It’s here: the new year. For some of you, it feels like a fresh start full of new opportunities and hope for the future. You may just want to leave 2016 behind and forget it ever happened. For others, it might feel like time is passing too quickly, you’re disappointed in the past year, or you’re not sure what to hope for in 2017.
When you look back at 2016, what stands out to you personally? Do you have hope for 2017? If so, what are you hoping for? Maybe you’ve made some resolutions or goals for the year and you’ve already broken them - I know I have. It can be easy to blame ourselves or feel disheartened as we see dreams or desires not come to fruition.
How can we look back at the last year with kind eyes? What do we do when our resolutions start to fall through, 2017 looks discouraging, or change isn’t happening as quickly as we’d like?
Here are some tips on how to be kind to yourself as you look back over the past year and plan for the new.
Celebrate the good from this past year.
If you’re facing depression or anxiety, it can be more natural to focus on the negative from the past year. We can get hung up on things we did wrong, dreams we didn’t accomplish, goals gone unmet, desires left unfulfilled. Instead, take a moment to look back on the year and make a list of things for which you can be grateful. Give yourself credit for successes, no matter how small. Celebrate by creating a symbol of those memories: it could be a collection of photos, a quote or verse that sums up the year for you, or a theme word or phrase.
Accept the things that have remained the same.
I’m a big journaler – it provides a release for me, but it’s also a helpful tool for reflection. This New Year’s Day, I opened one of my journals from the beginning of 2016 to review the year and realized that I had written down almost the same disappointments and desires for change this year as I had the previous year. My perfectionist self was unhappy. I could (and almost did) believe that nothing would ever change. Instead, I had to choose to see myself as an imperfect person. I needed to accept the ways in which I hadn’t changed this past year and know that I will be okay, even if I am not perfect.
I may always tend to experience life in a certain way due to my unique personality and emotions. But instead of feeling worse by trying to fit the mold of what I “should” be experiencing, it is important accept both the gifts and the drawbacks of that personality trait and love myself through it.
Grieve the losses you’ve experienced.
Many of us have likely experienced loss in the past year. It could’ve appeared in many ways: the death of a relative, a divorce, friendships coming to a close. Loss can also come with positive changes, like a new job or a move to a new city. Any of these could have made 2016 feel tinged with sorrow and sadness. It could be easy to close the door on the year and choose never to think of those things again. But pain can fester and affect us if we don’t give ourselves time and space to grieve the losses we experience. Allow yourself to experience the sadness that may come, and seek out safe people to talk to and help you through your grief.
Set one small goal.
Set yourself up for success! Resolutions can tend to be a bunch of vague goals, like “lose weight, exercise more, organize my house, be a better parent/spouse/friend.” No wonder no one keeps resolutions like that – they’re overwhelming! And since they aren’t particularly specific, it can be hard to find a next step to take for them. This year, choose one small goal that has a baby step you can take in the first week of the year. Make sure your goal SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound), as that means you’re more likely to make it happen! Better yet, choose something that you’ll find fun or enjoyable – the more you like doing something, the more likely you’ll be to keep doing it.
Choose one value to focus on in the year ahead.
There is a practice that some people take toward the new year where they name a word or short phrase that they want to be their focus for the upcoming year. Maybe you’d like to experience more calm, hope, or adventure in your life. This can be a helpful tool to narrow down your vision for the year to just one item. Choose a value in which you desire to grow, and allow your choices for the year to be defined by that core value.
This year, instead of beating yourself down into the ground with those failed resolutions and negative views of the past year, use these ideas to both celebrate the year that’s gone by and create a rewarding 2017!
For some of you, it might be difficult to reflect back on the past year and experience hope in 2017. Maybe this past year has left you in a place of hopelessness, depression, worry, or grief. If you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and desiring relief from the pain, I’m here to help. Contact my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191, or fill out the form here.