At the end of every year, I advocate for taking a significant amount of time to reflect. I believe reflecting is a key part of growth--because unless you take moment to acknowledge what is working and what isn't, you will continue working hard instead of working smart.
Most people make the excuse that they "don't have enough time" or are "too busy" to take time to themselves and reflect. The truth is, we avoid it because it's often in reflection that we realize our shortcomings, our mistakes, our errors and our biggest weaknesses--and those things aren't always easy to confront.
The opportunity cost, however, is that unless you are willing to acknowledge those things, you won't be able to move forward effectively. So it becomes a simple decision: stay blind, and wander through the dark, or bring awareness to the situation and give yourself a flashlight.
Here are 5 questions I encourage everyone to ask themselves before the new year strikes:
1. What "goal" did you set for yourself this year, and if you didn't accomplish it, why not?
We all love to set goals. Big, lofty goals. And January is the time of year when everyone proudly exclaims how "this year is going to be different." But how many people really follow through? The truth is, not many. Think about some of the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of this past year (this is where a journal can be helpful). If you didn't achieve them, how come? Try to push past the obvious answers: didn't have time, too much going on, etc. From my experience, goals get postponed out of fear, or boredom, or both. If it's a fear holding you back, you need to acknowledge it. If it's boredom, then why did you set the goal in the first place? Really try to get to the root so that you don't make the same mistake again.
2. Where did the majority of your time go?
I think of time in the same way I think about investing. You have 24 hours in a day (that's your "cash") and wherever you choose to invest those hours, you will see a return. If you invest your time in beneficial things (reading, practicing your craft, working out, etc.), you will get smarter, get better at what you do, etc. Similarly, if you invest your time in things that aren't beneficial for you, like hanging out with negative people or binge-watching Netflix every weekend, then you will see your investment give you a return there as well--you will probably become more negative, and you will adopt poor habits that come from spending too much time watching trendy TV shows.
In order to move forward with any goal or project, you have to be extremely aware of how you spend (or "invest") your time. So, this past year, where did the majority of your time go? And was it time well spent?
3. Who did you spend the most time with?
We vastly underestimate the influence our friends, co-workers, family members, and even casual acquaintances have on our lives. The way we develop as human beings is in a room of mirrors. We sculpt ourselves based on the interactions we have with other people. Some people challenge us in good ways, and we grow positively. Others tear us down. Some encourage, some discourage. Some amplify fear, some dissolve it. Who you spend your time with is as important as how you are spending your time--because the two go hand-in-hand.
It doesn't matter if you want to become massively successful, or you want to become more confident, or more compassionate, or more productive, whatever it is you want to improve upon, you need to surround yourself with like-minded people. So before the new year begins, check your circle. And if it's not helping you, it's time to move on.
4. Are you in love with the idea of something? Or are you in love with the process.
One of the biggest pitfalls I see people fall into is falling in love with the idea of something more than the process it takes to get there. Because the truth is, chasing the "end" of a path is what leads so many astray--and the ones that actually reach that prized "end" don't see it as an end because they are so in love with the process.
A lot of people want to be a professional this or a famous that, but is it the idea of that title or status that drives you? Or the love of the craft in the first place? If you want to do something great in life, look for the latter. Look for the thing you would do even if no one was watching, even if no one validated you for it. That's the path that will carry you the furthest.
5. Unrelated to work, what do you need to improve most in your life?
It's the life you lead outside of your work that ends up having the biggest impact on the work itself.
How does your body feel? Do you need to stretch more? How are your eating habits? Are you always feeling too full or groggy? What is your sleep schedule like? Are you well-rested? How's your relationship with your significant other? All these things we tend to shut out in the name of "work" are massively foundational pillars, and unless they too are tended to, eventually your house is going to crumble (and the house I am referring to is you).
At the end of every year, just before the new one begins, I set goals for myself. And the driving force behind all of those goals is always rooted in something completely unrelated to external success, or achievement, or work. Why? Because if the driver is external, then you lose focus on your inner compass--and that's where all the magic happens.
Instead, ask yourself the tough question of how you can improve as a human being. What, within you, needs addressing? If you can start there, everything else will manifest as a result, with ease.