I have grown to love the practice of reflection, of looking back before we move forward. We do it quarterly together here when we share our What We Learned lists, and at the end of the year the whole world seems to get on board.

But reviewing our lives can quickly lead to overwhelm if we try to follow too many systems, fill out too many sheets, or create too many goals for the future.

A Gentle 3 Step Reflection

Whether you’re peering into the last twelve months or simply the last week, I’m discovering simple ways of reflecting that help my soul breathe.

The practice of paying attention serves as an anchor for the soul in a fast-moving world. Instead of waiting for the world to stop so we can catch up, let’s slow on purpose, look around, and simply name what we see.

Here are 3 simple ways to reflect on your life while still leaving some room for your soul.

1. Create a Life Energy List

When I need to know how things or going and what I can begin to potentially phase out of my life (if possible) or add more (if needed), I make what I call a Life Energy List. It’s simple and revealing and here’s how it works:

Gentle Reflection for A New Year

Reflect back on a period of time (it could be as small as the past 24 hours or as large as the last 12 months) and consider what was life-draining and what was life-giving.

You can do this in whatever areas are most relevant for your life right now. For me, I tend to reflect on these three main areas.

Personal //

  • spiritual disciplines
  • mentoring relationships
  • Sabbath practices
  • movement + exercise
  • family travel
  • reading habits

Relational //

  • community group activity
  • volunteer commitments
  • mastermind groups
  • time with friends
  • date nights
  • daily life with family
  • time with other couples

Actionable // 

  • content creation
  • business partnerships
  • daily schedule
  • workshops
  • meal planning
  • work related travel
  • professional development
  • managing
  • new projects

I may not always have something for each of these sub areas, but I look at the main three (Personal, Relational, and Actionable) and consider the events of the past, hold them for a moment in my mind, and ask myself if they gave life or drained life.

I never have to think twice or wonder. I always know as soon as I name them. You will, too.


2. Do a photo look-back

One of my favorite ways of reflecting is to peruse back through my photo library. No words required, just photos and video of the days past.

While the magazines and news anchors are choosing their most fascinating people of the year and their most compelling global headlines, looking back through personal photos helps me to focus on the important headlines in our own family and meaningful moments we shared.

2016 top nine

For example, here are my top nine Instagram photos from the year as determined by number of likes. Y’all did good.

It’s Tuscany with a prayer for those grieving + my family in December + an East Coast sunrise + me signing a few books + a quote from Dad that I just can’t quit + the loveliest street in Jerusalem + letting the ocean preach the sermon + my family in June + celebrating smallness at a cabin in the woods.

Perusing your photos is a great way to remember an insight from that book you read, that forgotten moment on your family vacation, or a breakfast you shared with friends one random Saturday morning.

Reflection doesn’t always have to lead to greater productivity or setting a goal. Sometimes it’s just about settling down to listen to your own life and appreciate the humans who live their lives beside you.


3. Review your monthly/quarterly What I Learned Lists

Okay so you probably don’t keep a running list of what you’re learning. If you do, yay! It’s a great way to review the past.

But if you don’t, I would love to invite you to begin one as a simple way to document your life in the new year.

I’ve so enjoyed the practice of keeping these lists – formerly at the end of each month, now pared down to the end of every quarter. (Our next link up list will be February 28 if you want to start adding to your own What I Learned This Winter list).

But reading over these lists, even though a lot of the content is silly, it helps me remember who I was this year, what made me laugh, what gave me pause, and what I enjoyed.

All of these things are important in life both the silly and the sacred make up our lives. Here’s How I Keep Track of What I’m Learning. Steal these ideas and make them better!

I hope you’ll take a little time to lean your head gently against the heartbeat of your life and discover what brings you joy, what feeds your soul, and how your friend Jesus might want to lead you into the next moment to come.

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