Lessons learned from reviewing my past years

maru smiling in front of a laptop
At the end of every year I actively review my past year, which is followed by a short outlook on the upcoming year. Reviewing the last twelve months is not a task I force myself to do, it has actually become the opposite. I am craving it. It gives me perspective and guidance. It became an end-of-the-year habit. This year is the fourth year, that I use a certain set of questions for this review. Reading through the last four yearly reviews and the answers I gave back then, I came to realize that some of my new insights might be worth sharing. I bet there will be points that make you think, inspire you, and motivate you to start reviewing your year as well.

How did I end up reviewing the past years?

As mentioned above, I’ve been reviewing my years using a personalized review system for four years. And before that? Looking back, I’ve always done some kind of review – it was just less systemized. I remember the long walks I took on the 30th of December. I also remember sitting on a park bench for over an hour just recalling the past year in time-lapse mode. Although it would make a pretty cool 10-year-old, taking long walks on 30th of December and reviewing his last year, I don’t want to fool you. This kind of urge only started in my mid-teens, but has not disappeared ever since.

How do I review?

Method 1

Currently, I work with a set of questions I came across a few years ago on a blog post. The questions the author came up with, help you to dig deeper. Letting the past year rewind is one thing. But being asked specific questions about events, people and moments is completely different. It helps you with one great and very important thing: Being specific. I always take my time answering the questions, when I cannot answer a question right away, I skip it and I’ll come back to it later, because I want to be really specific about all my answers. Questions like:


  • Which of your personal qualities turned out to be the most helpful this year?
  • What 5 people did you most enjoy spending time with?
  • What was the biggest problem you solved?
These force yourself to be specific in every answer you give – this way you will get much more from the reviewing process.

Method 2

The second method I use is a method I adapted from Tim Ferriss. It basically consists of going through your entire calendar of the current year. What kind of people, activities, and commitments triggered positive or negative emotions? Taking the time to do this for every week of the past year will raise your awareness and change your mindset, in order for you to make wiser choices during the upcoming year. If you are interested in further details about this method, you can read all about it on his blog.

What a yearly recap should not be

To me, reviewing the past year is not a goal-setting, big-vision-thinking thing. Of course these are important, however they do not belong in in the yearly review. At least not for me. I always try to take advantage of the holiday season’s slower pace, which shifts my focus more on my inner-self than the outer world. This way my yearly review helps me to be more connected to my inner-self and to review and reevaluate my beliefs, convictions and opinions

Yearly reviewing helps me to add clarity

I end every yearly review with a content smile on my face. As mentioned earlier, the holidays help me to slow down and find a better connection to my inner-self. Therefore the reviewing happens on a more mindful level. Your mind will have a harder time playing tricks on you when you’re mindful. In everyday life we often end up being stressed and distracted. Leisure is a luxury and rarely abundant. This means we end up in a state that is rather reactive and we lack the distance to see the bigger picture. However, slowing down, taking your time and actively reflecting the past 12 months, will help you to think clearly and to dig deeper. The thoughts and events which shape the answers out of a sudden become evident.

Lessons I’ve learned from my yearly reviewing

  • Things always take more time than you plan
  • You can‘t fool yourself in terms of goals, dreams, and wishes. E.g. you won‘t pursue things you think you desire (being influenced by society, social media … etc) as hard as a thing you truly want. Things that come out of deeper self are rooted differently and thus will give you the endurance you‘ll need to get there.
  • Trust your gut. Your gut feeling often tells you what is best way before your conscious mind comes to the conclusion
  • Vacations have a high chance of being remembered years after. They give the whole year an overarching theme. My big New York Trip shaped my 2016. My great US West Coast Trip 2017 never fails to put a big smile on my face
  • Certain Books had a butterfly effect on me. I only realized their impact on my business life years after …

The Butterfly Effect

Imagine reading something interesting and then putting it away. Without realizing, your subconscious mind retains part of the information. This might alter your decisions in small ways. However, these small decisions might lead to a change in other actions you take. The end result of the once small initiator (a book) could then lead to something big.

Here is a genuine example of how the butterfly effect influenced my life. In 2016, I bought a book about real estate. While reading it I was really excited about all the information and opportunities the author described. After having read the entire book, I put it away. Due to my busy schedule, that was basically the only time I did engage myself in that topic for the entire year. Yet, in 2017 I spotted a german podcast about real estate from Alex Fischer. Remembering how impressed I was by the book I read a year ago, I inhaled every single episode of it. While listening to the podcast, I started to look out for small apartments to buy around Hamburg in Germany, the place where I live. Fast forward – 2017 was the year I bought my first two apartments. As I’m writing this today, I own three apartments. The chance of all this would have been a lot lower if not zero, if I hadn’t bought and read the book back then in 2016 in the first place.

That smile after signing the contract for the third apartment

That smile after signing the contract for buying the third apartment

How yearly reviewing will help you

Yearly reviewing helps to add clarity and control to those variables in life that we can control. Things like:
  • Remembering the people that made us happy and making more room for them in the upcoming year
  • Evaluating which actions or habits changed our business for the better and deciding which of these can be replicated in some way for the upcoming year
  • Analyzing which new habits changed our health for better or for worse
  • Bethinking which kind of vacation had a long lasting and great impact on us

Wrapping up: It’s about making better decisions.

In the end, I’m a firm believer that the life we live is the result of the decisions we make every day.

I used to believe that we can control everything and that we thus are responsible for all things no matter how good or bad. I’ve come to the conclusion, that this is not the case. A lot of things are beyond our control. But don’t worry. We still have control of quite a lot in our lives. If you’re reading this post, you probably have more control than most of the people in this world.

So it boils down to making better decisions. Decisions that don’t only serve your parents, societies’ status quo or friends you want to impress. But decisions that are defined by your own terms, because they fit your true personality. The yearly review helps you improve the quality of your decisions for the upcoming year.
Do you have feedback, questions or input about the topic?
Write me on Twitter or comment the article.


Maruan has founded marumedia, a small digital product design agency based in Hamburg, Germany. Furthermore, he does consult in UX/UI design and development. He created marumedia.net to share his journey, learnings, pains, and lessons he encountered while doing so.

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