The New Year has a strong and reliable universal pull unlike many other holidays. It symbolizes a time of reflection, rejuvenation and rebirth. As is endemic of any modernized society, its symbolism has been relentlessly exploited by marketing departments of almost every company. Our lofty new year’s resolutions MUST be accompanied by shiny new products, they tell us. However, to chart our path forward in 2021, we must first look back on the year that has passed.
This is where New Year’s reflections come in. While new year’s resolutions can be thought of as an adrenaline-inducing exercise encouraging us to sometimes demand impossible outcomes, yearly reflections are meant to be a lot more mellow and personal. It is key that we conduct reflections before attempting to craft resolutions. It is only intuitive that to find a solution, we must first clearly outline a weakness or a problem. Reflections provide the clarity we need to set effective goals for the new year.
The Harder the Year, the More Lessons To Draw
As a member of Gen Z or even millennials, 2020 has no doubt been the strangest year we have lived through. Many of us have struggled with strict lockdowns and the limited social interactions. Some of us may have had a parent lose their job or had our dream internship canceled because of drastic global economic conditions. Worse still, the pandemic may have even taken the life of someone we loved. In fact, many think tanks have concurred that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on mental health among youths all around the world.
However, on a personal level, we have to perceive every challenge as an opportunity to learn (including a global pandemic). The new year is the perfect time to note down all the valuable lessons we have learnt throughout the year. So how can we do this? We could first start by listing down some helpful questions to ask ourselves. How did we react in the face of difficulty? What could we have done better in this particular situation? Have I taken the time to emotionally/mentally recover from my failures and losses?
Reflections do not have to only be about what mistakes we have made. A key part of producing success is to also be leaning on our strengths and good habits. While we have made a list of our weaknesses and things we can improve on, we should also take the time to highlight all the amazing things we have achieved and understand how we got there and how these practices can be reproduced.
The advantage of going through this process of self-critique (or appraisal!) alone is that you are free to be more honest with yourself. It can be counter-productive to do this in public or on social media where you can become wary of other people’s expectations.
This process allows you to objectively identify the issues that have plagued you and find ways to resolve them when new challenges arrive. Reflections do not have to be painful. But productive ones tend to be raw and frank.
Always Start With ‘Why’
80% of new year’s resolutions are given up on by the first week of February. This happens for many reasons; lack of willpower, distractions or even unforeseen circumstances are all issues that inevitably crop up. Reflections can be critical in circumventing this by providing us the ‘why’ in why we even bother to come up with new year’s resolutions.
For resolutions to be effective, we must ensure that the habits or accomplishments are supplemented by sufficient desire. Reflections allow us to decipher our inner purpose and understand why exactly we are pursuing these lofty goals. Best-selling author Simon Sinek suggests highly successful individuals and companies have very distinct ‘Why’s and that this is evident in every sinew of their actions. For example, Apple’s desire to drastically challenge the status quo is replicated in its marketing strategy as an integral part of the sophisticated modern man or woman. While it began as any other computer company, it has rapidly transformed itself into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand.
While our purpose is not something that often comes intuitively, reflections provide insight into what activities we have been repeatedly drawn to and also the moments in which we have found ourselves feeling most fulfilled. When we start to draw patterns, we start becoming closer to finding our ‘Why’ and naturally coming up with resolutions that are easier to stick to.
Providing Context To the Struggle
Many challenges in our life feel pointless. It feels like God is simply out to get us or that there are simply forces beyond our control that have caused this. Admittedly, many of our misgivings can be true. Not many of us can claim to be responsible for a global pandemic. However, this does not mean that there can be no meaning to our struggles. A powerful thing we can do is employ storytelling in our reflections to provide context to our struggles and possibly inject hope for a better future.
In the book, The Alchemist, an Andalusian boy chooses to go through life as a ‘measly’ shepherd just so he could travel the world. He then embarks on a daunting journey to Egypt to follow a wild prophesy that predicted he would find his ‘Destiny’ and treasure near the pyramids. However different our circumstances are to the boy; this bestseller has resonated with people around the world because it draws on our inner desire to pursue more abstract and less tangible goals like meaning and purpose.
Storytelling reminds us to contextualize all our experiences as part of a bigger story where we are the main protagonist. In fact, author Jonathan Gotschall, argues that we already tell stories to ourselves even if we are not cognizant of this process. He argues that the human mind “is allergic to uncertainty, randomness and coincidence’ and that storytelling is what helps us ultimately make our lives feel meaningful. This is why grandiose goals of being the best writer in the world for example are so attractive. It cements our place in the world that we ultimately desire. However, the key is to story tell mindfully. The stories we tell ourselves need to be intentional and contextualized. As we reflect on our year, it is vital we frame our experiences into the grander scheme of our entire life. Find ways to paint yourself as the hero of your story without surrounding yourself in delusion. Good storytellers are persuasive, but they are not liars. As cheesy as storytelling sounds as a personal exercise, ‘well-told stories’ have also been proven to be help with remembering facts, as psychologist Peg Nauhauser found. Telling stories inevitably also allows us to remember our goals and purpose more consistently which makes it easier for us to stick to our resolutions.
While many of us rush to complete our new year’s resolutions, it is reflections that should be the foundation on which we chart our path forward. Once we have consolidated our lessons, purpose and story, only then can we create a more effective plan for what we can do next.