Looking Back and Planning Ahead

The week between Christmas and the New Year is an ideal time to reflect on the year that has been and to look forward to the one ahead. I have now made it part of my annual routine, which seems to fit with the Chinese philosophy that winter is associated with energy at rest, with stillness and with peace, which lends itself to quiet reflection and meditation.

A practice that I have found helpful for this is the Past Year Review. If you would like to give it a go, you will need to set aside an hour or two of quiet time alone. You can make it a sacred practice, if you like, by lighting candles and playing music to help set the tone. Create two lists, one headed ‘Positive’, the other ‘Negative’. Use your diary or calendar to look back over the year, a month at a time. For each month, list the main experiences under one of the two headings above, especially in terms of how you felt about them and the emotions that they generated in you. No need to duplicate entries, so if it’s on the list already (e.g. the weekly yoga class), no need to add it again.

You should end up with one list of positives and another of negatives, hopefully the former is longer than the latter. If not, it can be helpful to be aware of the negativity bias in our memory banks, which makes it more likely that we will remember negative experiences because in the past, at least, that had an evolutionary advantage in protecting us from danger. In the safer world that we inhabit nowadays, that negativity bias is less helpful, possibly to the point of being unhelpful.

Looking at the list of positives, aim to do more of the same or similar things in the year ahead, so basically aiming to do more of what you enjoy and brings you joy. If possible, plan them into your diary or calendar now. That way you can enjoy looking forward to them as well as enjoying the doing, rather like the adage of wood warming you twice, first from the chopping and second from the fire. Is there anything else that fills your heart with joy that is missing from the list? Is there something that you enjoyed doing in the past that has slipped from your life and you would like to bring back into it? What else do you want to prioritise and focus on in the year ahead? How can you schedule that in too?

For anything in the negative column, consider whether you can avoid repeating that experience next year completely or perhaps minimising its occurrence and, if so, how. If it is something that you can’t or don’t want to avoid, but find challenging, consider how you could reframe it. What would turn it from a negative experience into a positive one? Looking for the silver linings in negative situations can also be helpful, as can doing more for your self care to give you the resilience that you need.

Looking at your lists and your plans for the year ahead now, how have your priorities changed? What does looking at the bigger picture tell you? It can be helpful to meditate or journal on these questions.

To get the most out of this Past Year Review practice next time and to make the process easier, you could try setting a calendar reminder to review and list the positive and negative experiences each week or month in 2023 so that all you need to do at the year end is to look through your lists and plan ahead accordingly. I hope you enjoy the process and the benefits of the practice!