As we approach the last two weeks of the year, people often begin to reflect on the last eleven and a half months and look into the coming year. It can be a time during which we revisit victories, challenges, and significant milestones, and also a time when we start to examine areas of our life in which we would like to see change or growth. This can certainly be a valuable process, but also one that is important to approach thoughtfully so that it can be utilized in a meaningful way.
1. Be aware of if or when your own self-reflection shifts to comparison to others.
When taking stock of our own growth or successes, it is so easy to get on that slippery path of comparison! While it is great to have mentors and individuals that you admire, and to surround yourself with inspiration, remember that you are on your own journey. Your process may never look exactly like your mentor, and that is ok! When engaging in reflective behavior, look at the strides and movements that you have made. Discounting your own progress because it appears that Mr. or Ms. Jones achieved more does nothing for you. Honor your growth and ongoing areas of challenge for what they mean to you.
2. What brought you a sense of joy, challenge, or fulfillment during the course of this last year?
The answer may be a familiar one or may be a surprise. Note, I did not ask what brought you the most achievement or praise. Reflect on the moments from the last year during which you felt truly connected to the people around you or the task at hand. Now, there are many things we are responsible for that may not bring us a sense of joy or fulfillment, and the point of this question is not to eliminate all of these tasks. However, ask yourself if there is a way to increase your time spent with people or on tasks that were fulfilling.
3. What brought you a sense of dread, helplessness, anxiety, or depression during the course of this last year?
On the flip side of the previous question is this. Again, the answer may be expected or may be a surprise. Reflect on whether there are relationships or activities that you have continued to make part of your life despite the negative toll it takes on you. Are there ways in which you can reduce this in the coming year? Be thoughtful and intentional in how you use your (limited) time and energy! Continuing to invest in things that bring you negative emotions and experiences means that you are taking this time away from things that bring you contentedness and fulfillment. How can you start to eliminate or create more healthy boundaries with these aspects of your life (so that you can invest more time and energy in the things identified in question 2)?
4. Values Clarification
It can sometimes be helpful to make very explicit what your values and priorities will be as you enter a new year. Searching "values clarification" will pull up some great resources to give you a jumping-off point. Like in questions 2 and 3, the goal of values clarification is to help you be more intentional with how you are investing your time and energy. You will feel more fulfilled and more in-tune with your own needs and goals if you are investing your time and energy into things that reflect your values.
5. Accepting the year as it ends
Perhaps 2017 was a particularly difficult year for you. Perhaps you have been waiting and waiting for that ball to drop and the calendars to change over. If this has been a difficult season in your life, for whatever reason, take time to honor that. You do not need to try and gloss over the hard parts of the year; rather, practice acceptance in both your recognition of these hard events and in your response to these events. You may not (and you don't need to) find some existential reason for these events, but you can find purpose in moving forward from these hardships.
I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and look forward to sharing more time and words with you in 2018!
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Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.