Cultivate happiness and transform your well-being with this simple 8-Day journaling process.
In early January 2021, I received an email with a link to a list of the top 80+ articles on Medium about planning your goals for 2021.
Seriously! 80 articles? Who has time for that?
Unless you’d rather procrastinate, sifting through 80 articles is the perfect "rabbit hole.”
For many, the end of December is their annual review time.
You might have been thinking about how 2023 went for you, what you’ve accomplished and learned, your major milestones, and so on.
Many coaches will offer a downloadable worksheet with a list of questions, or even a program, to do a deep-dive review of your accomplishments, and then establish your goals and actions for the coming year. This year, I did something different by posting a single self-reflection question on LinkedIn over 8-days.
Each question focused on a single aspect of your 2023 year-in-review, making it easier to approach in bite-size pieces, and the opportunity to think about what you've accomplished over a longer review period.
The benefit to doing this introspection more slowly and bit by bit is the possibility of getting a more profound awareness than you would if you tried to cram in a review within 1 to 3 hours.
Think about it: is 365 days of your life worth a review of more than 3 hours?
Now that I’ve published the individual questions (and done my own review by following the process), I’ve collected the daily steps in this one in-depth post for you to work on at your leisure.
Here are the 8 daily steps we'll cover:
- Define Your 2-3 significant “Beginnings” of 2023
- Define Your Top 2–3 Milestones
- Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Insights
- Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Challenges
- Define What You Stopped Doing and What Ended
- Define Your Top 2 Core Emotional States
- Define Your Connection with Humanity — To Whom Are You Most Grateful
- Create Emotional Alignment with Your Peak State of Well-Being
Here’s my invitation to you:
Commit to the next 8-days to complete this year-in-review by preparing each day in advance.
Think of this as a morning journalling process (which you can schedule in your calendar) that you can do first thing in the morning before becoming distracted by the tasks and must-dos of your day.
Allow yourself to answer the daily questions without judgement, writing your reflections and observations in your journal, or however you wish to complete this process.
Don’t consider this daily reflection process to be a “measurement” of your past year.
This is not about what you did right or wrong.
Instead, reflect on what happened, what stands out, and how those experiences shaped you. Please don't hesitate to return to previous questions as you work through this process. Add more detail and colour over the coming days as recollections and observations bubble up in your memory.
Suggestion: Review your calendar and journals to discover forgotten highlights that include major events, significant habits, and goals you accomplished.
Day 1: Define Your 2-3 significant “Beginnings” of 2023
Let's start on a high note and review the most significant “beginnings” that took place in 2023 to understand how they shaped your mindset, emotional tone, and personal evolution throughout the year.
In the introduction, I invited you to reflect on one question per day to complete the steps of this annual review framework.
Today, I want you to consider anything new that began in 2023 that was significant — meaning it had an impact on your life that is memorable, empowering, and has forever changed you.
For example, this could include new beginnings like,
- Books you read
- A job, career path, or break
- A move to a new home, city, or country
- A major purchase (like a home)
- Friendships or a relationship
Speaking of relationships, this could be a relationship you repaired — which would also be considered a new beginning.
It is so easy to forget the good things that happen in our lives. And there's a simple explanation for why this is.
Positive emotions are like Teflon, whereas negative emotions are like Velcro.
Our brains evolved to keep us safe and protect us from danger.
So, when something wonderful happens, it's important to celebrate it presently — and also to document it. Because in no time at all, the reptilian part of our brain (the amygdala or the fight or flight response) goes right back to sensing the environment for safety. And when something negative, stressful, or threatening shows up, that is the feeling that sticks!
Until we resolve the threat, it will be our primary focus — and whatever good thing happened slides immediately out of our present thoughts.
Here’s how to complete Day 1: Define Your 2-3 significant “Beginnings”
Give yourself 20–30 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete this process.
- Make a list of whatever comes to mind that was a new beginning in 2023. Don’t worry about how critical or significant it is right now.
- Review your calendar and journals to discover forgotten highlights.
- Once you feel like you’ve got enough of a list, take a few minutes to choose your top 2-3 most significant beginnings.
- For each of your top 2–3 beginnings, ask yourself the following, i) “What was so important about this event in my life?” And, ii) “How did this impact and change me, and others I care about?”
Enjoy the journey! If you need any clarification, please let me know in the comments.
Day 2: Define the Top 2–3 Milestones of Your Year
In step 1, you defined your top 2–3 beginnings, and how they changed you and others you care about.
Next, we’re going to uncover and define your top 2–3 milestones for 2023 — one of my favourite steps in this Year-In-Review Framework.
What do you think of when you hear the word, “milestone?”
Here's the dictionary definition:
- A stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
- An action or event marking a significant change or stage in the development of something.
These are the significant moments in life that we often look back on as life-changing — often making us better and happier people.
You may have 1–2 significant moments from this year that come to mind immediately. However, if you can’t think of something that feels like a milestone, that’s okay. Try not to judge the events of your life as less than or not relevant enough to be a milestone.
This is your life, your story, and what happened to you — what you experienced — matters to you.
Please don’t discount this step if you don’t think you experienced a milestone moment or two this year.
Perhaps you never gave that moment enough consideration about its impact on your life as it is now, today — which may also mean that you didn’t celebrate the moment either.
Here’s how to complete Day 2: Define the Top 2–3 Milestones
Suggestion: Block off 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete this process without distraction.
- List a few moments that you would describe as significant or milestone events in your life this year.
- Review the list and pick 1–3 that really stand out to you. Journal about how each milestone was significant, and how it changed or impacted you.
- What does each milestone tell you about what you most value in life? Give a name to the value that describes each milestone experience.
Need a list of values for reference?
Check out Steve Pavlina’s exhaustive list.
I’m excited for you to take this next step! You may have forgotten a significant moment, and the act of reflecting on it now should provide new insights and joy in your day.
Day 3: Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Insights of 2023
How many A-ha moments have you experienced lately?
Every so often, these are called “light bulb” moments — probably because the image has been popularly used in cartoons since I was a kid — a very long time ago.
From the perspective of learning, we can call these moments of insight —the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. Think of insight as shining light on an awareness or lesson you’ve never experienced, and how that changed your perception.
You “see into” the thing, getting to the root of its “truth.”
To spice things up a bit — given this current “moment” of polarization and extreme right and wrong — holding on to a way of thinking because it’s what you’ve always believed doesn’t make it right or valid.
Being attached to an idea because it’s something you were taught to believe is a lack of insight — a blindness for having never asked why you hold that belief to be true in the first place.
“Not-knowing is true knowledge.”
— Tao Te Ching
So, what were the blinding truths, insights, A-ha moments, or new learnings that glaringly stood out to you from 2023?
Here’s how to complete Day 3: Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Insights
Remember to block off 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete this process without distraction.
- Describe 2-3 of your most impactful insights or life lessons from 2023.
- How did each insight affect your choices, actions, habits, routines, relationships, or beliefs?
I’d love to know your most significant insight if you're comfortable sharing. Please let me know in the comments.
Day 4: Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Challenges in 2023
What were the 2-3 most significant challenges, problems, or setbacks that you experienced in 2023?
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
Here’s something to think about while doing this daily reflection.
The name we choose to describe something establishes a tone, a feeling, and associated thoughts and memories.
If we label everything that’s difficult in life as a problem or a challenge, we will think about that situation in a particular way. It’s one of the reasons I trained myself to default to the word, “challenge.”
- A "problem" is something that keeps you stuck in place.
- A "setback" holds you back and keeps you stuck in the past.
- Whereas a "challenge" is something to overcome.
This step might be the most important one in the entire framework.
Recall Day 4 and my suggestions that insight is like shining a light on an awareness or lesson you’ve never experienced before, and how that new awareness alters your perception.
Here’s how to complete Day 4: Define Your 2-3 Most Significant Challenges
Block off 30–60 minutes of uninterrupted, private time to complete this process without distraction. This step requires honesty and vulnerability.
- Describe your 2-3 most significant challenges in 2023.
- What were the positives for each challenge or setback? In retrospect, what can you now observe and determine were the life lessons and insight with the distance of time?
- How did you change/evolve, or did you stay stuck after each challenge? Specifically, what did you do differently? What habits or practices did you put in place after the fact?
- What value was denied or restricted during your most challenging emotional experience? Describe that value with a single word.
Please don't hesitate to share one of your significant challenges in the comments, or tell me about an insight you experienced as a result of doing this daily step.
Day 5: Define What You Stopped Doing and What Ended
Occasionally, the most important thing we can do in life is to stop doing what no longer serves us.
Maybe you stopped drinking, smoking, staying up late, reading the news first thing in the morning (which is one way to improve your mindset), and so on. Or perhaps something concluded, like for example if you finished a program of higher education, a year-long certification or training, or a work/employment contract.
To provide clarity, a distinction is required about the difference between stopping or concluding something.
- Stopping or ending something is by your choice alone.
- Something concluding ends on its own, or others were involved in the decision to end things.
In either case, the end of anything is an opportunity for new beginnings.
How to complete Day 5: Define What You Stopped Doing and What Ended
Block off 30–60 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete this process without distraction.
- Define 2-3 of the most significant events that you stopped doing/participating in, or that concluded, e.g., work, projects, habits, friendships, relationships, and so on.
- What was the main reason for each ending/conclusion?
- How did you feel about each one? What was the core emotion or feeling you experienced?
- What were the lessons or insights from deciding to stop doing what you were doing, or as a result of the concluding event?
- What was impactful or empowering about each one of these endings, and what new opportunities did they facilitate?
Whether you have completed all the steps in this framework so far, or have just started with this one (the order of the steps doesn’t have to be sequential), bravo to you for doing this deep, self-reflection.
Knowing the key moments of the past year that have helped you evolve can be useful tools for navigation — like a GPS for 2024.
Day 6: Define Your Top 2 Core Emotional States in 2023
What were the core positive and negative emotional states that you experienced in 2023?
Remember what I wrote about on Day 1?
Positive emotions are like Teflon, whereas negative emotions are like Velcro.
Since the oldest part of our brain (the amygdala) evolved to keep us safe and protect us from danger, positive experiences are short-lived by default. With practice, we can tap into the power of our cerebral cortex (our thinking/logical brain), to pay more attention to empowering and positive emotions. We can practice spending more time in the emotional states that cultivate our creativity, happiness, and well-being.
While we all experience a range of emotional states, you most likely spend more time in one that was empowering or “positive”, and one that was “negative” or undesirable.
Here are examples of core emotions to help you with today’s self-reflection exercise.
➕ Positive emotions
➖ Negative emotions
Suggestion: Brené Brown’s book, “Atlas of the Heart”, is an excellent resource for understanding our emotions and the language of human experience.
How to complete Day 6: Define Your 2 Core Emotional States
Block off 30–60 minutes of uninterrupted, private time. This step requires self-compassion and vulnerability.
- As you reflect on this past year, what was your single most empowering emotional state? Consider the high notes from your year, like your milestones (Day 2) and new beginnings (Day 1). These will provide clues to what you felt during these emotionally uplifting experiences.
- Give that positive emotion a name and describe it for yourself.
- Consider your most challenging or least desirable emotion for 2023. What was your most difficult emotional experience this year? Take a look at what you wrote about your most significant challenges (Day 4). What was the dominant negative emotion you experienced?
- Give that negative emotion a name and describe it for yourself.
- What do the positive and the negative emotions tell you about who you are?
- What would you like to do differently in 2024 around your least desirable emotion?
Be kind to yourself with today’s self-reflection.
Please don't judge yourself for what you feel or compare yourself to others. What you felt is what you experienced. What matters now is what you want to do with that self-awareness.
If you need help with today’s exercise, I invite you to send me a direct message.
Day 7: Define Your Connection with Humanity — To Whom Are You Most Grateful?
In the last few daily steps of this year-in-review framework, I have invited you to review your challenges, the ending, and your dominant negative emotional state in 2023.
Journalling about the "difficult moments" might feel uncomfortable, and being reminded of them is not necessarily fun. Reflecting on how you overcame these challenges, what you learned, and how you've grown, are the benefits of this deep introspection.
On one of the mornings while I was creating this year-in-review, I had journaled about my most significant challenges, how they overlap with my milestone moments, and the resulting powerful insights.
This is the reason I ask questions which may seem similar throughout the daily steps of this framework. We discern more about our experiences and what they mean by looking at them through the lens of different questions.
Now it's time to feel empowered by practicing gratitude — which is how we can celebrate the goodness of others.
“Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.”
—Brené Brown in “Atlas of the Heart”
How to complete Day 7: Define Your Connection with Humanity
Allow yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete this process.
- Take a few minutes to relax. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and play your favourite calming music. Please notice what you are feeling, and see if you can practice feeling calm and simple happiness at this moment.
- Ask yourself, “Who is the person in my life to whom I am most grateful in 2023?” Sit with your eyes closed and remember the moment that is the foundation for your gratitude in the vivid colour of all your senses.
- What emotions did you feel and where in your body did you experience the appreciation and gratitude for this person?
- Consider how you could best honour or show your appreciation to them. Write that down in your journal. You don’t have to do this step in real life (you might not be able to), but imagine what that would feel like if you did.
- (Optional) Review the milestone events or successes that you defined in Day 2. For each milestone, who is the person to whom you are most grateful? How could you express your appreciation to them for their impact on your life?
P.S. How did today’s practice make you feel? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
Day 8: Create Emotional Alignment with Your Peak State of Well-Being
As a life coach, I believe that your future success requires a conscious cultivation of well-being and joy — without exception.
What’s the point of pursuing your dreams, goals, or purpose if none of them bring you the experiences of freedom, happiness, and joy — all of which cultivate peak well-being?
Wisdom comes from lived experience combined with self-awareness, compassion, humility, vulnerability, open-mindedness, and understanding of the human condition.
One of the benefits of this year-end review is discovering how you have become more skillful in life by doing the inner work to discover the significance and value of these insights.
With 365 days in a year, it’s easy to lose track of the layers of memory — which is why we have been peeling back the key moments of your 2023 narrative. It’s from understanding these peak moments in life — both the empowering and the challenging — that you can decide how to feel going forward while working on what you want to accomplish.
It's much easier (and almost natural) to pursue a goal or work on a project when you are self-driven — when you are motivated.
Motivation is 100% a core emotional driver that self-propels you when things get challenging or stressful.
There are times when we get completely shut down — e.g. when we are dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship. Imagine how you will feel if you combine the single most empowering emotional state that you experienced this year (Day 7) with your most important dream or goal for 2024.
We are motivated by what we feel — not by external objects.
If your goals and dreams are not aligned with your most empowering emotion, you will not be motivated to do the work to succeed.
This is how you will cultivate well-being, happiness, joy, and personal freedom in 2024 and beyond.
How to complete Day 8: Create Emotional Alignment with Your Peak State of Well-Being
Please answer this final step only after you have completed each of the previous ones.
- What has this Year-In-Review journalling process taught you about yourself that you didn’t know before?
- How can you apply those lessons immediately in your life?
The smallest, easiest action is like tipping over the first domino which hits the next domino, causing a chain of ‘pre-programmed’ events to follow.
What is the easiest and smallest action you can take that will help you to implement what you’ve learned?
- What is a trigger you can use to remind yourself of the empowering emotional state you want to enjoy more often?
To help make this a habit, put up post-it notes (or similar) in your primary living environments to remind yourself of your trigger and to activate your empowering emotional state. You can also set reminders throughout your day by using an app or your calendar.
Conclusion — Establish Your Desired Tone for 2024
Doing an annual review can sometimes feel like a chore.
Maybe you feel pressured because everyone else is doing one — and every coach, business leader, and entrepreneur says that you should. Well, you can do whatever you want — I’m not forcing you!
The reason I originally decided to publish this year-in-review framework over 8-days was to make it simple, interesting, and more accessible. Focusing on one question per day makes a 4,000-word article seem less daunting. And even if you only complete one of the daily prompts, I’m confident you will gain invaluable insight.
Over the last 8-days, I have invited you to reflect on your 2023 to gain insight.
This included reflections on,
- Significant new beginnings
- Top milestones
- Major insights
- Significant challenges
- What ended, or what you stopped doing
- Your core positive and core negative emotional states
- To whom you are most grateful
- How to create emotional alignment with your peak state of well-being
If you complete all the daily steps in this framework, you’ll have the self-awareness and clarity to establish your most desired tone for happiness, joy, and well-being in 2024 — based on your peak experiences of 2023.
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