I discovered long ago that if I wanted to continually improve my company and my own performance I need to leverage my past experience for all it’s worth. Stated more simply – to make this year the best it can be, you need to analyze what took place last year.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people and companies don’t learn enough from their mistakes or their accomplishments. It’s like they’re simply plugging along with their heads down – like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the hilarious movie Groundhog Day. But instead of repeating the same day over and again, they repeat the same outlook, approach, and strategies.

Look, no matter how good or bad your results, you can always do better. Yet the single biggest key to improving both performance and results is ignored by almost everybody. If you want to be at the top of your game, you absolutely must learn from what has already happened. I am going to share with you how I do it. Follow my lead, and you can make this year your very best year (so far).

All you need to do is answer five questions. If you’re serious about your success, you should do this today! Ready, set, go…

Question 1: What were your greatest accomplishments last year?

Even if last year was the worst year of your life, odds are, if you look hard enough, there’s something somewhere to be proud of. If last year was a great year for you, that makes answering this question even easier.

After you’ve listed all your accomplishments, go back to them. This time through, identify several takeaways for each one – what you learned from or were reminded of by it.

Question 2: What were your biggest disappointments last year?

Practically every company and individual resists analyzing their mistakes. That’s a shame, because this is where the best learning comes from.

No matter how well everything is going, we all make mistakes. The trick here is to examine what preceded them, what you could have done differently, and how you can prevent making the same mistakes in the future. Even though 2008 was the best year of my life (so far), I still had my share of disappointments, both personally and professionally. I won’t bore you with the details.

As you did with your accomplishments last year, list your biggest disappointments – and then identify several takeaways for each one.

Question 3: How did you limit yourself last year, and how can you remove those limits this year?

Were there certain actions you took or didn’t take that came back to haunt you? You need to bring these self-defeating actions to the surface, shine light on them, and, most important, determine what you must do differently to make sure you don’t limit yourself the same way all over again. Here are just a few of mine…

  • Not reviewing my goals daily
  • Not sticking to a daily sleep schedule
  • Hoping things would work out well in a few situations where my gut told me not to

Once again, make a list and identify the takeaways. For example, one of the self-defeating actions on my list was not reviewing my goals on a daily basis (even though I know better). And when I don’t review my goals daily, I get sucked into what’s currently happening and distracted from what’s most important. That caused me to miss the mark on a few goals I had set for myself last year. The takeaway: I’m determined not to make the same mistake this year.

Question 4: What did you learn from your answers to the first three questions?

This is where it gets interesting. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is not simply to know yourself and your business better but to actually to use what you learn to make certain that this year trumps last year.

What are your main takeaways from the first three questions? What do you now know about yourself or your business that you didn’t realize or weren’t thinking about before? Here are two random nuggets from my complete list of 62…

  • Creating products, programs, and free material to help entrepreneurs and their businesses grow consistently gives me my greatest feeling of accomplishment. Therefore, I need to spend time daily on creating these materials and not let the fast growth of our business – Strategic Profits – pull me too far away from what I do best.
  • For Strategic Profits to positively impact even more small-business owners, we have to religiously stick to our schedule of introducing new front-end products. We cannot allow ourselves to deviate from the schedule, no matter how well things are going, because client acquisition is the lifeblood of any business.

You should shoot for as many takeaways as possible, because it’s here that the rubber meets the road. It’s these takeaways that’ll practically guarantee that 2009 will be the best year of your life.

Of course, it’s not enough to just make your list (although that, by itself, will get you partway there). You still need to take this information and USE IT!

And that’s where our final question comes in…

Question 5: How can you use this information to make this year your best year yet?

The idea is to take everything that surfaced in your answer to Question 4 and build it in to your schedule, your interactions, your management style, and so on. For example, I’ve already scheduled on my calendar two hours a day of content creation and 10 minutes every morning to review my goals. Plus, I’ve slotted a weekly 20-minute appointment with myself to surface and then analyze whatever concerns I have.

There’s lots more on my list – but you get the point. And besides, what’s important here is not what I am going to do to make this year great for me… it’s what you are going to do to make this year great for you.

[Ed. Note: Rich Schefren, known in marketing circles as “The Guru’s Guru,” is an online business exploder whose clients rake in more than $500 million every year – piling up more than $1 billion in sales every two years. Visit his blog to learn how to streamline your business while skyrocketing profits.]

Click to comment on this article.