Look Back to Plan Forward

Published January 2, 2017

What did you do to welcome the New Year? Throw a party? Toast at midnight? Spend time reflecting on the past year and creating a plan for making the most of the new one?

Researchers have discovered that transitional times (like the new year, or the beginning of a season) naturally motivate us as human beings to make changes and try new things. That’s probably why we make New Year’s Resolutions, vow to lose weight, and go back to the gym, only to find it full. It’s a natural time to “turn over a new leaf.”

For many years, I’ve used this time of year to look back on the previous 12 months and evaluate my experiences – as a leader, husband, father, grandfather, friend and business owner. I’ve often said that experience alone isn’t a good teacher. But evaluated experience is.


First, I pull out my calendar and make a list of significant events, tasks, meetings, decisions and accomplishments. I spend time reflecting, in order to remember and write down every experience that stood out in the past year. I write down both positive and negative experiences, because I know I learn more from losing than from winning.


What did I do that I shouldn’t have done?
What did I spend a lot of time on? Was it a priority? Was it in my strength zone? Was it something only I could do, or should I have delegated it? What will I do differently this year?

What didn’t I do that I should have done?
What’s missing from the calendar? What did I neglect that I should have been a priority? What action didn’t I take, that really should have been done? What will I do differently this year?

What is the most important thing I did this year to help someone else?
Can I do it again next year (for them or another person)? Did I do it as effectively as possible? How could I do it better in the future?

What did I do this year that helped me grow more than anything else?
Is it repeatable? Do I want to make it a regular habit? How can I break it down into manageable “chunks” to make it happen again this year? What else can I do to grow?

Where do I need to be more intentional?
Where did I let things happen to me, instead of making them happen? What bad habits do I need to break? In what areas do I need to focus more attention, make important decisions, and take steps in a positive direction?

How can I take things to the next level?
How can I take a good experience and make it somehow better? How can I grow more this year? How can I make something that was satisfying even more satisfying? How can I top last year’s accomplishments? How can I exceed my own expectations, as well as the expectations of others? Don’t settle for good when great is a possibility.

By listing and asking myself questions about my experiences, I’m able to truly learn from them. Then I can apply the lessons learned to the coming year. This allows me to be as intentional as possible in how I grow personally and add value to others.

Making resolutions or goals that are disconnected from your current habits and recent experiences often doesn’t work. You must connect what you desire to do and change to evaluation of your experience, or you will end up like many others who make resolutions on New Year’s Day and break them by the end of January.

If you haven’t already looked back at last year, take the time to study your wins and losses, then ask yourself the questions above. You too can use the coming of the New Year to make important changes and grow to be more effective in every area of your life.

About the Author(s)
John Maxwell

John C. Maxwell

Leadership Expert, Best-Selling Author, Coach

John Maxwell Company

John C. Maxwell, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker, was identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc. in 2014. His organizations—The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team and EQUIP—have trained over 6 million leaders in every nation. His latest book is Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters.

Years at GLS 1996, 1999, 2005, 2016, 2018

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