Around this time last year a friend introduced me to her end of the year reflection ritual, which was taught to her by Christine Arylo. I have even more respect for this reflection exercise than I did last year given my recent experiences in my mindfulness teaching training program along with my recent training in positive neuroplasticity. Rick Hanson defines positive neuroplasticity as "taking charge of the structure-building processes of your own brain." In one recent blog post, he writes, "...whatever you hold in attention has a special power to change your brain. Attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain - and your self. Therefore, controlling your attention - becoming more able to place it where you want it and keep it there, and more able to pull it away from what's bothersome or pointless (such as looping again and again through anxious preoccupations, mental grumbling, or self-criticism) - is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better."
Given that our attention is often fixated on the mistakes we made and how we fell short, I offer you this end-of-the-year reflection exercise to help you expand your attention to include your successes, what you learned and the ways in which life surprised you. This exercise is divided into four parts and each part has a few reflection prompts. All you need is a pen, paper and a willingness to be curious.
You can divide your paper into quadrants or have a single sheet of paper for each theme. Also, please feel free to answer these prompts in any order you see fit. You may feel like you want to spiral back to some sections and it's fine to do so. As I used to tell my students, there's a difference between answering a question and reflecting upon one. First off, reflection requires time. Ask yourself the question, listen to what surfaces (or doesn't surface), write it down and then repeat the process. I think of reflecting as practicing the art of lingering. Without further ado...
1. Learning: What have you learned this year? Were there any experiences that caused you to shift your beliefs, assumptions, perspectives? Did you happen to read any books or see any movies/ plays that inspired you? Another way to think about learning is to ask yourself, what did I not know prior to this year?
2. Success: What went well for you this year? No success is too small to acknowledge, just like no act of kindness is too small to offer. Let yourself relish these successful delights. I once had a colleague who asked her students' parents to write her a brag note about their child at the start of the school year. Let this quadrant or page be imbued with a similar sense of pride and joy. Go for it!
3. Surprises: What experiences did you have that were unexpected? This list can include joyful surprises in addition to surprises that stung. Maybe you crossed paths with a stranger who is now a close friend. Maybe a rejection led to a discovery.
4. Failures: What didn't work out the way you had hoped or planned? Maybe some goals weren't achieved and/or you had a couple setbacks/ disappointments. These prompts may cause you to connect with a sense of vulnerability; therefore, it's incredibly important to use a gentle, curious tone as you do this investigation. This exercise is not supposed to be punishing in any way. Let your attention expand to include what you also may have learned from these experiences. Maybe what transpired has inspired some questions, direction and/or piqued an interest or two. If you find yourself slipping into self-judgment, then take a pause. Step back. Observe the self-judgement as you would a branch tumbling down a stream. You may also find support and encouragement from these quotes:
"I never lose. I either win or I learn." - Nelson Mandela
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." - Brené Brown
"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." - Marcel Proust
When I was a classroom teacher, I used to do a handful of end-of-the-year activities with my students to bring a sense of closure. The end of the year was often fraught with emotions and these playful activities helped my students wind down and process all we had experienced over the course of the school year. I hold today's post in a similar light. How can we help ourselves transition, as adults, from 2017 to 2018?
Stay tuned for my next post, which will speak to the power of intention. You may even find that this reflection exercise helped you set an intention for the upcoming year.