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Reviewing your year in 4 easy strengths-based steps

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

It is all too easy to look back on your year and focus on the goals you haven't achieved, the projects not yet completed or the bad habits still to be fixed. We can be our own worst critics and the negative emotions that comes along with these thoughts can stand in our way.

But what if there was a different way to reflect on 2022 that didn't fill you with feelings of disappointment, shame or guilt? That didn't make you think that last year was a complete failure or wash out? That didn't give you a sense of dread about all the things you need to work on.

Imagine instead doing a reviewing that filled you with confidence and a sense of accomplishment. A review that helped you to realise what you are doing well and want to do more of. A review that led you to be motivated to work on your goals, project, and habits and excited for the year ahead.

A strengths-based review will help your do just that. It is a way of reviewing your year to help you:

  • Focus on what worked or went well in 2022

  • Identify your unique set of strengths

  • Reflect on how we used our strengths to accomplish things and overcome challenges

This simple reframe of looking at the positives instead of, or in addition to the negatives, can have a dramatic impact on what you think and how you feel about your year and shape your actions in the next one.

How to do a strengths-based review

SPRINT Project co-director Professor Jenn Cumming recently sat down with her great friend Dr Vikki Burns (aka The PhD Life Coach) to record a new episode of the PhD Life Coach podcast.

In episode 10, Jenn turned the table on Vikki and coached her through a strengths-based review of her year. Here is a recap of the 4 easy steps Jenn used in her conversation with Vikki and you can use for yourself.

Step 1: Gather records and reminders of the past year

12 months is a long time, and it is easy to forget things you did or achieved. So, the first step is to gather anything that will remind you of what happened in the past year - your diary, calendar, photos, and even text messages may help!

Step 2: Reflect back on what went well and your personal strengths

There is no one right or way to reflect on what well this past year. You might like to keep it simple by just asking yourself that question and writing down all that comes to mind. But it might be also helpful to have a set of questions to work through that will encourage you to think about your year in different ways.

Here are the questions that Jenn asked Vikki in the podcast and adapted from "Your Best Year 2018: Life Edition" by Lisa Jacobs:

  1. What are your favourite memories of 2022?

  2. What were your biggest achievements?

  3. What important projects did you complete?

  4. What good habits did you develop or keep going?

  5. What were your strengths and how did you use them?

  6. What was time well spent?

  7. What was money well spent?

  8. Who supported/nurtured you?

  9. Who did you enjoy supporting/nurturing?

  10. What were any obstacles or setbacks that you overcame?

If you feel stuck or find it hard to answer any of these questions, keep asking yourself "What else made me feel successful?", "What else am I proud of?", "What other progress did I make?".

Also try to think about more than one aspect of your life - your review doesn't need to just focus on your work/studies. In fact, you will probably find it more enlightening to also think about your home, relationships, finance, mental, physical and spiritual health, your role in the community, etc.

Continue reading to the end of this blog for even more hints and tips!

Step 3: Decide what you would like to start, stop and continue doing in 2023

As you reflect on your year, you will probably already start to think about how you would like to approach the next one. So, the next step is to capture these initial ideas with the Start, Stop and Continue tool.

Step 4: Celebrate completing your review

The final step of the review is to celebrate the fact you completed it. Whether you give yourself a cheer, dance to your favourite song, or reward yourself with watching an episode of a favourite show, celebrating your efforts will give you a flush of positive emotions. Your brain will associate these positive emotions with the act of reviewing your year, which will make it more likely that you will want to do it again in the future!

Some more tips

  1. Record your answers to the review questions and what you would like to start, stop and continue. You could write it down in a notebook/journal or keep a digital copy. Whatever mode you choose, just make it something that you can easily look back over the year when you need a reminder of your strengths and your plans for using them.

  2. If you get stuck when answering the questions, ask yourself how someone in your life would answer it for you. In the podcast, Jenn asked Vikki what her fiancee would say would be some of her best memories from this past year and this helped to reveal some new memories that had not immediately sprung into Vikki's mind.

  3. If you are finding it difficult to identify your strengths or thinking about how to use them, try our free interactive strengths profiling tool.

  4. If you don't feel that there are many people in your life who support/nurture you or the vice versa, you might like to think about pets, radio shows, books, devices, etc. In other words, there is no hard and fast rules about who/what might support you. Instead, you could take a creative and flexible approach to answering this question.

  5. You might also find it helpful to try another free tool, the interactive dream team. This tool will help you to reflect on different types of social support and help you find ways to build up a network around you.

So that's how you can do a strengths-based review of your year and start to turn this review into a plan for the next one!

Let us know what you think about doing a strengths-based review in the comments below and please share this post with anyone who might also find it helpful.

Epsiode 10 of the PhD Life Coach podcast is available now on Spotify, Apple and Youtube.

Be sure to also subscribe to the SPRINT project blog for more tips and tools in the future.


Bio: This post was written by Dr Jennifer Cumming, a Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham. Jenn is also a Chartered Psychologist who researches the applied aspects of sport and dance as well as translates this research to other settings, such as working with young people experiencing homelessness.

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