What you need to do when you reflect on the past year: Be kind to yourself

A while back, I had an interesting conversation with my spiritual mentor about new year’s resolutions” (NYRs). As you may already know, I am not a big fan of them.

be kind to yourself
Photo by FotoReith

She agrees that most NYRs are not very productive. (I was, of course, delighted that someone I admire so much agreed with me: I couldn’t help but feel “smart” because the “teacher” shares my opinion.)

But then she said something profound, proving she was indeed the teacher and I the student:

This time of year is a natural point in time to reflect on the last year. If people took some time to be introspective, then I think that can actually be quite beneficial. Simply ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling about my life as it is right now?’ Then be kind to yourself and ask, ‘How can I feel better?’

It is the season when people take stock of their lives. We receive greetings in the form of a card, picture, or email from family, friends, and colleagues we don’t hear from every day. We visit with relatives or friends we haven’t seen in a while. Interacting with them, we can’t help but think about what we’ve been doing.

Not only are we catching up with family and friends, but we are also getting summaries from other aspects of our lives. Year-end financial statements will start arriving. There may be memberships of different sorts to renew. For those who have health insurance, a new medical year (i.e., another new set of paperwork) begins.

So given all these different sorts of assessments, it is natural for most people to conclude that there is something lacking in their lives or a problem that needs to be fixed. And then, because we are wired to do so, we try to fill the gap or fix the problem.

We work so hard to make things better but, in the process, are we being kind to ourselves? We tend to set goals that remind us too often of our shortcomings and, in the end, also deplete our energy or our spark. Or we set goals that don’t truly nourish us; feeling unsatisfied, we give up or end up wanting more.

Smart and caring women I know and meet take care of so many people while caring for themselves last, if at all. And have you noticed that, when our hard work is recognized, our culture often tells us to “treat ourselves” with beauty treatments? Again, more reminders of our shortcomings, perhaps?

This year, I would like to suggest in lieu of NYRs:

  1. Take some time to reflect in a way that is kind. Let’s look back and review all accomplishments big and small. Try to list these quickly, but spend some time dwelling on them so that we can remember the many items we have accomplished. I am confident that there are indeed many.
  2. Check in and be gentle. Let’s think about how we—not others—are feeling about our lives right now.
  3. Think of small ways to make ourselves feel better. Ask for help when necessary.

We know that in order to be good parents, friends, caregivers, employers, or co-workers, we need to be strong and healthy in mind, body, and spirit. And in order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves.

I wish you a kind new year.

An older version of this article was first published in January 2010.