7 Questions to ask yourself at the start of 2016

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So here we are in a new year! What will the blank canvas of 2016 hold for you? What are you looking forward to or maybe even dreading? What did you learn from this last year?

 

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The start of a new year gives a natural opportunity to appraise how the last year has gone and make preparations for the months that lie ahead.

Søren Kierkegaard has a helpful quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”

Those who do not learn from the past are invariably doomed to repeat the same mistakes or find themselves getting stuck in their relationships or other areas of their life. It is so easy to reach a lid to your potential. As someone has said, there is a world of difference between 30 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 30 times!

Here is how John Maxwell puts it in a recent blog post of his. It is a long piece, but I found it so helpful I couldn’t leave any out:

“What is your favorite time of year? Is it Christmas? Is it when you celebrate your birthday? Or when flowers bloom in the spring? Maybe it’s your summer vacation. Or when the children go back to school. Or the beginning of football season. Or when the leaves change. When is it?

I can tell you mine. It’s right now: the week after Christmas. Every Christmas Day in the afternoon, after the grandchildren have finished opening all their presents and all the hoopla has died down, I can hardly contain myself, because I know it’s time for one of the things I love most every year.

I steal off to my study while everyone else is watching television or napping. There on my desk waiting for me is my appointment calendar from the preceding year and a yellow legal pad. Starting that afternoon and continuing that week up until New Year’s Eve, I spend time reviewing my calendar. I review every appointment, meeting, commitment, and activity—hour by hour—from the previous 359 days. And I evaluate each of them.

Right now, I’m in the midst of this process. I’m looking carefully at my speaking engagements and considering what I should do more of, what I should do less of, and what I should eliminate altogether. I’m looking at the growth opportunities I pursued and judging which gave a high return and which didn’t. I’m looking at all the meetings and appointments I had, to determine which ones I should do more of and which I should eliminate.

This week, I’ll also consider how much time I spent doing things that I should have delegated to someone else. (I’ll also look at what I delegated and reconsider whether I should pick anything back up or delegate it to someone different.) I’ll evaluate whether I spent enough time with my family. I’ll also make a list of all the things Margaret and I did together this year, and take her out to dinner one night so we can reminisce and enjoy them once again.

With this annual process, I try to account for every waking hour I had the previous year. What’s the value of that? It helps me to develop strategies for the coming year. Because I do this every year (and have for decades), I’m continually becoming more focused, strategic, and effective. Even if I have a difficult time or relatively unproductive year compared to what I desired, it’s never a loss, because I learn from it and improve upon it in the coming year.

Most people allow their lives to simply happen to them. They float along. They wait. They react. And by the time a large portion of their life is behind them, they realize they should have been more proactive and strategic. My yearly process is just one method that I use to be strategic and intentional.

I’ve found that this is a perfect time of year for reflecting and setting goals. And it’s not too late for you to do as I’m doing. Start by sitting down with your calendar for 2015, along with any to-do lists or journals from the past 12 months. On a legal pad (if you’re old-school like me) or your computer (if you’re like everybody else), make note of each event, appointment, and activity. Then evaluate every item on your list. What did you enjoy? What were some of your proudest moments? What did you spend too much time on? What didn’t get enough of your time? In what areas were you especially effective? Where did you fail? What can you learn from your mistakes? The key to this exercise is to use what you discover about your past year to inform and guide you in the coming year. This type of reflective thinking can help you discover what worked and what didn’t, and what needs to change for you to become more effective.

I hope you’ll join me in this exercise – whether you do it this week or sometime soon. By spending time evaluating your 2015, you’ll be better prepared to make 2016 your best year ever.”

Maxwell’s habit has encouraged me over the last few years to review at the end of December to review how the previous year has gone. So with that in mind how was this last year for you? What are the lessons you learnt that you are going to aim to move forward in 2016?

I am also grateful to Michael Hyatt for the following questions to appraise the previous year and look ahead to the coming year. I will also share my answers with you to help you think through your thoughts about 2015. I would strongly encourage you to also write down your own answers and not just keep them in your head. As we write, our thoughts begin to disentangle themselves and bring clarity in a way that is otherwise just not possible.
As I share the questions below I have added some of my own reflections to help you think through your own experiences. If you want more clarification from me feel free to ask in the comments section below. My hope for you as I indulge myself in this way publicly is that you will be prompted to have insights that will put you in a stronger positions for whatever this new year has in store for you.

1.If the last year of your life was a movie what genre would it be?
Would it, for example, be an adventure, a comedy of errors, a romance or a suspense mystery?
For me 2015 was once again a drama or thriller with a  lot of surprise and tension. There were so many sudden unexpected twists and turns that I did not see coming or only vaguely expected.

2. What were the 2 or 3 major themes that kept recurring?
– Be guided more by the compass than the clock. I continue to see how tasks and projects invariably take longer than first anticipated.
– Just because something is clear in my head does not mean it is clear in the other person’s!
– The unexpected is often not as bad as it first seems. The anticipation often seems much worse – especially in the early hours of the morning when I am tired and my blood sugar is low.
– The importance of adequate sleep and rest.

3. What did you accomplish this year that you are most proud of?
After more than 18 months of planning and developing to finally get a regular podcast as part of this blog. (If you haven’t listened to the first do see We Have Started! The Introductory Podcast! Episode Zero . By the end of 2015 we have a further 12 episodes you can access here).

4. What did you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?
Progress in my NHS work service and team development over this last year.

5. What disappointments and regrets did you experience in this past year?
Some difficult work relationships that appeared to reach stalemate.
Flooding of a property for the second time that we had been keen to sell and put behind us.

6. As you look back what was missing from this past year?
Following through on a plan to reduce significant financial debt that has arisen from poor investments.

7. What were the major life lessons you learnt from this last year?
The most important work is your own character development and the story you tell yourself about what has happened.
I need to have trusted confidantes when handling stressful and difficult situations.
Ask myself the question what would a great person do in this situation?
I need space and margin to handle the unexpected.
Learn to embrace what comes without pre-judgement.
Develop a tough skin, but keep a tender heart.

Those are some of my reflections on 2015.
You can also see the answers to my questions from 2014 and  2013 .

For more thoughts and ideas about the new year see: Why I Don’t Believe in New Year Resolutions and 5 Keys to Making New Year Resolutions That Can Actually Succeed Part 1 and Part 2.
In terms of what I shared in previous years one surprising development has been with how my planned weight reduction seems to be going in the right direction!
In July 2011 I weighed 76kg. By January 2013 I was 72kg, still 72kg in December 2013 and by December 2014 in spite of increased exercise I was 73kg! However,on 29 December 2015 I reached 70.5kg.

I am still some way off my intended goal to reach 66kg, but compared to where I was in July 2011, that is significant progress! (See the posts Which Way Are You Looking?)

The phrase I am reflecting on in this area is the importance of being guided by the compass rather than the clock. I have made some of my worst mistakes in life by rushing too quickly into things.

How about you? What questions or issues resonate with you? It would be great to have your thought and comments as we move forward into a new year.

2 thoughts on “7 Questions to ask yourself at the start of 2016”

  1. Thank you Sunil. I agree that reflection while not being entrenched in the past must be key to moving forwards in work pastimes and relationships. I tend to be good at doing this daily but had not thought about an annual exercise! I have a lot to be grateful for in 2015 – not least the rich experiences I am gathering working on a large inner city estate as their Pastor. I think a key is also to see mistakes as learning points (I tend to make a lot :)) and to try not to be fearful of failure …. “we will fail fast” as they say in Silicon Valley?

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