“The unexamined life isn’t worth living, behind every experience there is room for interpretation of the meaning of that experience” Socrates
The word reflection stems from the Latin root reflex or later reflexio which means to ‘bend back’. The concept and process of looking back on what one has experienced in order to learn and change has been around for centuries. From the Buddah and Socrates (above) to Kant and more recently education and health professionals, reflective writing and practice is an essential part of positive growth and learning.
Most of us when we think about the New Year’s reflection usually focus on what we haven’t achieved. We say things like, “I can’t believe it’s the New Year already and I haven’t done half the things I set out to last year” or we reconcile ourselves to the same old New Year’s resolutions knowing deep down that we’ll get as far as we did with them as last year, (which is probably about February if we even bother this time). Additionally, when people are asked to consider the idea of taking time out to properly self-reflect, an overriding sense of guilt is reported. Guilt for taking the time to focus solely on themselves can feel self-absorbed, selfish or even narcissistic.
However, looked at in a different way, one cannot find out how to get to a place on a map without knowing where they are in the first place. In other words, to reach any goal in life, be it financial, physical or spiritual, one has to genuinely know where they are at that moment before they can make any type of realistic plan to reach their destination.
So, in this article we are inviting you to take time out (yes, that is time just and only for yourself) and reflect upon your previous year. Even if you keep a diary this may still be of benefit because unlike traditional diary writing, where daily events are recorded from an exterior point of view, this exercise invites you to explore your internal experiences, reactions, and perceptions. It has been shown that this act of literally reading your own mind, helps people to perceive experiences more clearly and thus will experience a release of tension as well as other mental and physical health benefits.
This means away from work and any type of interruption. Please allow yourself this time and space. Oh, and you will also need a few sheets of paper and something to write with.
Go through each month and quickly write down anything you can remember you did in that month. It doesn’t have to be long or highly descriptive. Just title words or phrases that trigger for you the memory of that event or experience. If you use your phone, wall calendar or diary to log events then get your hands on them and get as many significant happenings as you can down on paper.
This stage is more about getting stuff down as a way to jog memories and help you get a better idea of where and when things happened in the year. It is not the time however to begin writing your memoirs (although you can afterwards if you like).
Take a moment now to bring to mind all the fun and interesting things that you did over the year and times you spent with people that was really enjoyable. These are not necessarily big things they are just times in your year that meant something to you on a personal level. Use what is already on the page to help. If you can’t remember exactly when something happened just guess. It’s about the memory. It’s not about getting anything right (and if the page looks incredibly messy by the end, GOOD! Life is messy, so go with it).
Accomplishments and new things. Now try and think of anything that you did that was new or different. Spend a moment each time to reflect on how much you liked or disliked the experience.
Look also for accomplishments. Again, these can be big or small. So if you put up a shelf (doesn’t matter if is fell down afterwards), finished or started a degree or baked your first cake, this should be completely personal and meaningful to you. It is also about highlighting the things in the year that you did that may have been overlooked or forgotten had you not taken the time and then saying to yourself “yeah I did that!” Now allow yourself to feel a little bit of pride (go on, you deserve it).
What is so important in this exercise is that you show yourself some compassion. It is easy to bring to mind all the not so good things that happened over the year because these experiences will most likely carry more emotion. Our brains are designed so that the more salient an event or experience is, the more likely that experience is to be stored in our long term memory bank. Put simply, the more emotional an experience is, the more we remember it (and the harder it is to forget). A downside to this can be that if your year has had a significantly sad or traumatic event in it (like the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup etc.) then this will have a tendency to take up the majority of space in your memory for the year, leaving you with feelings that the year held nothing much else in terms of positive experience and achievements. Ongoing, this can sometimes create a narrative that we live and see our lives through.
The advantage of journaling and reflecting in the way suggested above is that it allows you to remember all the other events of the year, big or small that happened and this can give a greater and more realistic perspective on things. Sometimes it can be the littlest of things that can bring us the greatest of joys and also reminds us that we are not just that big event (or our failing resolutions).
With this new and more accurate outlook we can begin to write a new narrative and life story for 2016, if we choose to. One of new experiences, good times and being in the company of people who bring true positivity to our lives and help us grow for the better.
It’s your story to read, gently reflect upon and write anew… Happy New Year.