The Power of Reflection on Future Goals
“Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it”.
(George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905)
No matter what you want to accomplish from this day forward, what happened in the past is often an indicator of what might happen again in the future. Therefore, reflecting on what happened, both good and bad, can help you do better at achieving your future goals. Sometimes reflection can be painful, though, so be sure to follow a process to help.
The Benefits of Reflection
First, let’s discuss the power of reflection. It…
- Transforms experiences, both bad and good, into learning,
- Connects actions with success,
- Develops problem-solving skills,
- Increases your self-awareness,
- Improves the ability to relax,
- Helps you learn to ask more questions,
- Identifies areas of change,
- Figures out how you can improve next time,
- Helps you apply resources,
- Improves commitment to goals,
- Helps you evaluate your experiences, and
- Assists with the ability to make change
All of these things will help you with your future goals. You’ll learn to take experiences that you have had, connect your actions to success (and failure) and then analyze how you can repeat the success and avoid the failure later.
How to Reflect with Purpose
1. Get comfortable
Before you take the time to reflect on the past, be sure to get into a comfortable place both mentally and physically. Make the room quiet and comfortable. If you want to get into your PJs and wrap up with a blanket, with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, do whatever you need to do in order to be comfortable truly reflecting and thinking about the past in a positive way.
2. Look back at failures
Some people find that writing really helps them to clarify their thoughts and remember the details. I would encourage you to give it a try. Start with paper and pencil as the physical act of writing helps strengthen the “connections” in your brain. But you can also get out your laptop if that suits you better. Or, if you already know what you want to reflect on, just close your eyes and start thinking about the failures you had this past year. Getting a notebook or a voice recorder can help you hash it out in an organized way that creates some actionable steps for future goals. For example, say you wanted to launch a new product/service the past year and you never did it. Make a list of why you did not do it, and be brutally honest. Was it lack of time, lack of conviction, or something else? What could you change to make it happen in the future?
3. Note any “aha” moments
At some point during your reflection, you may come to some moments of clarity that help you understand what went wrong. Maybe even what went right will come into focus. The important thing is not to beat yourself up over failures. Instead try to turn them into lessons on how not to repeat that failure in future. If you focus on the moment of learning and not on the feelings of failure, you’ll be able to be more rational about it.
4. Look back on successes
This is easier, of course, because success is always fabulous. But, you need to look back on each success and analyze why you succeeded. Sometimes the truth is that the success just fell into your lap, or someone really gave you a lot of help. Other times it’s because you stuck to a schedule and worked every day toward success. Remember that a success in spite of your own actions is still success, but it’s not repeatable. You want to figure out how to repeat success so that it becomes more common.
Reflection helps you look back on your year and see what actions you took and how exactly they affected the future. This is helpful because now that we’ve entered into a new year, you can live your life in a more mindful way, knowing that every action or inaction you take makes a difference.