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A New Year's Self-Reflection Practice

The beginning of a new year/end of an old year has traditionally been a time for thinking of changes we want to make. But before we can do this effectively it can useful to reflect on the previous year and how we felt about it. If we had resolutions or predictions at the start or at other times in the past year, did these come to pass? What was this experience like? What unexpected events occurred and how did we cope with these? As you do this, notice what stories you are creating about yourself.

Here’s an example: I was/wasn’t able to reach a particular goal (e.g., exercising regularly) because something bad and unexpected came up (an injury) that I should have been able to prevent or deal with better (if only I had been more careful, done physical therapy exercises, etc.). Instead, it sidetracked my goal (I barely exercised for several months) and made me feel even worse about myself than at the start of the year.

This is an example of common negative story where we turn an unexpected bad event that we had little or no control over into a source of self-criticism that can make us feel even worse than the original event. It’s useful to notice that this is a story, not objective reality, and so can be re-written. An alternative version might go: I was progressing well on my goal when I had a random injury. In order to take care of myself and allow for proper healing, I chose to take some time off. These kinds of setbacks happen. Now that I’ve healed and thought about what I enjoy about exercise, I’ve decided to change my routine in ways that make my goals more doable and the process more relaxed. I also learned that when I can’t exercise it feels frustrating. As a result, I often start feeling self-critical towards myself and end up giving up when what I actually wanted most during my recovery was support and to be treated gently until I felt ready to exercise again.

Noticing and reflecting on how these two stories differ may help with your own self-reflection process. While the difference in stories may not guarantee success in reaching a goal, it may make it much more enjoyable to keep trying regardless of outcome, a useful result in itself.

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