“Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.” – Baltasar Gracian
Look back in order to charge forward. That is the value of reflection.
This year generously taught many lessons (wink, wink). Some were not fun. Some were long overdue. However, without taking the time to truly consider how these lessons impact your life and the path ahead, what would it all have been for?
The events, choices, and responses that formed our experience of this past year are either unconscious or conscious. Unconscious reaction means life is happening to us. We are taking the shape of what life throws our way. Conscious responsiveness means we live each day with intention. Our life is shaped by our choices.
Self-reflection is a powerful way to begin living more consciously. A chance to extract the wisdom of our life experience. We stand so very close to the work we do, the life we live. It is almost impossible to see our growth and change day today. However, when we put a little distance between ourselves and the life we lead, there is much to see.
This year, we invite you to take reflection a step further. Actually, two steps further. Using this process within 1) your marriage and 2) your family unit.
Let’s take a peek at how this can work…
We have to take care of home base first. Once we’ve had a chance to look back at our personal experience and see ourselves more clearly, we can give proper reflection and attention to our most important relationships.
To see some of the highs and lows of the year, I like to create a timeline and go month by month to reflect on the moments that stand out. I scan for highlights and lowlights:
- Important goals that were achieved or missed
- Moments that solidified, changed or shifted relationships
- Places traveled and what those new places and experiences taught me
- Where the bulk of time and energy were spent
- New opportunities that popped up and ones that were missed
- Favorite memories, celebrations
- Challenges that showed both strengths and weakness
This scanning process is from a third-person perspective. Look back as if watching from above. A movie highlight reel where the main character happens to look quite a bit like you!
Consider the year without any attachment to the results, what others might consider important or worthy. Instead, consider the year from one of intention – were your intention and effort put in the right place?
Once I have my timeline, I evaluate the experiences as “wins” or “opportunities”. Acknowledging the wins helps build confidence and highlights strengths. The opportunities shine a light on things to tweak for the next year. How will I need to shift to make sure next year I’m not writing the same “opportunities”?
After taking time to reflect, I can use my learnings to develop a plan for the year ahead. In the Unbeatable Mind system, which Jake and I both use, the plan is a 5 Mountain Training Plan, which breaks goals down into 5 areas: physical, mental, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual. Often, big goals will overlap several of these areas. Developing goals with these five areas in mind (aka our full, integrated self) allows for the individual elements of accomplishing big goals to be clearly developed.
My most important consideration each year is to have the courage to develop goals that push me, may even seem uncomfortable at first, but to be mindful of not overcommitting. All good things will happen in their time so pick the one or two things that put a fire in your belly. The rest of the plan usually develops organically from there.
The final consideration is “what do I need to make this happen?” Do I need a piece of equipment, an accountability partner, a new alarm clock? Get those ducks in a row. And if possible, start BEFORE the new year. Tiptoeing into new practices, instead of going gangbusters on day one, allows the practices to sink in, adapt, and become part of your fabric rather than a massive lifestyle change in one day.
With Your Partner
The reflection process within our marriages may look a little different. In the context of relationships, we not only consider how we showed up personally. We also join our partner in discussion of the shared relationship experience and their experience of us. The conversation builds a pathway for communication, trust, and growth.
Similar to the self-reflection process, jot down highs and lows experienced together. Consider the impact of major life events on the relationship (COVID-19, political unrest, homeschooling, just to name a few starting points). Then consider how you responded to one another in those events. Once this is done individually, it is powerful to share, without judgment or accusation, each person’s experience. Then we get to ask important questions:
- In what ways did I show up for you this year that made you feel most loved?
- Where could I have been more loving, supportive, or challenging?
- What obstacles really tripped us up this year? How did we respond? If we had to do it over again, what we would do next time?
- What was your favorite date?
- What have been our strengths together? How could we use those to our advantage to grow next year?
- In what areas do I want to grow to be a better partner?
- What is the most important focus for us as a couple in the coming year?
This is just the tip of the iceberg! Let the dialogue flow. Listen carefully. Respond peacefully. Remember the reason to look back is to move forward, not to rehash old grudges or live in the past.
In the Family
There is just no doubt that our kids are full of wisdom. Why we never seek it, I’ll never know. Taking a chance to look back at the year with the whole family will be very insightful!
It is still beneficial to take time for self-reflection first. Consider how you showed up as a parent. How and when and in what ways have you connected with your children, individually and as a family? What role did you play? Was it a role you found meaningful?
Then, the conversation can move to the couple. What did we do well as parents? Where did we see our children excel? Where did we see they might more support? Zoom away from the emotional pulls of what transpired and observe as if you are watching another family from the outside. If you had to do it all again, how would you do it differently? What would you do the same?
Finally, invite the kids into the conversation. Start with some questions to get the conversation flowing:
- What was your favorite thing we did this year? Why was that special?
- What was your least favorite part of this year? Why did it feel that way?
- What were your favorite ways our family spent time together? Playing? Learning? Doing new things?
- What was the most fun you had with your siblings?
- What did you see change in our family this year? Was that good or bad?
- As a family, what is our greatest strength? How can we use that to grow in love and connection?
Enjoy the process. Again, letting the conversation flow. Appreciate each person’s share as a chance to grow your perspective. There is no specific end-point to the shape this process may take. The chance to look back is simply a powerful way to inform your path ahead. The chance to be intentional about what comes next and have the courage to step into new possibilities.