How to Do a Reflection and Intention Process for the New Year

Photo by McKay Savage via Flickr Creative Commons (

This is becoming a Liberated Life Project annual tradition! For the past two years, I have published this post and it’s been a favorite for a lot of folks. Since there are many new members of “Team Liberation” this year, I thought I’d share it again, with a few updates. This is a very experiential post, so get out your pen and journal!


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 Personal Intentions for 2013

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.

For this coming year, I feel quite clear that my first intention is to “Create Space.” I notice how over the past few years I have said “yes” to more and more things, not all of which are aligned with my deepest purpose. It is time to release those things in order to allow new opportunities to flow through.

My second intention has to do with “Finding My Voice.” Over this past year, I’ve had several opportunities to step into more teaching and leadership roles. I’ve given a couple of dharma talks at Upaya Zen Center (one on ‘sanity’ and one on ‘gratitude‘), and I’ve offered my own e-course right here on “Falling in Love with Your Work.” In all those instances, I felt like I was tapping into some rich vein of gold. I have begun to realize just how much I have to offer, not in an egotistical way, but from a place that comes from my most authentic self.

I want to learn more about that gold mine! I have a vision of traveling around the U.S. (and Canada) in the coming year to meet some of you, to offer talks and half-day workshops related to the themes we explore here on the LLP, and to continue ‘finding my voice.’ Let me know if you’d be interested in hosting me for a visit to your town!

How about you? Do you have some kind of year-end reflection process? What are you celebrating from 2012? 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 2013, what would it say? Please share it with us here!


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11 Responses to “How to Do a Reflection and Intention Process for the New Year”
  1. Come to Chicago Maia and speak at the Zen Life & Meditation Center!

  2. Joy says:

    I love your process! I, too, set intentions..and I use a theme word to guide my overall intention. My theme word of 2013 is collaboration. The depth of the intent is along the lines of collaborating with Source, through love and gratitude, as I create and connect. The range of the intent is *unlimited* :)

    And, if you’d like to collaborate on a 1/2 day workshop here, I know of two wonderful spaces and would love to work with you :)

  3. Carole Folsom-Hill says:

    Your sharing is inspiring. Would love to have you visit here.

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Thank you, dear Carole — I’d love to come visit your neck of the woods! I can envision a northwest loop of the tour : )

  4. Great article. “I’ve found that my goals are much more powerful if I back myself up one step and connect with my deepest intentions.” This is so true. A mentor long ago taught me to take some time to reflect at least once a week. By including thoughts about intentions I can develop a better understanding of how to do your best in whatever you want to do and then commit to it.

  5. mary says:

    This is lovely. Beautifully in accord with my own practice and even better! Thank you!

  6. Kathy McGrane says:

    Some intentions for 2013……
    To truly be at ease in my inner and outer life: in my body, in my mind, in my marriage, in my job, in my relationships.
    To live, speak and act authentically, abandoning self-censorship out of fear of how others will respond.
    To choose compassion over judgment.
    To soften and practice presence.
    To meditate daily so that I might be of benefit of all sentient beings.

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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).

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