I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I want to reflect on this year. If that movie Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was real, I might just ask to have this year erased from my memory.
Obviously, that’s not an option, so let’s go with Plan B. Plan B of course is doing the “therapeutic thing” (aka the healthy/productive thing) and taking a moment to reflect. But why reflection? What power lies in the act of sitting down and spreading out all the ups and downs of the last year? (Especially this year!)
Well, reflection gives us an opportunity to take stock of ourselves and our experiences. When we reflect we gain new perspectives and can learn from our previous selves, often because we’re more objective and less reactive to the situation when we’re looking back on it. (Think — how you feel the morning after a fight with your partner. You’ve probably “cooled” down a bit right? Maybe even see their side of things a little bit more?)
How to reflect on a difficult year
There is a mindfulness based stress reduction technique where you start reflecting by looking back on the “unpleasant events” (this one might not be so hard this year). You notice how you felt in that situation, physically, emotionally and cognitively. You ask yourself if you were aware of these feelings when you were in that moment. Then as you look back on what you wrote and you reflect on how you feel in that present moment. You ask yourself “how do I feel now, days, weeks, months later?” This helps us gain perspective. By not only acknowledging how we felt in the moment, but also how we feel about it now, we learn more about ourselves and can make adjustments to our attitudes and behaviors.
Of course there’s also a “pleasant events” version too, because it’s equally important to notice the good times. (We usually start with negative because our brain is often better at recalling bad memories for protective reasons). What’s wonderful about this exercise is that the more you reflect on your experiences from a mindful approach, the more present you begin to become in your daily life and as well all know, increased Mindfulness = decreased anxiety, depression, stress and improves mood.
Alternative reflection methods
There are numerous ways you can reflect on your year, but my favorite are the ones that comes with the “ah ha” moments where gain insight into how you operate and learn something about yourself. This could be accomplished by taking a long walk or hike with the intention of reflecting, sitting down with a friend or family member to talk about the year or writing it out (along with a million other methods!).
I suggest using journaling prompts to help you sort through what will surely go down as one of the most difficult years in our lifetime. Here is an example:
Reflect with purpose
Victor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote about the value of using reflection to help give us purpose and meaning. Before you begin your own reflection exercises, I encourage you to think about what Frankl says here:
The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him?
No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning