The dark nights are in, the temperature has dropped and the clocks have changed – all signs that this year will soon be drawing to a close.
Whilst we don’t need to wait for the new year to bring about change, if change is needed, there is something about the turn of the year that brings with it a chance to clear the slate and the promise of a fresh start.
Has 2022 been a good year for you?
Or one that you would rather forget?
When I asked myself the same questions recently, it would have been easy to let my thoughts fall to the latter.
It has been a tough year, on many levels, both for me personally and for those nearest and dearest to me. A year to dig deep to find the blue sky amongst the clouds that have darkened so many days this year.
Yet reflection showed me the year in full focus, and brought with it opportunities to understand myself, my choices, and my desires better – to learn and to grow.
Throughout this blog, I am going to metaphorically invite you to lay down on the ground, sunny side up, and take a good look at what has really been going on in your world – what your sky really looks like.
My hope is that this end of year reflection supports you, as it did me, in gaining perspective over the year that has been, to put it to bed and to set a course for a brighter new year – should you need or wish too.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Grab a pen and paper and create three columns and title them ‘the good’, ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’, or something similar.
Yep, you guessed it, the next step is to create a list in each column.
In populating your list consider your successes, challenges, and hardships along with experiences, events, and adventures.
For inspiration look to your calendar, photos, and journals and to any goals you set.
Take a good look at your completed lists and make a note of anything that stands out for you?
If you found it easier to fill in the negative stuff, rather than the positives, then you’re not alone.
Or perhaps, when you put pen to paper, you were surprised at how much good there was in what you had thought to be a rubbish year.
The Negativity Bias
As humans, our nature is to be predisposed to the negative.
Coined by researchers Paul Rozin and Edwin Poyzman, the negativity bias is a natural mechanism that was given to us by nature for a very good reason – to help ensure our survival and longevity. Being attuned to danger meant that our ancestors were able to avoid environmental threats such as the good old sabre-toothed tiger.
Whilst the negativity bias has its roots in evolution, our capacity to focus on the bad stuff is still part of our genetic makeup today. In fact, I have heard it said that our ability to seek out the negative outweighs our ability to seek out the positive by a whopping 3 to 1 ratio.
Add to that the fact that negative experiences are more easily and readily stored in your mind, and it’s not difficult to see why you are more likely to be attuned to what went wrong this year, rather than what went well.
Eliminating the positive
Whilst the negativity bias can see us humans drawn to the negative, filtering out the positive can be another unhelpful habit we may be predisposed to.
You wake up refreshed, exercise, start and finish work on time, have a lovely lunch with a dear friend, get everything done off your to do list … the sun is shining and the birds are singing!
Then on the way home you get a flat tyre and you forget everything good that happened and let the one thing that went wrong rule and ruin the day.
Shifting your focus
Both the negativity bias and eliminating the positive can become unfortunate habits that see us focussing on the clouds rather than the blue sky. This can literally cloud our perception and enjoyment of life, and potentially lead us down the path of depression.
Only focussing on the negatives to get a view of your world, is like only watching or reading the news to get a balanced view of what is happening in the broader world!
Don’t get me wrong, the intention is not to become a Pollyanna. Sometimes life can be downright awful. Ignoring your trials and tribulations, and pretending there are only blue skies above, is probably only going to make things feel and seem a lot worse.
Like with most things it is about balance – to see ‘the good’, ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’, in forming an accurate view of what is really going on in our own world and that of the world around us.
So, what can we do if focussing on the negative and/or eliminating the positive have become unhelpful habits for us?
Here are 5 thoughts:
Like with any habit, the first step to overcoming it is awareness.
To notice those moments when you find yourself spiralling into a negative loop or fixating on that one thing that hasn’t gone to plan. When you can’t think or can’t sleep because your mind is going over and over the same scenario. Or when someone or something pushes your negativity buttons.
- Observe your thoughts
Perhaps an urban myth, but I’ve heard it said that we have around 70,000 thoughts a day. I can’t imagine who counted them, or how this figure was derived, but let’s go with it.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that you try and observe them all – as the saying goes ‘my legs are tired because my mind has been running all day’!
Imagine for a moment that you have a social event on after work that you have been planning and looking forward to for a while. Then just as you are about to leave work, you receive an email asking you to get something urgent completed.
What is an unchecked mind likely to say about that?
- I never get to have any fun
- It’s not fair
- I am overworked and underpaid
- My boss/company doesn’t care about me
- If I don’t do what is asked of me, they won’t like me or think I am any good at my job and they will never promote me
- Perhaps a few expletives too!
You get the idea and what has happened to any positives that happened today?
This is the type of situation to try and catch and observe your thoughts, along with the exhausting emotional charge that can often follow. When the clouds start to rule the sky.
- Reframe the situation
Out of those 70,000 thoughts a day, how many of them do you think are factual? Let’s just go with not so many.
When you catch yourself off on one, ask yourself if your thoughts are true or if your mind is making up assumptions and stories to support or justify your cause?
Replay the situation without the negative filter and you are better placed to look at the situation more objectively. How long will the job take and can I do it now and run a little late? Or can you respond and say it is not possible tonight but it can be done first thing tomorrow? Or that you are not able to help this time?
Of course, there are some situations that do not allow you to walk away. When I ran major incident management, for the non-retail aspects of a Bank, I once missed my own birthday party – I get it.
But how many times do we let an unchecked mind lose sight of the positives and focus on the negatives – to give ourselves, our energy, and our lives away for something that is not that important?
Awareness, observation, and reframing provide an opportunity to challenge our thinking and our habits. And to respond objectively – well at least some of the time!
- Savour the positives
I mentioned previously that our ability to seek out the negative outweighs our ability to seek out the positive by a 3 to 1 ratio, and that negative experiences are more readily filed in the mind.
This means that we need to work harder at seeking out the positives and savouring them.
Dr Rick Hanson provides a 3-step process that helps to not let the good experiences go by, and to help your brain to hard wire them.
Step 1: Look for the good facts and turn them into good experiences
These are the positives experiences that happen every day:
- A delicious meal
- An unexpected compliment
- Hearing from a good friend
- A beautiful day
- Hearing your favourite songs on the radio
The key is to start to tune into and notice these experiences more.
Step 2: Enrich the experience
Once you have tuned into a positive experience the next step is to really enjoy and savour it for 20 to 30 seconds, letting positive feelings and emotions intensify.
By opening yourself up to the feelings and sensations that arise from the experience you give your mind a chance to prepare to absorb it.
Step 3: Absorb the experience
In absorbing the experience, the idea is that you allow it to become part of you. To use intention and visualisation to enrich the experience and allow it to be absorbed within you.
You can check out the linked article for ideas on how you can go about this or you might simply like to pause, close your eyes, and relive a positive experience.
This 3-step process helps to balance out the negativity bias and to rewire the brain, so we have a mind full of positive as well as negative experiences.
As most of what we experience is through our mind, this may in turn bring about a more balanced perspective of how we see our world, from the inside out.
- Practice gratitude
Counting your blessings, is another way of shining a light on that blue sky.
As part of your reflection of the year, you might like to create a gratitude list that includes some of the ‘good’ you captured earlier along with the things you are more generally grateful for. You may even like to look at the ‘bad’ and even the ‘ugly’. Whilst this can of course be pushing it, there are times when these force us to take stock and embark on change and growth.
Looking forward, you may like to start a gratitude journal, that you complete daily or weekly, to take with you into the new year.
Or a lovely one for families is to create a gratitude jar. Here everyone records the events and experiences they are grateful for on notes, folds them in half and pops them in the jar. You can then empty the jar at the end of the year, as a family, or dip in if you need a pick me up.
Whatever method you chose, the idea is that the more you notice the things you are grateful for, the more you are likely to see.
Fail your goals
Now I know that goal setting is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am personally a big fan of them and set a few each year.
Sometimes I actually achieve them too!
However, I don’t believe that accomplishing goals is always the, well, goal.
For example, let’s say you set a goal to lose a set amount of weight but you didn’t get there. However, you learned some new recipes, made positive food swaps, got fitter, tried a new exercise class, and met some new friends along the way. You failed your goal but you achieved a lot, right?
Perhaps work life balance was your aim but you are not there yet either and maybe you never will be. You may have learned that you prioritise your work over your personal life, or the other way around, and you are actually okay with this. Or there are some rich learnings in your choices that you may need to tackle step by step. You failed your goal but learnt something about yourself and your priorities.
And then there are the goals we set but never do – like learning a language or a musical instrument. I have always fancied learning both but never get there. This tells me that I either don’t want them enough or I want other things more. What we never get around to can be a lesson in understanding our own desires.
Or what about the ones that we are unable, unwilling, or not ready to go for yet – like applying for that promotion or moving on from a difficult situation. Perhaps these show us that there are other areas of ourself that we may need or want to work on, such as self-worth, self-belief, or confidence. We may be inspired to gain the support of a friend or a professional to support us.
For me it is not necessarily about achieving the master plan. It is the incremental steps we take and what we learn about ourselves and our desires along the way.
If you set goals last year, what did or didn’t you achieve and what can you learn from this?
And if you chose to set goals for next year, why not consider the steps you will take towards the master plan and not just the master plan itself.
Spend time with yourself
I have guided you, throughout this blog, to reflect on the year that has been and in setting a path for the year ahead.
But I also recommend you take the time to be with yourself and your own thoughts too, both now and regularly.
To quieten down the noise of the world and to come back if it has carried you away. To ensure you have your focus set to both the positives and the negatives that life can so often bring.
There are many ways to do this:
- Sitting in meditation
- Walking in nature
- Hobbies such as photography or arts and crafts
- Practising mindful colouring
- Doing a puzzle
Or simply spending time in quiet contemplation.
In reflecting on the year that has been, you might like to ponder one of the following questions:
- If you could travel back to the beginning of the year, what would you do differently and why?
- How did you show up in the world and is this how you would like to be perceived?
- What parts of your life were a true reflection of yourself and what were a reflection of the expectation of others?
- How could you have supported yourself, or be supported, more through any challenges?
- What advice would you give yourself if you were your best friend?
- What is the one step, or steps, that you could take today towards a happier and healthier you?
- What and who are you most grateful for this year, or in your life in general?
- If next year were to be your last what would be important to you, what would you do differently and how would you want to be remembered?
- If life is happening for you and not to you, what might the year be trying to teach you?
- If you could travel to the end of next year, what would you want to have achieved and why?
Leave it behind
We all have things that don’t go to plan, whether it was us or life that conspired against, or for us.
If there are things that you would rather leave behind and feel able to leave behind, then a practice to let them go can be a powerful end of year ritual. Or an anytime ritual.
Here are some ways to help leave it behind:
- Write a list of the bad and the ugly and ceremoniously burn it (safely!) or tear it up and throw it in the bin.
- Open the windows and walk around your home inviting negativity or any difficult experiences to leave. Perhaps smudging sage or burning sage oil (again with caution!) to support this cleansing ritual.
- Write a letter to God or the Universe, asking for support in ridding you of your trials and tribulations. You may also like to reply to it.
There are of course some years or life situations that are as much as, or more than, we can endure.
It is also no secret that we are living in a difficult period in history. The world is not as it was and we are facing many personal, collective, and global challenges.
If this year has left you struggling, please don’t go it alone.
Please make it your number one priority to seek the support of friends, contacts, your GP, or a professional therapist to support and guide you.
Happy End of Year
I hope this blog has been beneficial to everyone who has taken the time to read and to work through it. That your reflection has enhanced your perspective over the year that has been and prepared you to shut, or slam, the door on 2022.
That just leaves me to wish you all a happy end of year – may it be your best one yet and may you find many blue skies ahead.
Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant who works with individuals, groups and workplaces.
Having spent 18+ years in management in the IT industry, in both the UK and Australia, Bev learnt first-hand the impacts of a high-pressure environment and lifestyle and how, left unchecked, this can negatively impact performance and health.
Today, through her business Practically Balanced, Bev brings authenticity to the work she does, drawing upon her personal experiences, management capabilities and expertise in mindfulness, stress resilience, yoga and more.
Bev completed a Diploma in Yoga with the highly respected Qi Yoga School in Sydney in 2012 and with Sivananda in India in 2015. She also completed a Certificate in Stress Management with the London Centre for Coaching and Counselling in 2014, an ILM with the Stress Management Society in 2014 and a Diploma in Meditation with the British School of Meditation in 2016.
With many thanks to Bev for this blog. If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via e-mail or phone:
Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Last updated on 14th December 2022 by cytoffice