Make Changes That Last: Annual Reflection Guide 2016/17

Make Changes That Last: Annual Reflection Guide

Today I want to help you make changes that last.  The key to this is REFLECTION.

Having said that, for those in recovery reflecting on the year (let alone the last week!) can feel daunting:

“Am I just going to see what a failure I’ve been?  How things never change?  How I’ve hurt myself and others?”

Whether you’re helping people in recovery or in recovery yourself, REFLECTION can be an incredibly powerful tool for change.


It’s often more difficult than it seems: It’s like jumping into a cold lake before you have to swim around in it.  Yes it will sting, but then you’ll feel refreshed and renewed. It may be that what keeps you from jumping into reflection is really a problem with self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is about fully acknowledging what’s wrong as well as what’s right.  It’s acknowledging the good choices and the bad, then saying “that’s me.”  Many of us have a hard time seeing “me.”  Our conclusion, if we have struggled with addiction, can be negative labels: “failure” “loser” “unloveable.”

However, I imagine if we found a broken soul living on the street, who had been hurt and hurt many as a way to survive we would have compassion.  If we heard their full story we could probably still see the innate and intrinsic value they have.  Let us see ourselves with those same eyes of compassion.  The more grace and compassion we offer ourselves, the more honestly we will look at our faults, failures as well as strengths and positive attributes.

Only with a sane honest view of yourself, will you be able to see clearly what next steps to take in life.

Self-acceptance is the birthplace for changes that last.  

REFLECTION, therefore, is a discipline of self-acceptance.


REFLECTION is also a practice in making meaning of your life.

Meaning-making is POWERFUL.

Viktor Frankl, one of a few survivors of his holocaust cohort said that meaning-making is what allowed him to survive the soul-crushing torture.  Not only did it allow him to survive, it is what allowed him to be kind to others and to strive to live fully every moment until his liberation.  Here is what he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“For the meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

Everyone has his/her own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein s/he cannot be replaced, nor can his/her life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Imagine how having clarity on your unique mission would impact your career, closest relationship, finances or recovery.

Here is my invitation for you to practice self-acceptance and to make meaning of your life.  Here is an invitation to learn, grow and take one step closer to where you want to be.  Ultimately, here is an invitation to making changes that last.

Here is the reflection guide (my personal reflection is below).  This can be a 30min exercise or a 3hr long exercise.  If you are going for 30min I’d recommend doing steps 1-3 and answering questions 1-3, 9.





STEP 1: Find a quiet place you can unplug and relax for an hour

STEP 2: Review reflection questions (listed below)

STEP 3: Go through your photos

When I start to take stock of the year, I go to my phone and start looking at photos & videos of the year (your timeline in Facebook could also helpful for this).  Photo apps will put together a slide show of your year to make it simple  Having skimmed the questions, start looking for the answers in your recorded moments. The photos will jog your memory for the different themes and parts of the year.

STEP 4: Start filling in the blanks

STEP 5: Skim personal journals, workbooks and blogs

After my initial review, I take it to the next level and skim my journal, blog or anything else where I’ve written down thoughtful work. Usually this will just add to what you’ve already sketched, but it’s interesting to see how your perception of the year may change.

STEP 6: Reflect

STEP 7: Expressing gratitude to God (if you are a spiritual person)

Often I end up seeing more clearly how God is a living actor in my life.  Pause here and have a moment of conscious contact, to have a moment of thankful communion.

STEP 8: Look forward

Knowing where I’ve been and what I’ve done is my foundation for setting next years goals.  Identify the things you truly want to (and can) change then create a plan for how you’re going to go about changing (including any resources you may need).  Having one will increase your likelihood of being successful, just like in construction.

Annual Reflection Questions

  1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

  2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

  3. What were your best/worst decisions of the year?

  4. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

  5. What was an unexpected obstacle?

  6. Pick three to five words to describe the year.

  7. Pick three to five words your family and friends would use to describe your year. Don’t ask them; guess and ask them afterward if appropriate

  8. What book impacted you the most?  How?

  9. What person impacted you the most?  How?  Share with them if it is appropriate to do so.

  10. How connected or disconnected did you feel with the most important people in your life?  Who did you grow closer to?  Who did you grow farther apart from?

  11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

  12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

  13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?

  14. What was the most enjoyable part of your work experience?

  15. What was the most challenging part of your work experience?

  16. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

  17. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

  18. What were some of the important things you learned this past year?

  19. Create a phrase or statement that describes the year for you.

  20.  What meditations, concepts or scriptures shaped your year?

After all this reflection what most stands out?  What do you have clarity on now that you didn’t before?  How does will this change what you do next year?



One of the big things that stands out to me this year is how powerful one relationship can be.  This year I gave out the “Alex Lerza 2016 Most Impactful Person of the Year Award” to one of my friends and mentors.  I wrote a handwritten note to him and shared my appreciation for our relationship.  That felt really good.  And, I was just amazed at how much change and growth can take place because of one person.

The other big thing that stood out to me was how unfocused my mind has become.  I blame this on my smartphone checking habit and lack of practice.  There was a period of my life where reflecting for an hour was easy.  Now, I can barely sit still.  There’s this constant hum in my mind that says “isn’t there something you should be responding too?…what are you missing out on right now?…what just happened?…isn’t there something more important ‘out there?'”  This is a cultural issue related to technology.  Nonetheless, there are two steps I am taking to deal with the “hum”: 1) turning off all essential notifications on my phone and 2) I am not going to check email the first thing in the morning.  Moving on…

Despite my struggle to focus during my reflection clarity often comes with a phrase, image, poem, song or verse.  It points to what I need to meditate on for the next year.  This year the phrase that came to me was “I lack nothing” taken from the famous and ancient poem Psalm 23.  After thousands of years this poem still finds itself in rap songs, movies and in religious ceremonies of billions of people.  The first line reads:  The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

This idea of “lacking nothing” is revolutionary for me.  One of my defects is continual negative comparison.  I can view the world through the lens of “lacking.”  And, therefore I should not try.  And, therefore I should escape.

“Lacking” is a root of my addictive mindset.  It steals courage and connection with others.

But, what if it were true, that I truly lacked nothing?  Even as I ask that I can feel the shift internally towards a posture of courage and living more full-hearted.  That’s what I want 2017 to be about.

Now, for those of you who are plan oriented you are asking “what’s the plan?  how do you make it stick?”  There are many, many tools and services around this.  They can be cumbersome though helpful depending on your temperament.

I’ve found that, for me, leveraging a habit I already have works best when seeking a change process.  I’ve also learned that it has to include other people.  If I don’t include other people it won’t happen!

Right now I have a habit of checking in on RTribe.  So, for now I’ve committed to journaling in RTribe every morning for January (before checking email) “what does it mean that I lack nothing today?”  Then, once a week I’ll have a calendar appointment with 30 min set aside with that prompt.  That usually works for me.  The key is finding what will work for you.  Hopefully, part of your reflection on this last year was seeing what DOESN’T work for you.  So, you can try something different.

I wonder what phrase or image you will have for next year?  Share your phrase or vision for 2017 at

Tribe On in the New Year!

Alex, Josh and the RTribe Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *