tree reflection - photo dune

January lures me to a place of reflection of the prior year and intention and goal setting for the year ahead. It’s my way of honoring life events, learning from what I’ve experienced, and dreaming of what I most want.

Over time, I’ve developed a some tools that serve me well in this process. Here are a few favorites that I hope you will find of value. 

  • Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of the page. On the left side at the top, write “Freedom From” (What do I want to STOP doing?). On the right side, write “Freedom Toward” (What do I want to be or START doing?). Then down the far left column, write these words: Career, Family & Friends, Significant other / Romance, Fun & Recreation, Health, Money, Personal Growth, and Physical Environment. Complete each column in terms of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom toward’. This exercise will help you create alignment in the direction toward what matters most.
  • Another exercise I find valuable is completing Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix, which I have sample-populated below from a business perspective. I like to do this including both work and family elements, sometimes in two different grids. I don’t know about you, but much of my day quickly can be filled with the 3rd quadrant – the seemingly urgent, but less important things. At the end of those days, it’s hard to note anything meaningful that I’ve accomplished. Ideally, I use this tool not only at the beginning of a new year, but also at the beginning of each month and week to keep me focused on what matters most.
    time management matrix
  • Journaling can be another effective outlet to reflect and draw out thoughts about the past year and help focus and imagine the 12 months ahead. Consider the writing prompts below as you complete this exercise.

Reflecting on the prior year:

  • What am I celebrating?
  • What were the most significant events of the year past?
  • What’s going well? …not so well?
  • How am I leveraging my strengths?
  • What did I learn? (skills, knowledge, insights, etc.)
  • What would I have done differently?
  • What did I complete or release? What still feels incomplete to me?
  • How am I different this year than last?
  • For what am I particularly grateful?


Imagining the year ahead:

  • What intentions do I have for the coming year?
  • What is the commitment I want to make for: my work, my family, my self?
  • How do I want to approach things differently?
  • How do I want to spend my time?
  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • How and with whom do I most want to spend my time?
  • How will I honor my core values?
  • Imagine that it is 6 months from now, and I’ve acted on my intentions or met my goals. What is like? How does it feel? What resources and support surround me?

A final critical piece to goal setting is to enroll an accountability partner. As you refine your intentions and goals for the year, ask a friend or colleague to help support you and hold you accountable. Set a schedule where s/he will followup and ask you about your progress. They can serve as an important ally in helping you move past barriers as well as celebrate your progress (big and small). Choose someone who will challenge and stretch you and call you out when you’re playing small!

Best wishes to you in this experience and bringing forth your best self in the year ahead!

about-leadershipAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Is There a Hole in Your Sidewalk?

Earlier this week, I attended the meeting of our local Triad Coaching Connection and the presenter offered this poem below entitled “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson (from her book “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk”). I thought I would share it here in Raven Reflections; it stirred some interesting thoughts and comments from our group, and I’m still thinking about it days later.

Chapter One

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost…I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to get out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in, again.

I can’t believe I am in this same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit.

But, eyes are open. I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

So, where are you today? Are you still falling in that same, deep hole? Many days, I feel as though I am. Then, there are other days that I finally reach Chapter Four, maybe Five. Those feel better!

This poem reminds me of the stages: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. These cycle around in life when we learn new things or attempt to break patterns and old habits. For me, this poem is a fresh way to look at that.

Changing our behavior is difficult.  If it were simply a matter of deciding to change and following through on that change, there would be no need for coaches and therapists…and life would be much simpler!

In reality, change is hard won. There is a subtle interplay between insight through reflection and newfound awareness and making different choices in life. Both are necessary. Change is often slow and comes about in leaps forward, and also by apparent slips back. While the steps forward are experienced as triumphs, often the slips back are experienced or perceived as adversities or even failure. Of course, in reality both movements are progress. The key is discovering the learning within.