The right way to reflect

For a more successful future, experts say you must review your past.

As December winds down, most of us are already thinking about what we might achieve next year. Instead of looking forward, experts want you to look backward—specifcally, to reflect upon your accomplishments from the past 12 months. What you learn about yourself may help you more effectively shape your future.

“If you don’t reflect, you’re a ship sailing without radar,” says clinical psychologist Mary Ann Mercer, Psy.D., founder of PositiveLifeAnswers.com. “It’s really important to do this before goal-setting, before New Year’s resolutions.”

Here’s how to get started:

Create a personalized highlights reel:Summarize your most meaningful accomplishments, from running a personal best to learning to meditate to getting a promotion. “Try asking yourself a few questions,” says time management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. “What was I proud of this year? What did I find fun? What did I find meaningful? Did I learn any lessons this year? Are there things that happened that I would have liked to do differently?”

Rely on prompts:Reference aids make it easier to remember. “Scroll through photos on your phone to jog your memory, or look through old calendar entries,” says Vanderkam. “Try asking people who are close to you what they thought you did well this year.”

Track your progress:Journaling can make reflection easier. Be honest with your assessments; they’re intended to help you. “Make it fun,” Mercer says. “I’m going to study myself. What are my routines? What are my excuses that come up? Do it without beating yourself up. It’s a learning environment.”

Benefit from shortcomings:If you haven’t reached a desired goal, honestly assess the situation, then make changes. Without self-reflection, you might resolve to complete 10 pull-ups this year and still not understand why you can barely get your chin above the bar. “If you study your challenges and accomplishments over the year and how you felt about them, you can make resolutions you'll be more motivated to keep,” explains Vanderkam. “Knowing yourself means knowing that the goal will be more motivational.”