It’s that time of the year, a time to reflect back on the past twelve months. Simple reflection isn’t enough, though. Without active self-analysis and honest evaluation, of the strengths and successes, as well as the weaknesses and failures, any reflection is wasted.
So, why do we so often focus on the extremes, viewing the year as a composite positive or negative? It’s really quite understandable from a psychological standpoint. As humans, we tend toward oversimplification. It’s in our DNA, and the tendency can be tough to resist. But we must, especially if we hope to grow in the upcoming year.
Teaching ourselves active reflection isn’t difficult, but it does take concerted effort, particularly at first. With my coaching clients, I suggest the following steps:
1) Block time for reflection – Let’s face it. Even the best among us are busy, and it’s too easy to want to reflect and intend to reflect, but never get around to it. Make a commitment to schedule at least an hour of time in each of the next four weeks to do nothing else but reflect. And when that time comes, turn off your email and smart phones. Close the door, and really isolate yourself.
2) Ask for feedback – Before your scheduled reflection times, ask those closest to you for their impressions of what you’ve done particularly well or poorly in the past year. Ask for both actions and decisions. And keep an open and non-defensive mind for this.
3) Decide for yourself what was positive and negative – Just because others view your actions and decisions as either positive or negative does not necessarily mean that you must agree with them. Be your own person, but be honest with yourself, as well. If you think their perceptions are inaccurate for whatever reason, make sure you can document to yourself why you feel otherwise. If you can’t or if it’s just a gut feeling you have, reconsider if your ego may be leading you.
4) Plan for success – Based on your self-evaluation, look forward to the next year and determine where you will get the most bang for your buck. Focus on leveraging your strengths to overcome weaknesses, instead of simply strengthening areas of weakness. Typically, we’re weakest at things about which we are least passionate. So, unless it’s a true career derailer, play to your strengths.
5) Communicate & publicize your plan – Once you’ve developed an action plan for moving yourself and your career (or your organization through your leadership) further, get it in writing and put it out there for all to see. Nothing says humility better than a leader who acknowledges his or her shortcomings, as well as the successes. And nothing holds oneself more accountable for actively pursuing individual growth than letting others know your personal development priorities.
Will 2012 be more successful than 2011? That remains to be seen (and depends on your definition of success). But if you follow these five steps, you yourself will grow stronger and more valuable to any organization in the next year. You can only control that which you control, and your own self-development is entirely under your control. Just don’t leave it to chance!