“Any New Year’s Resolutions this year?”
It’s become a cliché question around this time of year, every year. So common that despite my inclination to not want to go there, I have found myself asking a client or two if they made any. Many of us make resolutions at the turn of the calendar year – despite the idea that it might not be worth it. I find that the impulse to do so resides in a hope for something better, and that it feels like a natural occurrence for hope when the calendar year turns.
But I have also never found the new year to be a particularly good time for me, personally, to set goals. The weather is downright dreary where I am (particularly brutal this New Year’s holiday) so any goal that might involve going out more often needs to be tempered with some reasonable expectations. But, I also don’t see anything wrong with a resolution, provided it really feels “right” to do for you (maybe check in with yourself, with your body, and if it resonates to create a goal, do so. Most importantly, don’t hold back from setting achievable and measurable goals!)
Instead, I’m more of a reflector than a resolver. My natural inclination is to reflect (I’m a therapist, so I can see it sort of fits there.) I do set goals that involve forward-thinking, but I’m more prone to reflect first in order to do so. If I reflect on something in the “right” way (for me), then what lies ahead will also, in theory, be the “right” thing for me. So, instead of a resolution at the turn of the year, I tend to be more reflective in what happened last year. I thought, then, for the sake of this blog, that I would reflect on the process of reflecting.
Before getting into the process, I sense a need to start out with a professionally-related reflection of my own. Last year was a trying year, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. The only way it was not trying for you is if you mastered the art of ignoring that around you. We have had to be confronted – in a non-stop, no-air-to-breathe sort of way – with existential fears that I have not been privy to in my own lifetime, and it was a new task for me as a therapist to learn how to help my clients simultaneously confront those same fears. Did I succeed? I don’t think I always did. Did I learn more about myself in that perceived “failure”? I think so. That is where I want to end this reflection and begin the understanding of the reflection process: on the importance of learning.
Mirrors are reflective. That is their sole function. Therefore, I liken the process of self-reflection to the process of holding a mirror up to one self. The process of therapy is hopefully similar in that regard. With a compassionate and empathetic ear listening to us, we as clients hold a mirror up to ourselves. But the process of doing so can be difficult for all of us. It brings in our inner critic, almost as if it’s looking into the mirror with you.
However, if we can learn the process of reflecting in certain ways, we can remove the critic from the equation.
First: Not everyone self-reflects. Those who don’t, we might see as being more blissful on the surface, but if we were to really get to know them, the one thing that we might be able to say rather objectively (not critically, meanly, etc.) would be is that they have “ignorant” tendencies. So, the simple fact that you are willing to self-reflect can go a long way in helping you to stay in the moment, and feel good towards yourself.
Second: The job is to learn. If you go into looking at that mirror as wanting only flawless to come back at you, then I don’t get what the point of the mirror was in the first place (and might I suggest we revisit the old myth of Narcissus). Instead, can we go up to the mirror with that sense of open curiosity as to what we might see, and not judge what we do see as either right or wrong, but rather, us?
Third: When we recognize the reflection in the mirror is actually ourselves, and accept that we might have wanted to do something differently, let us embrace this as our learning experience. What we just did was learn something about ourselves. We may not do it exactly the way we want to the next time, but then we can repeat this process until we do.
And with each iteration, we can continue learning to embrace the learning process that takes place when we reflect.