Reflection Activities to Build Mindfulness of the Past and Coming Year

Between now and the end of January, we commonly create lists of “resolutions” that range from aspirational dreams to concrete, measurable goals. Then, as the year progresses and the motivation fades—we revert to old patterns and the cycle continues. When we reframe our new year transition by looking for what is most important, we can mindfully reflect on the past year and use these insights to look ahead to the coming year with better intention. 

This article is an opportunity for you to give the inter-year reframe a try. Whether alone or as a family, reflection activities can help you hone in on what is most important, and honor what brings a sense of meaning for you in the coming year.

A Year In Pictures: This activity creates a personal or shared story of the year’s most important highlights using pictures. It can be used for personal or group reflection in a team or a family. 

  1. Access your master digital photo folder. Scroll all the way back to January 1 of this year. 
  2. Curate photo highlights for each month. Select 1-5 photos for every important or meaningful highlight of January. (*NOTE: Any “major” life event counts as a highlight. These can include difficult or painful things as well.) Divide highlights into four categories: events, places, people, and things. Note why each photo made the highlights list: why is this photo important/ meaningful?  Then do the same for every other month.
  3. Create a list of the highlights by month. Capture the highlights by month in writing, and note whether they were important events, places, people or things. Record your responses. (Younger participants may need to dictate their responses to an adult. Have them describe important things: “In January, I picked pictures of [3] important things: riding my bike with my friend, our family trip to the lake, and my dog, Sammy.” Repeat for each month.
  4. Review all the “highlights” lists by month to create a SuperList. Count repeated themes from month to month. How many of your photo highlights were focused on each category (event, place, people, things)?  Based on the frequency of their appearance, list your top 5 “most important” or “most meaningful” highlights by category.
  5. Pick 1 photo to represent your Top 5 in each category. This might be a tough decision… but for each category, which photo really shows what was the most important thing to you this year? Why is it so important/meaningful? 
  6. Create a slide show or collage of the photos from your Highlight SuperList. Under each photo, describe (a) when the picture was taken, (b) why it is important/meaningful. If doing this as a group, once individuals have shared, compile a Team, Group, or Family Highlight slide show.
  7. Reflect on/share your “Year In Pictures” slide show or montage. How did this activity help you identify the most important events, people, places, and things in your life? As you look at your list, how would you describe who/what has been most important? If doing this activity as a group, did any of the highlights surprise you?
  8. Actively bring what is most important into the New Year. For each photo on the slide show, create one action you can take into the new year to honor that important thing. This is how each person can intentionally make room for what is most important to them in the coming year. For example, for a photo of an event, why was it important? If it was a sad or painful event, what is one action to work on the grieving or healing process? If the photo was an accomplishment or happy event, can something else be done that could be equally meaningful? If the photo is of a person, what can you do to show that person how much they mean to you? 

Soundtrack of the Year: This activity uses music to connect and reflect on the past and future. It creates creativity, curiosity, awareness, and appreciation for the way people are thinking, feeling and experiencing the passing seasons of life.

  1. Review the year. Using a personal or shared calendar, begin in January and review all the major events that happened in the past 12 months.
  2. Tell the story. Individually or as a group, create a list of the big things that had the biggest impact/were most significant. Then answer the following questions:
  • What were the biggest challenges or obstacles faced?
  • What were the most frequent feelings?
  • What were the most common thoughts going through your head(s) during each major event, challenge, or season?
  • What were the most frequent “buzz words” or phrases used to get through the day (or challenge)?
  • What were the biggest surprises?
  • What were the biggest wins? 
  • What were the most frequent things that had to get done?
  1. Find the Soundtrack. Based on the answers to these questions, each participant can find a song that most embodies the experiences of this last year.
  2. Play the song(s)! Each participant in the group should take turns playing their selected “Soundtrack of the Year” and explain why it embodies the personal/shared story of the past year. 
  3. The “Soundtrack of the Year” Is… Once everyone has played their song, the group can vote to decide which song most represents their past year, and why it sums up your shared story. 
  4. New Year Soundtrack… Looking ahead, is the last year’s soundtrack or song representative of your mindset for the new year? If not, have everyone submit a song that represents the way you hope the approach next year will be. Once again, members share their proposed New Year soundtrack or song and why this represents their aspirations for the coming year. 

Rather than an arbitrary list of resolutions or goals, these interactive reflection activities can create awareness and appreciation for all that we’ve experienced, processed, and learned from in the past year—helping to shape our mindset and intentions for the year ahead. The mindfulness of these exercises reflect the message of a song by Great Big World, called “This Is The New Year” that challenges us to stop and reflect on the choices made throughout past trip around the sun, and to enter the new year with intentionality and hope: 

Speak louder than the words before you

And give them meaning no one else has found…
Say everything you’ve always wanted

Be not afraid of who you really are
Cause in the end we have each other

And that’s at least one thing worth living for

This is the new year

A new beginning
You made a promise

You are the brightest
We are the voices

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. For more information, go to:

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging

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