Reflections for the New Year: Exercises to Focus Your Efforts

By John Spence

John Spence

At this time of year, many of us stop to reflect and prepare. We look back over lessons learned and forward to what we hope to accomplish in the future. When undertaken with sincerity and rigor, the exercise can be profound.

Keeping in mind that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions, here are a few to ponder.

1. What are my core values?

What elements make up the person I truly want to be? What is most important to me in how I choose to live my life?

There is a myriad of values that people embrace. Some of them include the following:

  • Honesty
  • Family
  • Faith
  • Respect
  • Adventure
  • Contribution
  • Love
  • Integrity

The list goes on and on. The key is that they must be your values. Not necessarily those your family, faith, society or friends have endorsed. These are the things that you decide are the dearest and most valuable in your life. However, you must be selective. There can only be a handful: if you have 27 values, you don’t know what to prioritize.

Once you have determined your core values, hold yourself accountable to them at every moment. This practice will lead you to a more centered and less stressful life. In the face of even the most difficult situations, you will have calm confidence in your direction. As Walt Disney said, “When values are clear, decisions are easy.”

2. What is my purpose?

Why are you here? What path have you chosen to walk in your life? If you’re struggling with these questions, there is an elegant Japanese concept called Ikigai that you might find helpful.

Deep contemplation about how these elements interact will help you find your purpose. For most people, it will focus on some sort of service to others—a desire to be helpful and make the lives of others better.

3. The eulogy exercise.

This is one final exercise that will bring these ideas into sharp focus. Block several hours where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Then, as vividly as possible, imagine yourself at your funeral. You are sitting in the front row as someone from your family, your best friend, a coworker and someone from your community talk about you and your impact on their life. What would you want them to say about you?

Write out precisely the words you would want to hear. Literally, write a eulogy speech for each one of those people. If you take this exercise to heart, it will be a meaningful journey. You will cry. It will be emotional. It will also be life changing.

You will not want them to talk about how big your house is. Or how cool your car is. Or how many shoes you owned (unless it’s a cute joke). You’ll hope they talk about your kindness, generosity and care for others. You will hope they say you lived with integrity and that they share stories about how much you meant to them and others. You will want to be remembered as a person who left a legacy of love.

Once you review what you have written carefully, you will realize that it embodies your values and purpose. You will also discover that you can start living that way immediately. You can change your behaviors and attitude today. You can begin to become the sort of person that you want to be remembered as.

You might be one of the rare few who already understand their values and purpose and live according to them. If so, these exercises will help you become even more focused. For others, working through these questions could be valuable beyond measure.

Here’s to a great—and focused—year ahead. 

John Spence is widely recognized as one of the top business and leadership experts in the world. He has been working in the credit union industry for more than 20 years and serves as one of the lead instructors for NAFCU’s Management and Leadership Institute. To find out more about John, go to