How to Do a Reflection and Intention Process for the End of the Year

Photo by McKay Savage (

Last year I published this post at the end of December. Many people seemed to appreciate the process I offered. Since there are many new members of “Team Liberation” I thought I’d share it again.

And — I’ll be taking these next two weeks off from blogging to focus on writing my thesis for the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program… it’s time for me to get serious! But I’ll be back in early January with a special interview with Lori Deschene, creator of Tiny Buddha and the wonderful book of the same name. May you have a wonderful holiday season, and I’ll see you in 2012!


These last few weeks of the year are a great time to pause and look back at where you’ve come from and ahead toward where you’d like to go. Some people use this time to do assessments or evaluations of their past year and then come up with resolutions or goals.

I think evaluations and goals are useful… but I’m a bigger fan of reflections and intentions.

Reflections are similar to evaluations, but more subjective in tone. They can even be poetic. Rather than making a laundry list of your achievements over the last 12 months, doing a reflective process is an invitation to explore the feeling tones of your year. What you’ve actually done is important, of course, but understanding some of the deeper waves of emotion and spirit that have washed through your life this past year can bring some catalytic insights.

The difference between intentions and goals is more distinct. Intentions come from the heart and soul – they are rooted in the values that are most important to you. An intention is connected to your life’s purpose, and is a specific way of expressing it at a given time in your life.

Goals are an explicit manifestation of those intentions. And objectives take that one step further, giving us tangible ways to measure if we are meeting our goals.

Let’s say that my intention is to be in vibrant good health, because that’s how I am best able to contribute to the world — and making a contribution is one of my core values. One of the goals I could set for that intention would be to exercise more consistently. The objective then might be: go to the gym three mornings a week and do a cardio workout for at least 30 minutes.

I’ve found that my goals are much more powerful if I back myself up one step and connect with my deepest intentions.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve developed my own Reflection and Intention process, refining the flow and the questions each year. When I’m really on top of things, I’ll set aside a day at the turn of every season to do this process. At the very least I make sure to do this process once a year, usually in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. What I’m about to describe is the process that works best for me. I invite you to make it your own in whatever way feels right for you.

How to Do Your Own Reflection and Intention Process

Give yourself at least one full day to go through this process. Go to a favorite place where you can be assured of solitude and quiet. Bring a journal and your favorite pen. (By the way, I think the process takes on a whole different dimension if you write it out by hand rather than tapping it out on a computer.) You may also want to bring your calendar from the past year as well as any journals you’ve kept to help remind you what’s transpired during this time.

If you have some kind of spiritual or contemplative practice that helps you connect with yourself like meditation or yoga, begin your day with that.

Then allow yourself lots of time to reflect and write on the following questions:

1) What am I celebrating? What am I grateful for? What has been wonderful and magical about this past year?

2) What is one aspect about myself that I have especially loved this year? What am I proud of?

3) What would I have done differently this year?

4) What do I want to let go of?

5) What do I want to call in for the new year?

Creating space to allow this process to unfold is crucial. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to journal on each question. Take a break between each question, return to your yoga or meditation practice for a while, or take a walk. Switching gears like this is balm for the creative and reflective self.

If you think you’ve come to the end of your writing after a short time, wait a few moments more and see what comes. If you need some prompts to get you further, you might want to use the same five categories that I use for the Liberated Life Project: Spirit, Creativity, Relationships, Livelihood/Finances, and the World We Live In (engagement with your larger community). Explore each of those areas in relation to the above questions.

More About the Questions

• The first three questions are the reflective ones, questions that should evoke enough memories and thoughts to paint a meaningful picture of your life over the past year, and also to exercise your gratitude muscle. It’s fine to list some of the things that you’ve accomplished this year, but make sure to dig one level deeper to notice why those things are important to you, and how you got there. Did you have to break some old habits or patterns to do these things?

• The fourth question begins to open the door for intentions for the new year. It recognizes the truth that we often have to let go of old beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in order to make space for new ones to take root in our lives.

• The fifth question is the most akin to goals and planning for the new year, but allow yourself to paint in fairly broad strokes here. This is all about vision and intention at this stage. Try to connect to your most heartfelt aspiration here, both for your life and for the state of the planet right now. It really is okay to be as general as saying that you want to live in more abundance in the coming year, and that you envision peace on earth. You’ll get more specific later.

As part of this fifth question, it can also be helpful to create a Vision Board (also known as a Dream Board) to give your vision and intentions a graphic dimension. Here’s an example of a Vision Board from my friend, Aysha Griffin, and her description of the process:

And Finally…

After you’ve completed your day of reflection and journaling, let this process sit for a week or so. Then set aside a block of two or three hours, return to to what you’ve written, and fill in the details for question #5. This is when goals and objectives take their place. You might want to use a template like the one that Chris Guillebeau (author of The Art of Non-Conformity) provides in his Annual Review.

If you’ve gone through the process described above, your goals and objectives will be firmly rooted in your deepest intentions, and that will provide you with an amazing spark throughout the year.

The last thing I want to say about this process is to be gentle with yourself, both in the way that you reflect on your life — honesty, yes, but please, no harshness! — and also how you carry your intentions and goals into the new year. There’s nothing worse than being a slave to a New Year’s resolution and then being devastated when you don’t keep it. This is about living from a place of love and intention, not willpower and grit.

My Intention for 2012

My birthday falls at a handy time… it’s always right around Thanksgiving, so I have a lot of reason to consider what I’m grateful for over the past year and then I get a whole month to form my intentions and goals for the coming year. This birthday, the two words that came clearly to me were “Embodiment” and “Joy.” Those are the north stars toward which I’ll keep myself pointed for 2012.

How about you? Do you have some kind of year-end reflection process? What are you celebrating from 2011? What are your deepest intentions for this coming year? If you could fly a banner above your head to remind yourself of your theme for 2012, what would it say?


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7 Responses to “How to Do a Reflection and Intention Process for the End of the Year”
  1. Hi Maia,

    Yours is such a deeply rooted and well thought out process. I’m impressed. You make quite a substantial commitment to the process. I’ll be entering into a more reflective phrase toward the last part of the year and will bring these questions along with me. In the meantime, I’ve chosen my “one powerful word” for 2012 which is “Faith”. Thank you, Maia

  2. Heather says:


    Thank you for this timely post. Today is my first day after semester’s end…a day of great joy and excitement but one which often seeks to clarify my month’s activities AND begin undertaking those all at once. On my mark….get set….GO! But today, instead, I think I will follow your questions and calm my mania. Many blessings to you in your time of writing!

    PS To both you and Sandra…I’ve linked to your blogs on my blog, Thanks to you both for keeping me grounded… :)


  3. Diana W says:

    Hi Maia,
    Just wanted to let you know I adapted your 5 questions into a meditation and led it with several of my UCLA groups this week, including with 100+ people at the Hammer Museum. People found it to be really helpful.
    We practiced basic mindfulness practice for the first 15 minutes to help our minds get more calm and connected, and then into the silence I offered each of the questions, giving them a few minutes per question to see what arose organically from inside them. Then I ended it by having them imagine living their life next year with this quality. What would it look/feel/be like? Anyway it was so much fun and people loved it and I wanted to thank you for your clear and well-thought out questions.

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About Maia

All my life, I’ve loved the idea of liberation and looking deeply into the question: What does it really mean to be free?

That's what the Liberated Life Project is all about.

You can find my work on two other places on the web -- click on the badges to the right to visit "The Jizo Chronicles" (my blog on socially engaged Buddhism) and Five Directions (my consulting business).

Learn more...