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Reflecting on a New Year: Practical Steps to Move You Forward

A person seeking reflection through therapy with a counselor.

So it’s the New Year, another 365 days have come and passed, the Earth has completed its annual journey around the sun, and here you are. Take a moment to check in with yourself and notice what the idea of a “New Year” brings up for you. Is it excitement, joy, reflection, anxiety, stress, or something else?

If the beginning of a new year brings to mind visions of starting new habits or routines, setting goals, being your best you, and possibly hoping things will be different, you’re not alone! As we transition from one year to the next, it is very natural to spend time reflecting on the year that has gone by and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Start with Reflection

However, how you engage in this process is important because it can either lead you to feel like you’re not good enough just as you are, or it can leave you feeling empowered to cultivate a life you love!

Unfortunately, marketing around this time of year often tricks you into thinking you need to be different or “better” than you currently are in order to feel good about yourself. It tells you to buy this or sign up for that and all your problems will be magically solved. Not to say that buying or signing up for certain things won’t provide you any benefit, but it likely isn’t going to be a cure-all for the challenges you are facing. This trap is easy to fall into especially when you aren’t where you want to be and wish that things were different.

The truth is, that sustainable change takes time, energy, and hard work! So where do you begin? If you want to step into the New Year feeling empowered, I invite you to join me in a practice that will help you ground in your present reality, practice self-acceptance, reflect on what you value most, and set intentions and goals that are aligned with your vision for this year!

Practice Grounding

I like to start by shifting my focus from the future to the present. The only moment in which you can actually choose to do something different is in the present moment. If you are constantly looking to the future and hoping it will somehow be different than the past, you are likely missing the opportunity in this moment to create the change you desire.

I invite you to begin to ground into your present moment experience, with a sense of compassion and curiosity. 

Notice how you feel right here, in this moment. 

Where do you feel sensation in your body? 

Where does it feel tense? 

Where does it feel relaxed?

What does it feel like to breathe in and out? 

What is the pace, rhythm, and depth of your breath?

What is the quality of your mind?

Can you identify any thoughts that are present?

What does it feel like to notice your thoughts without attaching to them?

Take a few more moments to notice anything else that is present for you, such as sounds, smells, or other aspects of your environment. If something feels uncomfortable, try to notice it, offer yourself compassion, and then gently let it go.

Invite Acceptance In

A person engaging in reflections for the new year

From this grounded place of present-moment awareness, you can begin to invite in an attitude of acceptance. What would it feel like to accept yourself just as you are in this moment? It might not be exactly where you want to be or stay forever, but it’s where you are.

This might feel uncomfortable at first, but acceptance is simply a practice that you can engage in, and over time it will begin to feel more comfortable. Instead of resisting or fighting against your current reality, acceptance allows you to be open to whatever the present moment has to offer. This can free up mental energy to focus on moving forward in the direction you want to go.

The founder of person-centered therapy said it best when he commented that…

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

-Carl Rogers

What if instead of believing in “New Year, New Me”, you allowed yourself to fully honor and accept who you are right now, this exact version of you? What if this year didn’t have to be an extreme or intense transformation in order to accept yourself? From this place of accepting yourself just as you are, you can begin to figure out where you want to go and how to get there.

Identify Your Values

So, now that you are connected to the present moment with an attitude of acceptance, how do you figure out what you want in this new year? You might experiment with setting a New Year’s intention rather than a resolution.

For me, and possibly you too, resolutions can sometimes feel like a punishment or things that you have to do to be better because you’re not good enough. On the other hand, intentions might feel more inviting and inspired, like something you get to do that makes you feel good!

One of the easiest ways to set an intention is to explore what you value most. If you have a pen and paper or word doc open, try answering the questions below to tune into what is most important to you right now.

  • Reflecting on the past year, what memories stand out in your mind as moments you want to continue to cultivate?

  • What memories stand out as things (people, habits, self-talk, etc.) you are ready to let go of that are no longer serving you?

  • Who do you most enjoy spending time with? What feels good about being with them?

  • Where and with whom do you feel most safe?

  • How do you want to feel in your body? What is holding you back from that experience?

  • What are small ways you can experience joy amidst the challenges that you face?

  • If you were to time travel exactly one year into the future, what would you want to remember from this upcoming year?

  • That you were able to slow down and spend more quality time with the people you love?

  • That you found the confidence to go after your dream job or try something completely different?

  • That you committed to self-care and setting boundaries even when it felt hard?

  • What would values-based living look and feel like for you this year?

Based on your answers to these questions, what do you want to focus your time and energy on in this New Year? Below are a few quick tips for setting an intention.

  • Keep it simple and be clear.

  • Make it positive, such as “I will engage in hobbies that inspire me” rather than “I won’t waste my time doing things that aren’t inspiring.”

  • Make sure it feels feasible and actionable.

  • Declare your intention by writing it down or saying it aloud possibly to another person.

Sustain Your Progress

A person looking to engage in reflections for the new year with the help of a therapist

Oftentimes big goals with a lot of initial energy burn out quickly. What are some ways you can set sustainable goals to bring your values-based intentions to life? It might be helpful to think in terms of a SMART goal. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

For example, maybe during your reflection, you realized that you want to read more because you value reading as a hobby that inspires you and allows you to expand your perspective. Instead of setting the goal to simply read more, you might start with the goal to read 5 minutes a day or a total of 35 minutes per week for the first month of the year. Now you are slowly building up your capacity at a pace that works for you.

This SMART goal will likely help you to actually read more, which will leave you feeling more aligned with your values. Now you try! Based on the values and intentions that you are setting for the New Year, what goals will help you make them a reality?

Lastly, I will leave you with this thought: even if you spend this next year the exact way you spent last year, you are still whole, worthy, and deserving just as you are. While the New Year is a great time to reflect, explore your values, set intentions, and make sustainable changes, it can also be a time to allow yourself to just be as you are. There is no right or wrong, good or bad way to enter the new year. Give yourself the grace to move into this new year in a way that feels most authentic and supportive for you!

If New Year reflections have left you feeling lost, stuck, anxious, or depressed you might benefit from working with a counselor. Individual counseling, group counseling, and support groups can provide you with a safe space to explore barriers to living the life you want to live and can help you move through challenges to get to where you want to be.

I have seen many of my clients benefit from exploring their values and getting clear on what they want most out of life. If this sounds like something you are interested in, you can book a free 20-minute consultation to learn more!

How We Can Help

If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

A therapist for Catalyss Counseling

Juliette Brown is a student intern and a provider for the affordable counseling program at Catalyss Counseling. She works with adults with depression, anxiety, and grief to find new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting so they can experience greater joy and authenticity in their everyday lives. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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