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Reflections Not Resolutions Unlock Big Changes

Jan 3, 2017

Did you gain another year’s experience last year? Or did you repeat the same experience you had the year before?

It’s a good question, especially when you dig deeper into it. I heard someone say recently that some people list “5 years of experience in…” on their resume. When in actuality, they really have 1 year of experience repeated five times.

A good year stretches us, develops us, and refines us. We learn lessons which we can apply to the next year. The only reason we end up repeating the same year over and over is because we’re avoiding the work in front of us (i.e. playing it safe.)

And by “avoiding the work”, I don’t mean the stuff you get a paycheck from a company for. “The work” God put us on earth to do. The purposes we were created for, the personal development we cannot outsource to anyone else, the care for others we can show in ways no one else can – that’s the “work” I’m talking about here!

Reflections or Resolutions?

reflections man wearing a beanie looking over mountains

As one year ends and another one begins, I think our reflections are more important than our resolutions. Why? Because research shows us resolutions rarely lead to real change.

Each January, I look at the data regarding resolutions and this year, the same numbers are out there. 45% of people make resolutions every year, while 55% of people make them rarely or never. According to Jon Acuff and Michael Hyatt, of the 45% of people who make resolutions, less than 50% will keep them past January and one year later, only 8-9% of those people who made resolutions will still be on track.

It’s crazy to think over 90% of resolutions don’t last all year. I don’t know how you interpret those numbers, but “hopeful” isn’t an adjective I would choose. I think this is why so many new approaches to the new year are succeeding. Hundreds of people have downloaded my new workbook, Make Change: How to End One Year Well and Begin the Next. In the last couple days, I received one note from a reader who said, “As my husband skis today, I’ve been doing my end of year thing, journaling, etc. Your guide is awesome!!!! Well done.”

My New Resource

So, if reflections are more important than resolutions, then how should we reflect back on the year? (Well, if you haven’t gone through my Make Change workbook yet, I’d strongly recommend you start there. If you have finished the book, this could be a cool way to apply some of the lessons you learned from that process).

Once you’ve used a tool like my workbook, I think it’s important to list out the lessons and takeaways from last year which will be directly informing and influencing how you approach this year. The lessons from one year can and should be applied in the next year. Also, what we learned in one area of our life can apply to another.

Turning Reflections Into Lasting Change

reflections open journal on a wood table with a mug of hot coffee

I’d like to model a three step process of reflection here for you using five lessons I learned last year and show you how reflection can provoke greater change. The greatest change often comes as we apply a lesson we learned in one arena of our lives into another arena

Reflection 1: Accountability turns daily desires into daily habits.

At the end of 2015, I realized I wasn’t praying as consistently as I wanted to be. So, I invited a friend to start praying with me daily. Some days, we check in over text. Other days, we talk and pray for my entire 20-minute commute. This year demanded a lot of prayer and my buddy’s accountability was invaluable.

I also realized in 2016 that I had gotten out of the habit of a daily Bible reading plan. When I began texting a friend each morning with an encouraging quote or Bible verse, I realized I would need a deeper well to draw from. This “accountability” (which was nothing more than a promise I made to him) led me to renewed spiritual reading.

Transferable principle 1: If you’re stuck, get help.

This lesson is bigger than my spiritual development. I think inviting accountability (because it really can’t be forced) can jump start us in a place we’ve been stuck. Sometimes, we can’t do it on our own and a daily check-in with a friend can make all the difference.

Question 1: Where else am I stuck?

I’m thinking about other areas in my life where inviting accountability can help me narrow the gap between desire and habit.

Reflection 2: My ideal times for working out is now early mornings in spring, summer, fall and late nights in winter.

As last year began, our family lived at an apartment complex where a gym was a 60-second walk from our front door. I could work out at any time of day. When I moved in the summer, I started working out in the morning. When overnight lows dipped into the teens, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and began working out after everyone else went to sleep. The most consistent workout I’ve been all year (amidst all these changes) has been the last five weeks of the year when I began the Insanity Max 30 program. I did the program at all times a day, but with a consistent structure and a limited-time window (I’m on a free trial of a web-based streaming platform), a sense of urgency grew in my discipline.

Transferable Principle 2: I do better with structured programs I can modify than making it up on my own.

Originally, I thought the problem was finding the best time of day to workout. If I could only settle on a time slot, I would make progress (or so I thought). But with the big push at the end of the year (despite getting sick and stress at work), I think the secret is the structured program, not the time of day.

Question 2: What will my next program be?

I wrap up the workout program in 3 weeks and after a 1-2 week recovery, I need to be thinking about the next program.

Reflection 3: With writing, I do better when I set aside separate times for brainstorming, writing, and editing blog posts/articles.

Once I heard about Jeff Goins’ 3 Bucket System, I started adjusting how I write. I did brainstorming daily, writing multiple times a week, and edited blog posts and articles (when possible) at a later time after I wrote the initial drafts.

Transferable Principle 3: Schedule the most important things in my calendar as daily/weekly appointments or they won’t get done.

I’m still working on a daily writing practice and I’d like to calendar time each day for writing/editing new articles or working on larger projects.

Question 3: What’s my next big writing project?

More on this later.

Reflection 4: Transition takes longer and involves more than I expect

Last year was a year of endings and beginnings. Those take longer and involve more than I expected. People ask me all the time if I’m feeling settled and the answer is yes and no. It’s a process and I’m not sure it’s done yet.

Transferable Principle 4: Be patient but also hustle where you can with what you can.

I love how Gary Vaynerchuk talks about the tension between hustle and patience. How they can coexist. This past year required a lot of patience for our family, but an incredible amount of hustle too. As we continue this transition, I’m thinking about my continued need to be patient but I also think I need to hustle in certain areas where progress depends on me. I need to embrace this tension in every area of my life.

Question 4: Where am I not being patient and/or not putting in the work?

Gut feeling? In every area of my life, I’m struggling with a lack of patience or a lack of hustle.

Reflection 5: Big scary steps push me to grow

This last year has stretched me like crazy. We took big steps in moving our family, quitting our jobs, finding new ones, buying a house, making new friends and learning a new area. This has been scary but it has also grown us in important ways.

Transferable Principle 5: There’s a fine line between a routine and a rut (comfortable is a dangerous place to be).

We rarely grow in our comfort zone. But we do grow in our discomfort zone. When we face our fears and step forward, we enter the unknown, fail, learn and grow. While I’m all about routine and habits, these can easily become safety bubbles and bubbles which prevent us from fully developing.

Question 5: What’s the next big scary step I need to take?

In my writing, in my leadership, in our family, in my friendships, this is a question I’m asking. I don’t have answers but that’s okay.

Now It’s Your Turn to Make Reflections!

Well, that’s how I’m doing reflection this year. I hope you have a model now which can guide your own reflection. Intelligent reflection can enable us to take what we’ve learned in one year and apply it for greater effectiveness in the next year. We’ve often learned the skill, insight, or knowledge needed for our present challenge. But until we pick it up from one arena and apply it to the arena where it’s needed, we’re missing out.

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