Looking back: Why reflection is essential for success in the new year


The beginning of a new year always feels like a fresh start, often with a focus on New Year’s resolutions and everything we’re going to start, or do differently, in the year ahead.

But, looking back, isn’t just sentimental or self-indulgent – it’s necessary to achieving success.  A review of the last 12 months helps to evaluate what worked and what could be better. Some of us need to take a moment and remind ourselves of the successes as much as the lessons learned.

At the same time, some folks are hesitant to undertake this process unless it’s been a fantastic year (because then reflection is painless and celebratory!). The truth is, the worst years and the best years all have some wins, all teach us lessons, and can all remind us of our resilience.

So, before you dive into setting goals, plans, and strategies for you and your team this new year, give some thought to these reflective ideas.

Here are five things to consider about the last year as you prepare for success in the new year:

  1. Take stock: What worked with your team? What didn’t? Grab your calendar and start looking back since January 1 of last year make notes about times you and your team members accomplished goals, encountered conflict, or faced challenges.
    Try to take a step back and look at each situation critically – not to judge, but to learn. A question to ask yourself is – “what else was going on at that time?” You may have insight now that you didn’t then. This is important because you may see positive and negative trends or issues that need attention, plus understanding your leadership style can help you facilitate teamwork and manage more effectively.
  2. Be honest: What went wrong and what went right? More importantly, how did everyone react? How did you react? Did you overlook problems? Avoid confrontation? Overreact? Perhaps you’ll decide to have some difficult conversations or delegate more effectively
    Learning from mistakes and achievements is what sets us up for success in the future. Recognizing today’s regret or missed opportunity could help you be on top of your game next time.
  3. Consider change: What does the team look like now versus 12 months ago? What loss and gains in talent have you had? Why? Were there any other disruptions you faced with the clients, workspace, or industry? Take a peek at your roster from last January, and now.
    Hindsight is 20-20 as they say, so shift your perspective on failure: Looking back now may give you insights into what planning, resources, or interventions may have made things unfold differently.
  4. Health check: Does the team feel valued? When was the last time you checked in with your team members? When you consider all of the above reflection you’ve undertaken as you’ve gone back through last year’s calendar, ask yourself whether you are really building a strong team or if you could improve by building team trust.
  5. Lessons learned: After you’ve gone through all of the above, pause and consider everything you have reviewed and reflected on. What did the last year teach you about your leadership and your team? Once you’ve considered what challenges made you stretch and pinpointed some growth opportunities, you can jump into some informed goal setting for your success in the new year (don’t forget our ultimate goal setting worksheet!). This can include refining existing goals and setting entirely new goals.

Pro-tip: Consider starting a journal to make reflection for next year easier!

Set aside time daily, weekly, or monthly to make notes about your successes, failures, challenges, and other observations. Concrete examples will be very informative the next time you want to reflect.

Coach’s Questions:

What surprised you most during the past year? If it was good, how do you make that happen more often? If not, how do you avoid those surprises in the year ahead?
What steps can you take to improve your leadership? Are there things that you could do to strengthen your team? What goals for success in the new year are the most exciting for you?

10 simple ways to thank your team this holiday season

As leaders we often find it particularly difficult to let go and make the most of the holiday season.

For some of us, the fiscal year ends with the calendar year and so we have all sorts of year-end reporting, planning for the new year, etcetera. That’s all while our staff and our families are gearing up for the break and likely feeling anxious, excited, happy, and stressed all at once.

How do we use this festive time to show staff we appreciate them AND reduce our own stress and burden at the same time? One word covers it all: gratitude.

You might have thought I was going to say, “Bonus.”  While more money and a bigger bonus may work to motivate some staff and it is one way to show them you appreciate them, it won’t work with everyone – and not to the depth of some other forms of gratitude.

Additionally, giving bonuses alone won’t reduce the stress on you, your team, or your organization.

Now, having said that, in our western culture, money does play a factor – so don’t completely discard the idea of compensating folks for their hard work. That’s essential, but think of it as the baseline of gratitude. You can, quite easily, do much more to thank your team that will be impactful for your staff and for you as well.

You see, showing gratitude is great not only for the person receiving it, but for the giver too.  We’ve seen study after study, and tangible proof in ourselves and our clients, that feeling gratitude and expressing it, bring both physical and psychological benefits, including:

    • Stronger relationships1
    • Fewer aches and pains 2
    • Sleeping better 3
    • Reducing aggression while increasing empathy 4
    • Reducing toxic emotions 5
    • Improving self-esteem 6
    • Greater resilience 7

Sounds miraculous, right? Well, tis the time of year for miracles…
Sounds too simple? Give showing gratitude a try; you might be amazed.

How do you show gratitude to thank your team? Well, first, remember to ask yourself that question for each team member individually, not for the team as a whole.

This is important because one approach won’t necessarily speak to everyone. Different people enjoy recognition, appreciation, and rewards in different ways, so cater your communication style to show your appreciation in the most effective way.

Here are our top 10 suggestions for ways to show gratitude to your team members:

  1. Hand deliver a thank you. Wrap small gifts, add a short handwritten note (with sincere and specific thanks for something each team member has contributed), and give the presents out by hand. It’s so much more meaningful to be given a gift personally, especially one with a heartfelt message. Plus you get to say thank you in person, too!
  2. Publicly recognize team members. Again, public recognition doesn’t work for everyone – and some folks hate this – but it can mean so much more than a gift or other reward to some team members. If you know they’ll appreciate it, seize moments to acknowledge extra efforts, exceptional skills, and meaningful contributions as they arise. This might be informally when you meet in the office, during a staff meeting, or as part of a celebratory lunch or dinner.
  3. Link their work to the company. Make the effort to say more than just a generic thank you for working hard; take a moment to really recognize someone’s personal contribution to the company. Acknowledge something specific a team member has done, thank them, and link their work to how they’ve had an impact on the organizational success. Often we hear from folks that they really don’t see how their work makes any difference. Helping them see that is enormous for them.
  4. Skip the holiday party and give a thank you party in the new year. At Padraig, we’re conscious of the diversity of our teams and recognize that Christmas is one holiday at this time of year, but not the only one.
    In a move away from religious-based holidays, we’ve shifted instead to a New Year’s celebration. Other corporations choose to offer a team celebration after the busy festive season. Tying the event in as a thank you rather than a holiday celebration shows even more gratitude to your team.
  5. Give them time to recognize their own team. If you have managers reporting to you who have folks reporting to them, give them time off (and a budget) to take their own staff out for an afternoon.
  6. Encourage journaling. If you’re a regular reader of The Coach’s Questions, you know we advocate journaling to help leaders be stronger and more resilient. In fact, the main reason it works is because we reflect on our gratitude as we write the journal entry.
    Share that gift with your team. Buy them a beautiful journal (remember our first note about hand delivering a thank you!) and talk with them about the benefits that accrue from journaling and being mindful – and why you want to give them those benefits.
  7. Schedule gratitude sessions in your meetings. This can become a habit that has a ripple effect throughout the organization. Simply schedule two to three minutes into every meeting agenda for team members to give spontaneous thanks to colleagues or others in the room. Be prepared to model it yourself the first few times.
  8. Set the tone; lead by example. Start including random acts of thanks in your daily routine. Don’t underestimate the impact of simply expressing gratitude and building relationships with your team in simple, but genuine, ways.
    Heading to a meeting? Think about what you’re grateful for, and mention it at the meeting. Walking to the breakroom? Thank some staff along the way – mentioning something specific that they’ve done or that they’re working on that you appreciate.
  9. Build opportunities to show gratitude along with your team. Find half a day where you can contribute to a charity or local good cause, and ask your team for input into who they’d like to help or where they would like to go. Maybe a local food bank could use your help packing care packages or a community services agency needs gifts for children.
    A lot of organizations that I’ve worked with contribute a holiday hamper to a family in need through a local charity. Sometimes this is just a donation of cash, or often it’s a box in a breakroom where staff can contribute food items and small gifts for the children.
    What if you changed it up and made this gesture of goodwill an event for your team? Take two to three hours one afternoon and you and your team make a field trip to a local store. Go with a list of everything you need and then shop together – some folks picking out the food, others the gifts, and some the extras (warm coats for the kids maybe?).
    You pick up the tab with the company credit card (ideally), but the whole team has an afternoon together, away from work, thinking about others and contributing to their own gratitude and happiness.
  10.  Give a bonus. While relying on a bonus alone as the only way to show gratitude won’t do enough for staff (and it won’t do much for you, either!), let’s not forget that your folks have a lot of bills at this time of year, too.
    If the company can afford it, don’t wait til Christmas Eve – give those holiday bonuses early so everyone feels the weight from extra financial demands lifted. Small gestures like this can have a huge impact.

The Coach’s Questions:

What ways to show gratitude are new for you? Can you think of things (or people) you take for granted? When have you been touched by someone expressing gratitude to you? How can you show your gratitude today?





1. Williams, L. A., & Bartlett, M. Y. (2015). Warm thanks: Gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth. Emotion, 15(1), 1-5.

2. Adler, M. G. and Fagley, N. S. (2005), Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well‐Being. Journal of Personality, 73: 79-114. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00305.x

3. Digdon, N. and Koble, A. (2011), Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3: 193-206. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x

4. Nathan DeWall, C., Lambert, N. M., Pond, R. S., Kashdan, T. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 232–240. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611416675

5. Numerous works by Robert A. Emmons. Google Search

6. Lung Hung Chen & Chia-Huei Wu (2014) Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26:3, 349-362, DOI:10.1080/10413200.2014.889255

7. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376.

Are your limiting beliefs holding you back?

The human brain is paradoxical. The same grey matter that helps us cope with everything life throws at us can either limit us or enable us.

That tiny, inner voice can counsel us to wait – or it could encourage us to envision a goal and go for broke. Sometimes ‘wait’ is the right choice, but how do we know?

The question is: Are limiting beliefs holding you back?

Sometimes limiting beliefs may be rooted in previous experiences. For example, if you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone on a school project and it was an epic failure, the thought of trying something that’s a stretch for your professional skill set makes you queasy.

It’s also possible that limiting beliefs were ingrained in you from a young age. For example, if a person whose opinion you valued always said you were academically gifted, but not ‘people smart,’ that may be a belief that you carry with you as an adult. These kinds of formative interactions can translate into deep-seated beliefs.

Now, some of our beliefs have value and keep us safe. But being prudent about when you cross the street so you don’t get hit by a car or knowing when to hold your tongue so you don’t say something you will regret are very different from taking reasonable risks and trying to achieve more personally and professionally.

Limiting beliefs are not grounded in fact. Your inner voice might tell you a bunch of limiting beliefs about your ability, which is the recipe for settling for mediocre (or much less!). For example, a limiting belief could be deciding you aren’t ready to challenge your career comfort zone.

What we want to confront is the kind of limiting belief that holds us back unnecessarily. Many times beliefs we accept, consciously or subconsciously, are very subjective. Our selection process of a lifetime of experience is serendipitous at best!

Even if life experiences resonate with us and become a default belief, future experiences won’t necessarily benefit from past perceptions. You can, and sometimes should, challenge beliefs that shape your life.

So how do you know if you have a limiting belief?

You’ll most often discover limiting beliefs if you consider the areas of your life that end up with you feeling unsatisfied about the results or outcomes.

Often limiting beliefs (and sometimes excuses or reasons) are why these things aren’t working the way you wish they would.

Sometimes they’re quite subtle, and we think we’re expertly engaging in positive self-talk. For example, telling yourself: “I want to ask for a raise, but I don’t think now is the right time.” Are you being practical and pragmatic, or are you fearful that the boss might say no; that they will think you are greedy; or if they felt you were worth more, they’d have already offered it to you?

There are usually strong emotions tied to limiting beliefs, so considering how you feel can help to uncover the underlying limiting belief.

Here are some common types of belief statements we encounter among clients, and ways to reflect whether any limiting beliefs might be causing the behaviour:

  • “I should confront this problem with them … but I’m just not good at it.”
    • I dread confrontation; I’ll make things worse; maybe things will get better if I ignore it or wait a bit longer

Pro tip:  Check out our previous blog on how to have a difficult conversation!

  • “I’d like to find a new career opportunity, but I’m not actively looking right now.”
    • I’m not marketable; I haven’t had enough success to stand out; I’m too young (or old!) to try to get a new position
  • “I’d like to have a relationship, but it’s hard to meet people.”
    • I’ll be rejected again and I’m tired of being hurt; I’m don’t attract the kind of person I want for a life partner; I’m not rich or attractive enough

When your inner voice is stopping you from accomplishing more, you don’t have to listen. Are there goals you’d like to achieve? Do you have secret desires for things you’d like to accomplish?

If limiting beliefs are holding you back or perhaps even making you feel very comfortable and safe when you fail to act, maybe it’s worth pushing back.

Challenging beliefs requires us to:

  • Understand and acknowledge the need for all of us, as humans, to have limiting beliefs. This isn’t a defect of character or some impossible challenge, but rather an opportunity to do some reflection. Is it a limiting belief masquerading as being honest and practical?
  • Trust that you can change limiting beliefs into enabling beliefs. Countless others of us have and you can, too. It can help to ensure your beliefs align with your personal vision statement.
  • You can get help to reframe limiting beliefs; you aren’t alone. If it’s difficult for you, find others who can support you. This might be a coach, mentor, friend, spouse, or supportive family member.

Here’s how to challenge any limiting beliefs you may have:

  1. Uncover the limiting belief. Think about the goals you’d like to set, and what you believe or what you’re telling yourself about them. Write that down, consider the feelings you associate with the words, and reflect.
  2. Notice when the voice is talking. When our Padraig team members went through coach training at Royal Roads, we all found their slightly cheeky phrase to help you notice and stop limiting self-talk to be quite memorable. They likened the voice in our heads always quacking away to a little rubber duck on our shoulders giving us constant limiting feedback “you can’t do this…” or, “you’re not good enough…”. Their suggestion? Knock that little rubber duck off your shoulder to Shut the Duck Up!
  3. Put the limiting belief in perspective. These beliefs that you are holding even if you’ve held them for a long time do not have to be your truth. In this moment, you have a choice to either keep believing the limitation or choose to change it so that you have a shot at achieving your goals or desires for life.
  4. Rewrite the script, transforming the limiting into enabling. Take time to consider what you have learned or what you could do to change things. If you have not asked for a raise because you don’t think it’s the right time, the real limiting belief for you might be that you worry you’ll be refused.

    Perhaps you feel angry that you haven’t been given a raise because you’ve worked really hard. Instead of saying it’s not the right time, you can rewrite the belief to be: “After achieving these specific successes and bringing in new business, I’m going to ask for a raise.”

 A great way to help you rewrite the script is to think of your closest friend and imagine they are sharing with you this belief, this feeling they have.  What would you say to them? Can you say that to yourself?

5. Start acting on the new belief. Changing beliefs from limiting to enabling comes with risk, and risk can be scary. However, courage is finding the ability to push through fear to try to achieve a goal. Perhaps find a friend, mentor, or trusted confidante who can help you uncover why you should go for it. Be careful to find someone you know is supportive and believes in you. Going back to the same person who has previously fed your limiting beliefs won’t be helpful.

Acting on the new belief means you are going to choose to act differently. Tell yourself, I have worked really hard and I’ve achieved some good things for the company. I’m not being greedy if I bring value to the business and ask for a raise. Doesn’t feeling you are worthy of asking for a raise feel better than feeling you weren’t valued enough to be offered more remuneration?

If you find yourself thinking something like, “I’ll never be able to do this…” try instead, “what could I do that might help me do this?”

Every time you challenge a limiting belief you are allowing yourself potential for growth. Even if you don’t immediately achieve all your goals and desires, you are taking steps in a new direction and not allowing limiting beliefs to hold you back. It’s all about progress, not perfection.

Coach’s Questions:

What are you telling yourself about your dreams or hopes? Where are you telling yourself something isn’t realistic? Have you stopped to check whether those inner stories are true? What steps can you take to ensure your inner voice is enabling, not limiting?