As each year comes to a close many of us feel compelled to make changes in the new year. We say things like, “This new year is going to be different.” And then, with barely a moment’s reflection, we begin the ritual stacking of new pressures and expectations, which we call resolutions, to drag into the first several days, weeks and months of the new year. But how can we expect the new year to be any different than the old year when instead of any consideration as to who we are and where we’ve been, we stuff the past, and ourselves along with it, under our pillows like a bad dream?

What is it about the past, that makes us want to look away before we’ve even taken a moment to look within? Do we imagine a huge mountain we failed to climb, and now have even further to go before we reach some unspecified peak? And how can we know we came up short if we aren’t even sure what mountain we were really climbing? Without any reflection as to who we are and what we are really up to, what we often, and typically, end up with is a reflexive set of prepackaged, mostly unconscious, judgments about ourselves, and a default, uninspired, destined-to-bore and likely-to-fail, plan for self-improvement.

Art by Ann Canapary

But what if the past year wasn’t what we feared it was—a timeline of events measured mainly in terms of how much closer or further we’ve moved toward or away from the fulfillment of a set of pre-determined outcomes. What if, instead, it was actually a set-up for the unfolding of desired future potentials and possibilities? And what if with a little reflection, or self-reflection, we might uncover clues within our past year that would lead us toward those future potentials?

A Wider Frame for Reflection

Self-reflection does not have to be an exercise in self torture. Self-reflection can be stimulating, even cathartic, if we allow ourselves to operate within a wider framework than the invisible, running, scorecard each of us keeps hidden within ourselves.

For example, consider the idea that we, as individuals, are not random events colliding with other random events. That perhaps each of us is creating our own individual experiences on levels we are often unaware. In other words, the experiences we are having are the ones we are choosing, regardless of our lack of awareness as to how or from where we are choosing them. And then consider the possibility that we, as the creators of our experiences, do not create our experiences randomly. This is to say, that the experiences we place before ourselves are purpose driven, whether or not we understand each purpose in every moment.

Viewing ourselves in this way, as the purpose driven creators of our individual experiences, we might reflect on our past year in more thematic terms, and as a result, view ourselves with more curiosity than condemnation. We might ponder what we’ve really been up to, and where or what we might be leading ourselves toward in the not-so-distant future.

A Few Questions and Considerations

We might ask ourselves: What experiences did I present myself with this past year? What did these experiences show me about who I am? What was I drawn toward? Where was I curious? Where were my resistances? Where might I have felt an internal calling, but perhaps too hastily dismissed? Where or in what moments did I answer the call for a new direction, experience or adventure, and what happened as a result?

In addition to questions such as these, we might also just consider how much we’ve grown and changed over the past year. We might notice what relationships we’ve outgrown, or perhaps aspects of those relationships we’ve outgrown, and what new ones we might be nudging ourselves toward in the coming year. We might consider the subtle shifts we’ve made in our understandings of who we are, and what new possibilities have come into view as a result.

We might ask ourselves all kinds of questions in a wide variety of areas, and then watch as the answers begin pouring in. We might see repetitive patterns that we are now ready to let go of, or notice areas of neglect that need more of our attention. With just a little looking we might even uncover some hidden gems about ourselves that were sitting just below the surface, ready to be discovered.

A Gateway to Future Potentials

Reflecting upon the past, even the immediate past, can serve as a gateway to future potentials. It can be done moment-by-moment as events unfold, or later on when the benefit of time gives us more perspective on our feelings and impressions. Reflection is a way of recognizing who we are as creators, but also a way of bringing insight to our often hidden purposes. With just a little reflection, we might even reach a kind of internal resolution, that the past year was exactly as we planned it—a year rich with experience and ripe with the seeds of future potentials. And with this, we might allow ourselves to make one simple resolution, to trust ourselves a little more in the new year.

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