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How to Use Your Past to Make the Most of Your Future

Each December as I get ready to set my goals for the upcoming new year, I do this pivotal step first. I take the time to think backward and complete the past. By doing so, I am able to close that chapter and fully move forward into the next year. But how do you effectively think backward? 

For many of us, avoidance comes much easier than truly addressing our past. It has been tempting for me to do that as well. It’s hard to analyze what went wrong and sort through the emotions that come with disappointment or failures. 

I believe it is worth it. Thinking backward will allow you to learn and move into a better future with more relevant goals. 

Are you ready to complete the past?

The process that I teach our clients is modeled after the U.S. Army’s After Action Review. It encompasses four steps that help you to deal with your past experiences and move forward. 

  1. State what you wanted to happen. In order to effectively reflect on the past year, you must be honest with yourself about what your goals were when you started. If you have a written list of goals for 2020 pull them out to look at. If you didn’t write a list at the beginning of this past year, that’s ok. Take some time now to think back on what your plans were for 2020. Reflect on all areas of your life and write down what you had hoped would happen this past year.
  2. Acknowledge what actually happened. Use the lists above and see where the gaps are between what you hoped would happen and what actually took place. Be sure to write down any unexpected wins in each area as well. Given all that happened in 2020 and the many ways in which we each had to quickly adapt to new and continually changing circumstances, there are bound to be several successes that you didn’t expect. Even if you missed a goal that you had set, you need to acknowledge what you did accomplish. Take note of both the disappointments and the successes.
  3. Learn from the experience. What life lessons did your failures teach you? How can you apply these lessons to help keep yourself from making the same mistakes? When circumstances outside of your control forced you to quickly adapt, what did you learn about yourself? Write down these lessons so that you can remember them and use that list later as you set your goals for the next year. 
  4. Adjust your behavior. Now is when you apply the lessons you have learned this past year and use them to modify your behavior. What performance or habit can you improve on based on this new knowledge? I want to remind you to encompass more than just one area of your life as you do this exercise. For example, how did your experiences at work affect your marriage? Your health? Your finances? How do you want to adapt next year in order to achieve your new goals?

This process can bring up several emotions as you work through each step.* Use it to find closure and peace for what happened this past year. And get ready to turn the page to a new chapter!

*If you are finding anything difficult to process or deal with, please seek out a professional. There is no shame in asking for help.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use and believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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