Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen

The last couple of months of the year can be filled with so much. When fall approaches, the normal progression of events and holidays go by one by one and the new year promptly follows. Then all of a sudden, we are onto making our new year’s resolutions, naturally tapping into our future-oriented minds. I don’t know about you, but oftentimes, I find myself in this constant “go-mode” that functions on a belief of, “moving on to bigger and better things,” without giving a second thought to how I got there. It’s so normal and it all happens so fast. Without taking moments to take a breath and reflect, we may not realize the changes that are taking place in our life. Through this blog, I want to encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how this past year has gone for you.

Benefits of Reflecting 

Self-reflection offers many benefits to a person’s life. Reflection calls you to be in careful and intentional thought. It can be helpful in bringing personal awareness of your experiences, and turns those experiences into purposeful growth. Studies have shown that self-reflection can improve your understanding of your current situation, transform perspectives of your experience and deepen an understanding of your sense of self. Self-reflection plays a huge role in impacting your self-perception. Regular practices of reflection can benefit one’s confidence and self-esteem. Self-awareness is an executive function that centers on self-directed action and an awareness of what you are doing. Continually developing your self-awareness can help you maintain a healthy outlook and encourages you to take chances to grow in other areas of life. 

It’s Okay if You’re Hesitant At First

Needless to say, we all have a critical voice that chimes in when we take a moment to look back and reflect. Commonly, it’s not a good feeling to continually dwell on what we did wrong or recall embarrassing moments. When something uncomfortable comes, avoidance naturally follows. Avoidance is completely normal before reflection. It can be overwhelming to think back on experiences and fear that it negatively impacts our self-confidence. Perhaps there is a fear of dwelling too long into the past or thinking of a painful experience that leads to spiraling in thought. In the short term, avoidance can give short-lived relief. But in the long term, the avoided stimuli or subject will just feel stronger and scarier. When this happens, it is important to practice self-compassion with yourself. Tell yourself that, “It is okay that this feels uncomfortable at first,” “I can take my time in thinking about those experiences,” and that, “Like everyone else, I’m learning how to do this and walk in my own life journey.” 

Getting into a Reflection Mindset

When writing a letter to yourself, it can feel daunting to wonder where to start. Here are a couple approaches to take when you are getting into a mindset of reflection.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Researcher Graham Gibbs, created a model to exemplify how we can engage in effective reflection. Gibbs’ model highlights reflective questions and tangible steps to encourage reflection of any experience. You can use these steps as a structure to reflect on significant experiences from this year. 

Description: What happened?

Feelings: What were you thinking and feeling?

Evaluation: What was good and bad about the experience?

Analysis: What sense can you make of the situation?

Conclusion: What else could you have done?

Action Plan: If it arose again what would you do?

Dr. Jeremy Sutton’s Reflective Reviews

There are also numerous resources that help individuals reflect back specifically on behaviors and one’s self. Here are some to consider when thinking back on your behaviors and sense of self.

Behavior Reflection: 

What event or situation triggered my behavior?

Am I happy with how I behaved?

If YES, what was good/positive, and what was the outcome?

If NO, how could I have handled the situation differently?

What do I need to be mindful of next time?

Sense of Self Reflection:

What are five things I am good at?

What was a significant experience that went wrong. What did I learn from it?

What am I passionate about?

What do I love most about myself?

How can I do things I am more passionate about and use what I love most?

What are some quotes, people, or pictures that inspire me?

More Open Questions to Ask Yourself

Who did I lean on for support?

Who did I spend my time with?

What did I hope for in that time/in that experience?

What motivated me this year? 

Where did I spend a lot of my time?

Where do I consider my safe place to be?

How did it make me feel when that happened?

How did I view myself when I experienced that? 

Writing It Out

As mentioned above, engaging in self-reflection is an intentional action. Be intentional by planning and setting up a time to sit down to reflect. Plan to set up your environment to feel safe and free of distraction. As you are in deep reflection, allow what naturally comes to mind to land on your page. Whether it is a letter or a bullet pointed list of experiences and your emotions, let yourself write it out in a format that makes the most sense for you. I also want to encourage you to practice self-compassion. Having self-compassion for yourself means that you are kind and understanding even when confronted with personal failings or when you’re feeling inadequate. If it is helpful, imagine writing this letter as you are writing to your friend. In having self-compassion, you are recognizing that even in the imperfect, you approach yourself in gentleness and care. 

Compassion for self can also be facilitated when there is a sense of safety and empathy experienced by others. Mental health therapists can be one of those avenues to experience an empathetic presence.

If you’re wanting to process how your year has gone or are interested in learning how to engage in intentional self-reflection, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!

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