A New Year's Twist on New Year's Resolutions

By Matt W Sandford, LMHC

As I thought about the new year and pondered the things I wanted to focus on I found myself reflecting on the past year. And it dawned on me how we are conditioned to every year focus ahead and make resolutions and set goals and such. But how much do we look back? And why do we shy away from taking a penetrating look back?

Partly, my guess on why we don’t invest in looking back is related to a cultural mandate these days that says, “the past is the past”, or maybe the more modern version of that, which is, “it is what is it is”. There is a strong tendency to downplay the past and encourage forward thinking, from a positive attitude point of view. Meaning that there is a belief that to look back is to ‘dwell’, or wallow or maybe to hold grudges. It is promoted that the person who can “move on” is strong and resilient – not letting anything slow them down – like in a foot race.

The problem, as I see it, is in wedding of two incompatible elements. In this case, they are the practice of reflection and the notion of dwelling or wallowing or frankly, weakness.  But maybe, in reality the problem is that looking back is harder than looking forward, which would make it the opposite of weakness. And that’s why it is unpopular. Because to look back involves reconnecting emotionally with the good that is now gone or the bad that infected my life. Looking back certainly can be an enjoyable nostalgic reverie, that’s true. But a lot of times those positive memories are somewhat bittersweet. Because if it was really good, then there’s a sense of loss because it is in the past and cannot be reclaimed.  And within any given year there is usually bound to be a mix of joys and heartaches, which can be hard to sort out. Because in looking back we are usually tempted to weigh it all on the scales and come up with a conclusion. Was it a good year or not? And at that point we have been drawn into an ugly game of sizing up our experiences and our behaviors. Now we have slid into an inquiry rather than a celebration. Easier to not think too deeply about it.

Yet, I believe that reflection is an integral part of personal growth. And I don’t mean the morbid or harsh approach of weighing and judgment that I just referred to. I am referring instead to a process that is insightful and motivating and life giving. I’d like to offer some suggestions as to how I believe reflection can serve you in just those ways.    

1.    Reflect on Your achievements

Look over the previous year and ponder the things you’ve excelled at, the challenges you’ve tackled, and the progress you’ve made. Can you celebrate those things, without being hard on yourself for the things you fell short of?

2.    Reflect on Your Personal Growth

We all have things that we have wanted to change or improve about ourselves. That’s often what the resolutions are about. But what about thinking about how far you have come? Considering that although you may want to lose more weight, be more patient, or become more assertive than you have been – I wonder if you have made some progress in that area, and are not where you used to be? In order to avoid burnout, we need to be able to keep in balance the way ahead and the distance we have traveled.

3.    Reflect on your relationships

This is about taking the time to wrestle with the both the quality and quantity of my relationships. It involves taking stock of my investment in those I love. If you are like me, you wanted to love better in some way over the last year. How did you do? The purpose is not to demoralize yourself with recriminations or guilt. This is about making an analysis of what you did and did not do so that you can make constructive adjustments. And let’s not pretend that those adjustments are just about behaviors. Behaviors are just the outworking of what goes on in our hearts – so if we identify behavior issues, that means that to be productive we would be wise to trace it back to what’s going on in our heart.   

4.    Reflect on your relationship with God

Did you even want to draw closer to God this past year? I can’t say that would be true for all of my past years. So, reflect on where you are coming from spiritually. What circumstances influenced you? What went on in your thoughts about God? What challenges to your beliefs came along and how did they impact you? In what ways did you maybe seek God and how successful do you feel that they were? In what ways did you detect God seeking you or leading you? What did you do with the elements of church, the Bible, fellowship, giving, and service?

As you reflect through these categories, let your reflections be prayerful; meaning ask God to guide you in your reflective work – to keep you from morbid lines of thought, to guide your memory, and generally to seek his help through the process.

And after you’ve reflected, then what?

Well, I think you let your reflections be your guide as you now look forward into the new year. That way, you aren’t running from the past year, yet often repeating it.

Instead, you’ll be letting the old year lead you in wisdom and building continuity and structure to your personal journey.


Here’s to this year’s journey !



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