I love the month of December. It’s one of my favorite times each year, because people are encouraged to be generous and kind, and spend time investing in their most important relationships. I look forward to being with my family, sharing old memories and making new ones. I look forward to celebrating the victories of the year with my different teams. December is the month that ties up the whole year.
That’s why I’ve always used the last week in December as a time of reflection. Every year I set aside that time to go back over my calendar and review my year. I look at every day in my calendar and evaluate it. What was the main thing I scheduled that day? What turned out to be the main thing that day? What deserved more of my time? What deserved less?
It’s a habit I’ve developed over the years, and it’s one of the biggest in terms of setting me up for success. That’s because reflection is one of the keys to growth. You’ve heard the old saying, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” That applies to more than just schoolwork and world events. It applies to your personal history as well.
That’s why, for the last few weeks in December, I want to share with you three key areas for your own reflection. You may not have the time to spend an entire week going over your calendar – though I recommend it if you can – and even if you did, you might not know where to start. So I want to give you three areas in your life that you can look back on for 2016, in order to determine where you grew, where you need to grow, and how you can capitalize on both moving into 2017.
This is one of the biggest areas of growth for any person. Which relationships are helping me grow? Which ones aren’t? Sometimes the answers are surprising. And sometimes, the biggest relationship issues we face are with people we can’t just run away from! So how can you learn from this year’s relationship choices to be more successful and healthy in the coming year?
Our years are composed of things we have to do, both at work and at home. But the question is, for as busy as you are, are you doing the right things? How can you decide which responsibilities are truly yours versus things you do out of guilt or fear? And what might happen if you choose to be responsible for those things that only you can do? Learning from how you spent your time and effort this year will help you better position yourself to make the most of the opportunities you take and the commitments you make next year.
Of all the reflecting you can do on your year, this one most reveals how much you’ve grown over the past 12 months. What outcomes did your choices produce? Did those outcomes satisfy you? Did they move you forward toward your goals? If not, what outcome would have been more satisfying, and how can you chase that down in 2017? You see, the return you get for the choices you make can either keep you hungry and willing to move forward, or drain your energy and keep you stagnant. When you take the time to think about what gives you your best return, you will be better positioned to chase that return from day one in 2017.
I don’t know how your 2016 has shaped up, but for me, every year has its ups and downs. 2016 was no different. I’ve seen some great successes, but also some disappointments along the way. I’m looking forward to my reflection time, because I want to squeeze as much out of this year as I possibly can, to better position me as I head into next year.
Maybe you’ve had an up and down 2016 yourself. Maybe the year has felt more like a roller coaster than a walk in the park! Maybe you’ve felt uncertain about how to move forward in your relationships, responsibilities and returns. If so, I truly believe investing some reflection time in these three areas will significantly shape the way you live in 2017. Of all the gifts you might give this Christmas, making it a season of reflection is bound to be the greatest one for yourself and everyone around you.
Have you ever thought about the essential ingredient for growth? It’s the one thing you absolutely must have if you want to increase your ability to get better in any area. And yet it’s often the hardest thing for a person seeking growth to find.
What might that one thing be?
Now, that may sound a bit overstated, but I promise you it’s not. The appeal of just “good enough” is powerful, so whenever someone decides to go beyond “good enough,” there is always push-back. You see, people love average. Average doesn’t require much more than showing up. Average gets you through life with minimal fuss, which makes it very appealing to some folks.
And that’s okay. People can be average. But average people often want others to be average too, and that’s where the challenge comes in. When you decide to grow, it threatens average, and the push-back inevitably begins. Suddenly, growth doesn’t look so appealing.
But if you’re committed to be the best person you can be, if you’re committed to something greater than average, you must choose to grow. And that starts with finding the courage you need.
So, where do you look? Here are three significant sources of courage for your personal growth:
1. Encouraging People
Anything you do in life requires other people, and finding the courage to grow is no exception. We all need cheerleaders, people who are in our corner giving us the confidence and courage to take on challenges. As Truett Cathy once said, “How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they are breathing.” Spending time with even one or two people who believe in you and in your ability to grow will do wonders for your courage.
2. Encouraging Environments
A close second to encouraging people is encouraging environments. Whether it’s your office, your church, your community or your home, you need to spend time in places where your growth is not only allowed, but embraced. I believe so much in creating an environment that encourages growth that it’s something I strive for within my own organizations. I want team members to know, from the moment they join us, that they have support in pursuing their growth goals. Don’t minimize the importance of this in your life. Environment has a huge impact on all of us. Make sure to spend the majority of your time in an encouraging one.
3. Encouraging Words
Lastly, you can often find the courage you need in the words of other people. That’s one of the reasons I decided to write books: to be able, with words on the page, to offer courage to grow to people I might never get to meet. But maybe books aren’t your thing; perhaps you need some other way to get positive words into your soul. Encouraging words can be gathered from a wide variety of sources, like web seminars, podcasts, or online videos. Just make sure the people you choose to listen to have your interests at heart more than their own.
Growth isn’t for the timid. It takes honesty to admit that you aren’t as good as you could be. But being honest about your need for growth is only half the battle; to truly see change, you must summon the courage to act. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Courage [is] not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” If you’re looking for courage to conquer fear and grow, surround yourself with encouragement.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking a lot about turkey and stuffing lately. Of course, that’s because Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States. But food is not the only thing the holiday makes me think of. At this time of year, I’m reminded of the idea behind the day.
While the tradition dates to the 1620s, the official holiday didn’t come into existence until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to set aside the last Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks. This was right in the middle of the American Civil War, yet despite the nation’s struggles, Lincoln recognized that there was still much to be grateful for.
So much, in fact, that he wanted all Americans to join him in his gratitude. Lincoln wrote:
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
One of the many things I admire about President Lincoln is the ability that he had to look beyond his circumstances, to see better things. While the Civil War threatened to tear the nation apart, he looked past the fighting and saw a day when the nation would be whole once again. It was this vision that allowed him to see the hand of God moving with grace during one of our nation’s most trying periods. President Lincoln could see not only immediate blessings to be thankful for, but also greater blessings to come. He let his faith become sight, and it spurred him to gratitude.
That’s because gratitude doesn’t come from our circumstances; it comes from how we choose to see the world.
Quite simply, gratitude comes from your heart.
What about you? When this Thursday rolls around, what will you see in your life that deserves a moment of gratitude? I encourage you to look at your life with fresh eyes and find one or two things that stand out to you as signs of great blessing. And when you’ve done that, tell someone what you’ve discovered – because gratitude is meant to be shared.
And just like President Lincoln, you’ll want to invite others to join you. Because once you can see everything for which you’re grateful, you’ll want the whole world to know the feeling.