditate on the last 12 months.
- Give each area a satisfaction value on a scale of 1-10. (1 means highly unsatisfied, 10 means the best life can be)
- Add another number on the side on how satisfied you want to be in each area in the next 12 months.
- Write down 2-3 areas you want to focus on in 2021.
Wheel of Business:
Similarly, you can choose key areas in your business and give a performance rating for 2020.
Choose areas that were important to you this year. For example: Finances, Dealing with crisis, Team Culture, Paid Marketing, Social Impact, NPS, Hiring, etc.
For more on the wheel of life, refer to this blog and this one.
Exercise 3: Write a letter to your future self
Now, the most fun part.
If you completed the above 2 exercises, you must be overflowing with thoughts and emotions. Memories of this year that you want to keep and plans for the future that you can’t wait to work on.
This exercise involves writing a letter to your future self. There are no rules. Write whatever is in your mind and what you want ‘future-you’ to know from the present moment.
After finishing, schedule the letter via FutureMe to be delivered to you sometime in 2021.
For your startup:
Write a letter to the future founder of your startup.
Want to have some more fun? Write a letter to your close friends, family or your employees to be delivered at a random date next year. It will be a great surprise.
My hope for you, by the time you finish reading and doing the exercises, is that you will:
- Think more critically about your life and become self-aware;
- Consider doing self reflection / journaling regularly;
- Feel better positioned to plan for 2021.
When you start asking yourself tough questions, you understand why you do the things the way you do and notice patterns in your life. You get to know who you really are.
Socrates was right when he said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living.
Don’t live an unexamined life. Practice self-reflection today.
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