Why is Reflection so Important?

New Year

In the past I had a fairly ambivalent relationship with New Year.  During my late 20’s and into my 30’s, I often found myself feeling melancholy and a little maudlin as another year came to a close.  Those years are now long behind me and my relationship with New Year has taken a much more positive turn.  New Years now, are almost always celebrated with our closest group of friends,  either in one of our homes or in a hired cottage.  Relaxation, walks, food and fizz, sometimes board games, or quizzes or magic shows (!) but always warmth, laughter and fun.

Thankfully,  I came to the realisation that New Year is perfect for someone like me.  Someone who enjoys a bit of reflection, goal setting and making plans.  Despite this I can still get to the end of the year and feeling frustrated by what I haven’t achieved and bothered by so much left undone.  I have to confess to feeling this a little this year.  It may have had something to do with approaching Christmas with an unrealistic to do list and a fruitless annoyance  at my own inability to do EVERYTHING.

However Christmas arrived and was none the worse for the lack of handmade gift tags or the lack or artfully thrown together  table decoration. Much more important was  a few days  spent with those I love and who love me with time to take stock  whilst reflecting on the old and planning for the new.  A thoroughly restorative process which led me to think about the strategies I use as I approach a new year.

Reflection

As a nurse, reflection is an important part of what I do.  Reflection is used to make sense of the difficult and stressful and sad clinical situations I often find myself in.  Its also used as part of the formal process of ongoing registration that allows me to continue practicing as a nurse.  So it makes sense that this is something I should do in my life outside of work too.

Reflection is approached in different ways.  For some people simply thinking through a situation or event is enough.  For me,  actually writing things down is important.  The process of thinking through an experience and writing down how I feel about it helps me move on, if thats what is needed.  This is particularly helpful for big events or experiences and might be something you do throughout the year.  When I’m looking back on a whole year, I may not write lots of detail but am more likely to think about particular aspects of my life, in terms of what went well, what didn’t go so well, what didn’t work out quite as I’d planned or indeed what worked out better than planned!

Lists

I’m a great list maker, it helps me gain control.   In the context of reflecting on the year and planning for the next, it helps me look at what I have been able to do and what I might want to do next.  For example, I keep lists of all the films I have seen at the cinema, and even which cinema!  I keep a list of all the exhibitions I have seen and of every theatre trip I have made. Of course I also keep a list of every book I have read.  I like seeing the totals at the end of the year, it helps me realise what a varied and interesting year I have had and more importantly gives prompts for things I might want to do the following year. For example, I went to the theatre only a few times in 2016.  This is an activity I love and so I made a concerted effort to go more in 2017 and consequently have seen some excellent productions.

I also make lists of things I want to do or places I want to visit.  Recently my husband and I drew up a list of all the places on our travel wish list. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its an extensive list, but we have begun think about which of these places we can realistically visit this year, and how we can make that happen, starting with Florence in a couple of weeks!

Keeping a Journal

In some ways this is similar to the process of list keeping, but is (or in my case) is rather more expansive.  I have kept a hand written journal for many years now.  I don’t write every day, I don’t put that pressure on myself.   I usually write at least 3 x’s a week, depending on how I’m feeling or weary I am when I go to bed.  It’s not just about documenting the big things, or what I have done that day. In fact more often than not, it’s a record of the mundane or my feelings about something.  For me  this is more interesting than recording the big events which I’m more likely to remember anyway, its the mundane which gets forgotten.  At the end of the year I love reading back over it, reminding myself of what I’ve done, the people I’ve spent time with and the things which have made me both happy and sad.  Its a great way to reflect.

A Word for the Year

This is something  I have done for a while now.  I find  it helps in give me a focus,  something solid on which to anchor my plans and goals.   If you haven’t come across this idea before, I believe it originates with Susannah Conway, at least thats certainly where I discovered it some years ago.  There are no particular rules, the word you choose should be exactly what you want it to be,  it should encourage you, inspire you and even stretch you.  Previous words I have chosen have been ‘Embrace’ in 2015, ‘Create’ in 2016 and last year it was ‘Change’  I am still finalising my word for 2017, I think I’m nearly there and will share it with you soon.

A Letter to Myself

I read about this idea very recently on Emily Quinton’s brilliant Makelight Blog. She suggested writing a letter to you self at the beginning of the year which you will open 12 months later.  The letter might include plans, hopes dreams, what you want to do this year, who you hope to see.  I have to admit at first I thought it seemed a little self indulgent and not something I wanted to do. However, the more I thought about it I realised I want to give it a go.  So on the evening of the 1st of January, after arriving home from a lovely weekend away I sat at my desk /dining room table, with the glow of candles and the twinkle of fairy lights and wrote a letter to myself.  I found it surprisingly easy, and indeed therapeutic. I wrote about where I was at that moment, the details of my surroundings, how I was feeling about the year ahead, my worries, and my hopes and plans. It was an exercise which has already helped to focus me for the year ahead.  That letter is now sealed and will not be opened before the 24th December 2018.

Setting Goals not Resolutions

Resolutions seem to imply giving things up or not doing things.  I have never found this approach overly helpful preferring to start the new year with a more positive approach and focus on what I want to do rather than what I don’t want to do!

Goals might be related to fitness, health, work, travel blogging or what ever else is important to you.  I try to start the year with setting myself a number of goals I hope to achieve throughout the year.  One of my favourite Christmas presents was a 2018 planner from Papier (with my name on it!).  It rather helpfully has a page each month with a section for listing goals.  Setting goals down in ink, somehow makes them more tangible.  I am still mulling what I want these longer term goals to be.  However, this year I have decided to set myself a monthly ‘acheiveable’ goal.  Something which may have just been on my to do list for a long time or will help me achieve the larger longer term goals. Some months these goals might be quite small, and may depend on what else I have planned for that month.  This month I have set myself the goal of curating all my photographs from the last year, including some serious culling and also the creation of photo books from our travels in 2017.

So, although I have left 2017 wishing I had made more time to see friends and family, a little sad that I didn’t have time to invite all those people to dinner I wanted to catch up with and sorry I haven’t been able to write as much as I had hoped; I go into 2108 feeling energised and excited with plans and goals forming, and perhaps more importantly thankful for so many good things and people which have been part of my life in 2017.

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