As the holiday season winds down and the New Year approaches, the last days of December offer an excellent opportunity for reflection. The majority of us find the days between Christmas and New Year’s to be slower paced, whether it’s quiet at work or you are home lounging around, and it’s often in these quiet moments that various thoughts pop up that have been waiting to be mulled over more carefully. Even for those who find that life doesn’t skip a beat during these weeks, like retail and food service employees or healthcare professionals to mention a few, their feeds are filled with end of 2023 memes, top photos of the year compilations, Spotify wrapped, and other year in review experiences.
On a global level so much happened this year. Many have been deeply affected by the Israel-Hamas war. The world saw the coronation of King Charles, which stirred up emotions for many, as it provoked conversation about various royal family controversies. Russia continues to invade Ukraine, and China’s spy balloon was shot down over North America. The world was horrified as we waited to find out that the Titan Submersible had imploded and all aboard had died. Here in America, Donald Trump was indicted, an absolutely significant event across the nation. We saw multiple historic union strikes, along with the explosion of Artificial Intelligence across so many settings.
Personally, 2023 was a year for the books for me. I wrapped up nearly five years of county mental health service in a setting that was truly a dream job and set out to hang my shingle and start my own private practice. This major transition had been on my horizon for sometime, but was expedited by my plunge into motherhood. In the beginning of the year I gave birth to my son, and all priorities changed. This major role change has been the single largest invitation I have ever encountered to engage in some serious reflection. Becoming a mother made me want to look at who I am as a person, in all my relationships and roles, so I could better define who I want and need to be for my son. Within this transformation I have examined all of my values, goals, and relationships, and have deeply reflected upon how they may have changed or need to change now that I’m a mom. What boundaries will I set with people, how should I express myself, how do I carry myself, what are my top values, and what do I want to instill, teach, and pass on to my son? Many of these reflections are related to my own identity, which I have been thinking about in terms of who I was prior to parenthood and who I am now that I am in this season. I have realized how important it is to be aware of the example I set for my son about how to be the person I want to be, and truly am at my core with confidence and love.
Over the years I’ve told many clients that it’s okay to let a relationship or person get the ball rolling to make change, but that true and healthy change must be made for yourself. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I reflect on all of the personal work I am doing now that my son is here. Work that I know I deserved to do prior to his arrival, really before even dreaming of him. For many of us, this type of work and reflection usually waits for these significant changes. We wait for grand invitations and forces outside of ourselves to push us into the deepest reflection and seasons of change. Naturally as a therapist I find great value in reflection and the subsequent change it can bring. It’s the foundation of the work I do with my clients. So it should be no surprise that I love this time of year and the communal spirit of reflection it brings. It’s an annual reminder that we don’t have to wait for the birth of a child, the death of someone dear, a graduation, a job change, a big move, to do some really good reflecting.
So why do I value reflection so much? It’s the driving force of personal growth, a top value of mine. It’s also the vehicle for getting to know your self deeply. When we pause to look back and reflect on the day, our decisions, interactions with others, things we said, and let ourselves feel those moments again, we receive critical information about ourselves. When we stop to notice how we are feeling, a simple act of reflection, we learn about who we are and what we need.
Reflection is the main skill practiced in therapy, without it the work cannot get done. When tackling depression and anxiety, we reflect on core beliefs that fuel them, as well as activities that make us feel better. To improve self-esteem, we must reflect on our identity and adjust our self-talk, boundaries, and decisions to align with our truest selves. To manage difficult moods, feeling deeply impacted by things and others, and big emotions, we must reflect on what lies beneath our feelings.
The end of the year sets a tone for reflection on a collective level, but now moving forward, I hope you feel inspired to recognize the importance of reflection on a more regular basis. Perhaps now you can practice monthly, weekly, or even daily reflections so as to become better acquainted with yourself. If you are new to reflection, I highly recommend a structured method to get into the practice of it. Therapy, meditation or prayer, and keeping a journal or gratitude list, are all great ways to develop this practice. The more self-aware and reflective we are, the better our relationships and experiences can be. Engaging in regular reflection paves the way for intention setting, which allows us to live more authentically and aligned with ourselves. This is the foundation for mental wellness.