Welcome Introspective Human,
For the past eight years I’ve set aside time to reflect back on how the previous year unfolded with the aim of noticing nuggets of self-insight as well as setting clear intentions for the year to come.
Each year the questions and format have evolved and been distilled down into a series of prompts that if contemplated thoughtfully will allow you to orient towards what matters most in the year to come and calibrate your compass towards its true north.
For many of us 2021 was a challenging but transformational year, it would be a real shame to let those deeper insights go to waste.
"Writing an annual review is one of the highest leverage uses of your time—zoom the lens out to celebrate victories, learn from struggles and orient towards what matters most in the year to come.” –Jonny Miller
🚀 What's included in ‘Reflecting Forwards 2021’
Reflecting Forwards is a customisable Notion template that includes:
📆 An introspective checklist for gathering materials (photos, calendars, highlights, challenges) from the previous year to prime your subconscious and elicit meaningful memories.
💡 15 prompts (with examples) guiding you through a retrospective of 2021, followed by 22 prompts to guide you towards starting 2022 with deep insight and clarity in the areas of life that matter most.
👑 A primer on the 4 core archetypes and how this framework can guide you towards more meaningful self-enquiry.
👨🚀 Nine curated examples of monthly reviews written by thoughtful and prolific creative humans.
>> BELOW IS A PREVIEW—ACCESS THE FULL VERSION HERE
👨💻 How To Use This Template
It is obviously entirely up to you how much time you choose to spend on this review process.
- The First Timer // For those of you who are approaching this tentatively for the first time I would recommend setting aside a minimum of 90 minutes—roughly 3x 30-minute chunks of time for each of the sections. Simply set a timer and answer the questions + prompts that you feel most drawn to (delete the rest once you're done)
- The Deep Dive // And for those who have the time and inclination to do a deeper dive, I like to set aside 3x 3-hour chunks (ideally on separate days) but it could of course be shorter or longer depending on how deep you get pulled in!
Given that there are 365 days next year, spending <1% of this time getting clear on your direction seems like time very well spent.
Day 1. 🕵️♂️ Gather introspective material
I like to cast the net far and wide to saturate my subconscious with memories and reflections from the year.
If you keep a journal or write monthly reviews this is obviously an excellent first port of call. But don't stop there, looking at your Instagram stories archive + Twitter feed may also contain forgotten nuggets.
Perusing your calendar month by month to jog your memory of milestones, as might your Spotify most played songs or Goodreads profile.
Pay particular attention to emotional salience of these memories, i.e. moments that felt like highs + lows (the failures and struggles usually contain the real nuggets of gold)
Day 2. 🤔Reflecting Backwards on 2020
Using the questions outlined in the template below as prompts and jumping off points for your own exploration.
I strongly encourage you to add your own flavor of questions based on the roles that you operate from—for example if you have your own business then this will likely deserve it's own category, likewise if you are a parent or partner. Remember that this process is designed to be an exploration, if you do it well you will notice yourself writing something that you didn't realise you knew.
Day 3. 🔭 Reflecting Forwards to 2021
This is the fun part. The questions below are designed to reveal clarity over your deepest intentions + desires for the year. 2020 was a big year for many of us.
I also recommend theming each year (see Dr. Jason Fox for more on this). For example, my word for 2020 was 'Flow' and my word for 2021 is 'Depth'. These words may be clear from the outset or they may emerge from your reflections.
You might surprise yourself at how your values have shifted or even the vision of your imagined future.
The questions are designed to provoke and challenge you, if any cause discomfort to answer, excellent — lean into it, there's likely something juicy on the other side 😅
📝 The Case for Writing an Annual Review
I've been writing annual reviews for 7 years now, and it has been one of the most rewarding exercises of my life.
Here are some of the benefits I gain from the process:
Clarity on next year's intentions, clear 'creative constraints', refreshed and re-aligned my values, mined the previous year's challenges for insights, become aware of broader themes and patterns as well as allowing myself to celebrate the highlights.
Upon completing this seemingly self-indulgent exercise I feel a greater sense of coherence and meaning for the projects I commit to and the underlying values that drive the intention.
2020 was one hell of a year. But what did you learn from it? This is a chance to mine the year for golden nuggets of self-knowledge.
More importantly, for those of you who experienced struggles in 2020 (i.e. most of humanity) this is a chance to derive meaning and insights from those experience.
Above all, I encourage you to use this as a starting point for yourself. Steal what's useful, delete what isn't.
Add your own questions, remix it any way you want and really make it feel like your own. This template is designed to be more provocative than prescriptive.
Ultimately the questions that you choose and the format of your annual review will evolve into a deeply personal mirror and reflection of what matters most in your life.
🤴 A Primer on the 'Archetype' Framework
What are Archetypes?
Archetypes are essentially universal genetic human patterns that impact various aspects of our personality and shape how we show up in the world. When we reflect on ourselves and how this past year unfolded I find these four archetypes to be extremely useful lenses to view all aspects of our lives.
Which Archetypes are we using?
I was gifted the book 'King, Warrior, Magician, Lover' and it has had a profound impact on my life so this year I'm experimenting with using this framing to write my annual review—building on reflection prompts from previous years and integrating them into this framework.
Although I would definitely recommend obtaining a copy of the book (link), there is no need to have read it to get the gist of what they represent. Below I've summarised each of the four archetypes in my own words.
Note on gender: although the book was originally intended to describe mature masculine archetypes, they absolutely apply to both genders (read more here)
👑 KING // QUEEN
The King/Queen or ‘Sovereign’ archetype is the aspect that we most associate with leadership—of ourselves, our families, our teams—it is the part that holds our own vision for life and connects to a deeper sense of purpose.
This aspect is where our most important decisions (hopefully) come from—from where to live, who to be in relationship with, what to dedicate our careers to.
In a mature expression the Sovereign is a ‘heart-centred’ leader who holds responsibility for guarding the kingdom (your family, business etc.), speaking truth and not looking away from potentially uncomfortable situations or circumstances.
In the context of this annual review your King/Queen is the one who likely drew you to commit time to this process and cares that your upcoming year unfolds in a way that aligns with your highest values and what matters most to you.
⚔️ WARRIOR // HUNTRESS
Your Warrior/Huntress represents the part of you that takes action out in the world, the aspect that gets sh*t done and sets clear boundaries.
As you might imagine he/she also holds our sense of power, commitment and agency in the world.
In the context of this annual review the warrior reflections will look at ways in which we did or didn’t follow through with our commitments to self and others as well as how we fared at setting effective boundaries. The warrior in you speaks truth even when it might rock the boat.
The negative connotations we might associate with this arise when the ‘warrior’ is disconnected from it’s King and Lover aspects, which give rise to ‘shadow warrior’ qualities (for more on this listen to my conversation with Erick Godsey)
🧙♀️ MAGICIAN // CRONE
Your magician/crone within us is our internal problem solver and creative genius. For many of us left-brained + analytical types the magician archetype is alive and kicking.
This aspect loves an intellectual challenge to dive into and is the force behind business or empire building (think Elon Musk or Steve Jobs as expressions of this magician energy).
Challenges arise when this aspect dominates and leaves us disconnected from our emotions (the Lover) and our purpose (the King/Queen).
The magician also came up with strategies to keep us safe when we were growing up but many of these no longer serve us in adulthood (for example creating perfectionist tendencies or fear of putting our creative work out into the world).
❤️ LOVER // LOVER
Your lover represents the moments of awe and rapture, when the ineffable beauty of an experience—watching a sunset, being with an intimate partner or listening to music—sinks into our hearts and cracks us open to a deeper experience of life.
The lover is the poetic imagination that is alive in us all, it is our source of compassion and empathy for others and it’s greatest desire is to transcend into one-ness—whether through peak flow states, being moved through great works of art or having our hearts blasted open through moments of deep intimacy.
👪 TRIBE // TRIBE
I have added ‘TRIBE’ to this review because although it’s not an archetype, in the context of reflecting on one’s life our relationships and community play a vital role (especially in times of COVID when this is even more challenging than it once was) that I felt it was essential to include this as a 5th section.
NB. If this mythical language is off-putting for you, there is no need to adopt it and the prompts will make just as much sense without this framework.
📚 Nine Curated Examples of Awesome Annual Reviews
Buster Benson // For the last 14 years Buster has written highly introspective and thoughtful reviews, I particularly appreciate his themes e.g. love the struggle and the interactive 'life in weeks' visualisation.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff // I really appreciated her parting words: "If there’s something 2020 has taught me, it’s to appreciate the detours; to enjoy the weird pit stops; to collect unexpected memories. I don’t know what next year will look like, but I’m excited to keep on exploring the labyrinth that is life."
Taylor Pearson // Not an annual review but a highly pragmatic and detailed approach to 'anti-fragile' planning. A must-read for type-A, ambitious left-brainers.
Dr. Jason Fox // This is more of a mini-book that he playfully names 'The Quest of Becoming'—I would definitely recommend reading the post on 'pick a word' as a way of theming your upcoming year. E.g. my word for 2021 will be 'Depth'.
James Clear // One of the more prolific + concise writer's out there—James approach to writing his review is refreshingly minimalist. He just answers three questions: 1. What went well this year? 2. What didn’t go so well this year? 3. What did I learn?
Steph Smith // A relentless writer + maker, Steph's approach will appeal to anyone who enjoys tracking + hitting milestones in all areas of life. Her practice of sharing the lessons behind the goals is insightful.
Chris Guillebeau // Spreadsheet lovers, this one is for you—whilst I've personally moved away from the rather intense goal-setting approach, it definitely resonates for some folks and is effective for taking abstract ideas and making them happen!
Tiago Forte // One of the most inspiring and prolific creators out there, Tiago is a genuinely deep thinker and I especially appreciate his practice of identifying 'open questions' for the following year. E.g. How can I have as much fun as possible, as much of the time as possible, without feeling guilty about it?
Paul Millerd // Paul 'I have no goals' Millerd as I sometimes like to call him used Roam for his review. Some questions I appreciated were: 'What should you double down on in 2020?' 'What kinds of work do you want to stop doing in 2020?' And 'What kind of goals for 2020 can you commit to even though they might scare you?'
💬 Join the pop-up Whatsapp Group to share insights
For the month of December I'll be hosting an optional pop-up whatsapp thread for those of us who wish to compare notes and reflect in community. The group will be remain open until Jan 10, 2022.
🕵️♂️ 1 // Gathering Introspective Material
🤔 2 // Reflecting Back on 2021
THEME FOR THE YEAR: [XXXXXXX]
👑 KING // QUEEN
✊ How aligned was how I spent my time with my core values?
Or phrased another way: where/when did I fall short or lose sight of the big picture?
🤼 Which moments or situations did I embrace discomfort?
Although we usually only realise in retrospect, often it's our challenges that act as catalysts for personal growth and insight. Which moments from the year stood out as particularly salient or character building and what were some of the key insights that emerged?
👨⚕️ How well did I take care of myself and my health?
Do you feel exhausted or burned out from the year? How do you feel about your current levels of physical and mental health? What are you proud of in terms of taking care of yourself?
⚔️ WARRIOR // HUNTRESS
💪 Which commitments did I follow through with?
Look back to any intentions/goals that you set in January 2020. How did you fare?
🤷♂️ Where did I struggle to stand my ground?
Were there situations when I struggled to speak my truth or did I spend time with people or projects that drained my energy?
🙅♂️ What boundaries did I set with myself and others?
Often our stress + challenges arise when we fail to clearly communicate our own needs and priorities with others (often out of fear of missing out or letting someone down).
🧙♀️ MAGICIAN // CRONE
🏆 What did I feel proud of accomplishing?
Which projects did I see through to completion this year?
👨🎓 What did I learn or what skills did I develop?
What courses did I take? What areas did I improve my skillset? What were some of the best books that I read?
❓ Which questions deeply fascinated me?
When the path isn't totally clear, our curiosity is often the most accurate guide to bringing out our gifts and talents. Learning to sit in ambiguity and living our way into the answers of these questions is a powerful way to bring our Magician energy into the world.