8 journaling prompts to reflect on your past year’s ups and downs

With the New Year just around the corner, for many of us, our thoughts have already turned towards resolutions. Instead of getting caught up in the year ahead, the period between the holidays and New Year can be the perfect time to pause, take a breath, have a moment to yourself, and process the past year: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

New year, new you? No thanks. It’s time to ditch the resolutions, and start focusing on what’s really important: making small, positive, sustainable changes now.

Journaling can be a simple, positive way to explore your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Giving you the chance to reflect on how you’ve grown and how things have changed, while taking a moment to recognise how far you’ve come over the past year before getting caught up in what you hope to achieve next year.

It can not only be a good place for reflection and processing, but can also help inspire positive changes that you can start making right now to improve your sense of well-being or decrease stressors.

We share eight journaling ideas to help you reflect on the past year.

Yes’s and no’s – how we react to different opportunities can significantly shape the way our year (and our lives) can change. Think back on some of the things you’ve said yes to or turned down over the past year. It doesn’t have to be everything (that would be a bit much), but try to remember the things that caused a big emotional reaction or significant change for you.

Think back on the decisions that caused joy or sorrow, relief or dread. Were there times you did something you didn’t want to, or things you wanted to do but felt you had to turn down? Write them down; how did they make you feel in the short term? Did your feelings towards it change? Do you wish your no had been a yes, or vice-versa?

Explore your year’s biggest yes and no moments. If you were faced with the same situation or opportunity in the upcoming year, would your answer be any different? Saying no can be unbelievably tough – especially if you don’t want to let anyone down. But saying yes can be just as hard if you’re scared of how you may be perceived, or how things may go wrong.

‘Best of’ collage – if you have an Instagram or Facebook account, the chances are, you’ve seen a plethora of ‘best-of’ collages start popping up in your feed around this time each year. Instead of sharing your top photographs from the past year, split your page into 12 boxes.

Write your top memories and moments in each box. It can be as long or as short as you want.

If you can, try to put down one positive thing from each month. Were there any that you had forgotten about, or any that you hope to experience again in the upcoming year?    

Past achievements, future goals – what have you achieved over the last year? It may sound scary at first or you may come up with a blank, but we’ve all achieved something – no matter how bad our year has been. This may be something obvious like a new job or a promotion, or something more subtle like putting yourself out there to take part in your local community, joining in with work social events, or getting through a challenging time by being kind to yourself when things went wrong or keeping up your self-care routines.

Once you’ve taken a look at what you have achieved over the past year, it can be worth taking time to map out what you hope to achieve over the coming year. Write down the biggest thing you’d love to achieve. It can be as huge or overly-ambitious as you like; it can seem silly or impossible at first, just go for the one big thing you really want to achieve and write it down in the middle of your page.

Take a moment to think: how would accomplishing this make you feel? How would it change other things in your life? Are there other priorities that would come to the surface, or big worries or concerns that it wouldn’t help with? Write down everything that comes to mind.

Go back to your original goal; does it still seem so big and important? If so, great! Start making notes on how you could start working towards this. If not, it’s time to turn the page and start thinking about those other things that came to mind. Were they any specific things your time may be better focused on? What other goals could help you to achieve these?

Acknowledging your (MVP) – take time to think about and acknowledge the people who made a difference to you over the last year. Ask yourself: who made a big impact for me personally? When and how were they there for you, what did they help with? Was there something their support helped you achieve that you couldn’t have done without them? What made them so invaluable over the past year?

Take some time to write down, recognise, and appreciate how they have impacted you this year. Through writing down our thoughts and feelings around those who have helped support us, it can help us to better articulate our thoughts and feelings about them, potentially making it easier for us to find a way to say (or show) our thanks to those who mean the most to us.

Letting go of past hurts – just like there are bound to be those who have impacted you for the better, there’s always someone who has hurt you or made you angry. Regardless of if they are a friend, family member, colleague, or someone not quite so close to you, negative impacts in our lives can stick with us – as can the hurt they cause.

Instead of letting the past year’s negative influences keep a prominent place in your heart or mind during the new year, try writing a letter to the person who hurt or upset you. Get everything out on paper; what they did, how it made you feel, how it has continued to impact you. Just focus on getting everything down and releasing any pent-up tension.

Once you have written everything down, you don’t have to do anything with it. You can leave it as a page in jour journal, tear it up, even (safely) burn it; what’s important is releasing the negative emotions associated with what has happened, facing your own emotional reaction head-on, and admitting how it affected (or has continued to affect) you.

I wish… thinking back on the past year, is there anything you wish you had done more of, or had been able to make time for?

Perhaps you wanted to take up a new hobby but never got around to it, or maybe you started off the year with the intention of spending more time with friends, family, or going outdoors.

Maybe your goal had been something more practical like saving more money, or thinking back you wish you hadn’t indulged in quite so many early morning lattes to get you through the day.

Create a wish page in your journal, and jot down all of your wishes for the past year – both the things you wish you had done, and the ones that you wish you hadn’t. Is this something you could focus on changing or accomplishing over the coming year? Think of ways you can have fewer wishes on your list this time next year, and more great memories.

Changes (big and small) – we all experience change on a regular basis. What were the biggest or most impactful changes that happened to you or your family over the past year? Were these changes you chose to make yourself, you decided upon together with family, or were they things you didn’t have control over? Perhaps it was choosing to move house, being promoted at work, or the kids starting a new school.

Take time to acknowledge the changes that had the biggest emotional impact. Sit with them for a moment. How did they make you feel at the time? How do you feel now about them? Have your feelings changed, or stayed the same over the months? Change can be exciting and intimidating, but the more we face our feelings around changes, the more prepared we can start to feel when change happens again in the future.  

Your year in a word – each year, the Oxford Dictionary (along with Collins, Merriam-Webster, and many others) announce their ‘word of the year’ – that one, simple word or phrase that sums up the past 12 months for us as a whole. If you were to give the last year a word, what would it be?

It doesn’t have to be limited to a single word, but try to keep it to a series of one or two words rather than a full sentence. It can be good, bad, or ugly – just get down all of the words that come to mind when you think back on the year. Try varying the size of each word to represent how big of an impact it had on your own year.

Write the first things that come into your head – don’t spend too long agonising over just the right phrasing. Allow yourself to be brutally honest. Take a moment to look back over what you’ve written. Do any of your choices surprise you? Does any single word or phrase stand out above the rest as the one for your year?

If your year has a positive spin, pick some of your favourite words and write how you hope to continue these good vibes into the new year. If things seem to have been tougher, create a new page that focuses on what you hope is to come over the following 12 months.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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