Many of us are using the year-end lull to look back at the past year and determine our respective improvement plans for next year. I'm doing it right now.

I don't reserve self-reflection for a once-a-year activity. Actually, I do it nearly at the end of every workday. The practice makes me a better professional and cultivates qualities like empathy, gratitude and resilience.

Here's my simple formula that you can use today to incorporate self-reflection into your life. It works whether you apply it in the examination of the past year or the past day. I call it the Countdown Method because it uses a 5-4-3-2-1 approach to your self-reflection. Here's how it works:

Grab a pen and piece of paper, date it and find a place where you can think. Now, begin.

List five things that you accomplished.

These can be simple and they can repeat day-to-day -- things like eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep last night count as do any work-related ones. If you're doing an annual review, think more broadly.

For example, my five proudest professional accomplishments in 2018 are:

  1. growing my executive coaching practice by 20 percent;
  2. gaining continued commitments for consulting services from existing clients in 2019;
  3. being invited to become a member of the Atlantic Speaker Bureau;
  4. building and launching a new motorsport website;
  5. contributing nearly 50 articles for Inc.

List four things that you want to accomplish.

These can be long-term goals to be accomplished this year. "Finish writing and find a publisher for my latest book" is one that I've used a few times. If you're using my Countdown Method on a daily basis, this can simply be your "to do list" for tomorrow.

My list from yesterday, included:

  1. craft and send business follow-up emails;
  2. get a solid work-out in before dinner;
  3. do final edit my latest Inc. article;
  4. plan content refresh on my motorsport website.

List three things that you would like to improve.

Done daily, this list can (and should) be recurring. The exercise of listing improvement areas on a regular basis reinforces your desire to improve in the things that you list. The same list may serve when doing an annual self-reflection.

Here's an example from my life:

  1. Make more time for fun;
  2. Improve my diet and sleep habits;
  3. Develop increased patience.

List two things that you must accept because you can't change them.

The items on this list may need to remain on the list for a-while. This is especially true when you're finding it particularly difficult to accept an ongoing situation. For example, learning to accept the fact that a client is routinely late to our meetings is one that I'm working on at the moment.

My list this year often contained these nuggets of wisdom:

  1. Learn to accept that hotel chains may screw-up your reservations;
  2. Don't take other people's bad driving habits ruin your motorcycle ride.

List one thing for which you are grateful.

When using the Countdown Method on a daily basis, work to find one every day. When using the approach on an annual basis, work hard to find the one thing that you're the most grateful for from the past year and write it down. The exercise will help to remind you that there is much for which to be thankful--and that knowledge will make you a happier person. 

Top of the list for me this year was:

  1. The continued good health and welfare of my family and closest friends.

I hope that you find the wisdom in self-reflection and try my Countdown Method. It's as easy as 5-4-3-2-1.