Pause for reflection, planning and purpose for growth-minded people


The end of the year can have many significant traditions: personal, professional, cultural, religious and more. One of my professional practices as the calendar turns over is to carve out time to reflect on the year that is closing, to map out goals for the year ahead and to reconnect to my personal purpose, which encompasses everything I do. This process is essential for envisioning what’s possible, achieving my business growth goals, and investing in my personal development as a business owner and life-long learner.


Let me walk you through the steps I take, along with a few examples from my clients, to help you decide on a similar process that might work for you:


Step 1: Block time.

I look for times when I know I will be free from client and family needs. Sometimes, I need to block several chunks of time and other years, I have a full day to focus on this work. Regardless, the dedicated, distraction-free time is important for me to connect with my thoughts and dreams.


Step 2: Find a framework.

In my coaching practice, I use appreciative inquiry as a tool for personal and professional growth and learning. I find it to be especially helpful for my reflection and goal setting process, too. You may have a series of questions or other structure that helps you organize abstract thoughts about where you’ve been and where you want to go.

If you aren’t familiar with the tenets of appreciative inquiry, here’s a brief introduction:

  • Discovery: Ask yourself “what is the best about how things are now?” This question helps uncover things to maintain, invest in, celebrate in your current life and work.

  • Dream: Consider “what could be?” Give yourself time to imagine an ideal version of your job, workplace, life, etc.

  • Design: Think about “what would it take to make it happen?” Determine the steps, skills, resources, and relationships it will take to get to your envisioned future. This is also the part of the process where you might decide to set some aspects of the dream to the side for now to focus on others.

  • Destiny: Work toward “what will be.” Be creative, resourceful and intentional in taking steps toward making your dream your reality. Prepare for setbacks, new opportunities, and redirection.

There are workbooks full of self-reflection, purpose and goal setting exercises if you prefer a more tangible guide. Kevin Cashman’s The Pause Principle is a helpful book to gain a deeper understanding of why purposeful reflection leads to better outcomes.


Step 3: Set the mood.

This will be different for everyone. I prefer to do this work in a cozy space that feels a little closed off from the world. It helps with my distraction-free mindset. If I listen to music while reflecting, it is instrumental, groovy, and high-energy. A candle, aromatherapy, or fireplace can add to the ambiance. But maybe your needs are different. Some people like to be in nature while doing their most expansive thinking. So if a walk through the woods or gazing at open water are more your speed, find a place and time you can access — or create the feel of — that environment.


Step 4: Do the work!

Reflect, celebrate and plan. This is the time to work through the questions, prompts, workbook or framework you decided on in Step 2.


Step 5: Document your thoughts.

Having the right tools can enable the process. I like to have a variety of markers and a special notebook or planner to record my thoughts. If you are someone who is reflecting while outdoors or on-the-move, then a voice notes app might be useful for journaling during your reflections (as long as you don’t let your phone be a distraction!).


Each year, I create a vision board for my business, Leadership Refinery. While you might be picturing a scrapbook, my board is more like Pinterest! It includes partners and companies I want to work with in the future, representations of the type of work I want to be doing, and shifts in my business. It’s a digital board that I can always have with me and check on my progress, remind myself of my goals when I have downtime between meetings or while waiting for my kids. One of my clients drew the elements of her vision board because it helped her connect more deeply to her plans. Your representation of your reflections and goals will look different than mine, but the important part is to find and create a format that inspires you. Or if “inspires” is a step too far, then aim for a format helps you hold yourself accountable.


Step 6: Check in throughout the year.

Being self-employed, I don’t have the structure of a corporate personal development plan or performance review, but I’ve worked in those settings before. In fact, I have been in charge of the development planning process for global organizations so I truly understand the impact and value of investing in personal growth. I have found it helpful for my personal and professional growth to make some of those corporate practices — like a development plan with regular check-ins — part of my work. I also schedule quarterly reviews with myself to track progress on my plan. It’s the small steps and the routine of tracking progress that build the discipline needed to bring the plan to life, over time.


I hope the ideas and process I shared prompt you to find your own path to reflection, goal setting and illuminating personal purpose. It may look quite different from my year-end rituals and process, and that’s a good thing. The point is to draw out what’s important to you and celebrate the year in the rearview mirror.


Originally published on Medium.com

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