By Jeremy Godwin.
Note: This is the final episode for 2019. Let’s Talk About Mental Health will return in early 2020: the next Mental Health Talk newsletter will be issued on Friday 3 January, and the next podcast episode/article will be released on Monday 6 January. Have a happy and safe new year!
This is Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast/article about mental health and wellbeing, by Australian author and speaker Jeremy Godwin, that is about much more than just talk – every episode includes practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.
This week we’re talking about reflection – how you can take time to look back objectively on your journey over the past year (and decade!) and learn what you need to learn to grow. Listen now in the Spotify player below or read the transcript below. Let’s talk!
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This goes out on Monday 23 December 2019, so not only is it almost Christmas (Merry Christmas if it’s a holiday you celebrate!) but it’s also almost the end of the year. And not just the end of the year – the end of the decade. With that in mind, now is as good a time as any to do a quick episode about reflection – you know, that thing that I go on and on about in pretty much every single episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health?! 🙂
This week I’ll be discussing how you can take time to objectively reflect on your journey over the past year (and the past decade) so you can identify the lessons your past has to teach you and continue to grow as you move into the new year.
What is ‘reflection’?
Reflection is the act of looking backwards with serious thought and consideration, and without judgement, to consider what is working well in your life (so you can do more of it) and what might not be working (so you can either stop it or approach it differently).
It’s not about sitting and beating yourself up over things that have happened in the past – what’s happened has happened, and you can either let it control you and make you feel bad about yourself, or you can learn from it and grow.
When we talk about reflecting, it’s important to note that it might seem like it involves dwelling on the past but it really doesn’t – the focus is on learning from the past. Even though ‘reflection’ sounds like it’s about focusing on the past, it’s actually about focusing on the present (in other words, looking at where you are today and what brought you to this point and place in time) so that you can then plan for the future (and, more importantly, so you can actively create the future that you want).
It’s important to remember that you can’t live in the past, nor should you – the past has already happened and you live in the present, so for the sake of good mental health and wellbeing your focus should be on living in the present… living in the past is unhealthy. That doesn’t mean we ignore the past though, because that’s unhealthy as well – good mental health and wellbeing involves acknowledging and learning from our past, living the best life that we can here in the present, and making decisions for our future that our in our own best interests. That’s where reflection comes in.
Reflection is a way of looking back on things that have happened in the past in a thoughtful and objective manner, so that you can learn the lessons you need to learn to improve your present and therefore your future. It’s an opportunity for objective self-assessment, and a chance to give serious thought to where you want to be in the future so that you can make adjustments if necessary.
We tend to get reflective at this time of year because it’s a natural conclusion to the cycle we observe through the calendar. I think that for those of you in the northern hemisphere this time of year actually makes a lot of sense as a perfect time for reflection, because it’s cold and the days are short; so, while you’re waiting for the arrival of spring and the rebirth it brings, this is a perfect time to reflect on the year. For those of us in the southern hemisphere, where we’re in the early stages of summer and the days are long and hot, it’s a chance for us to lean into the slower pace of life at this time of year and think about ‘where to next?’ on our journey.
Personally, I’m not big on new year’s resolutions because frankly they never seem to last, but I know a lot of people make resolutions around this time of year and I think it’s a great opportunity to take some time out and consider what you want your new year to look like (and if you want some advice on making resolutions that stick, read this article on Thrive Global). I tend to use the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day to reflect on the year that was and consider how I want to move forward – having said that, this is something I do a few times throughout the year, and it’s not really like making specific resolutions because for me it’s more about general reflection and planning.
Because it’s the end of a decade, now is also a good time to look back on the last 10 years and celebrate your growth as well as challenging yourself to make changes in areas of your life where things aren’t the way you would like them.
Before we get into the ‘how to’ part of the episode, let me reiterate that the most important thing when reflecting is: no judgement – you can’t change things that have already happened, so don’t beat yourself up. Reflection involves observing things objectively, learning the lessons you need to learn and then making changes so you can grow.
How to objectively reflect on the past and identify opportunities to grow
How do you do this reflection stuff? There are lots of ways – let me give you a quick technique that works for me, otherwise feel free to find something that works for you (just remember: do anything that feels right as long as you’re reflecting objectively!).
Make an hour or so for yourself and find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a while. Grab a coffee or tea or whatever, make yourself comfortable, light some incense… do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel relaxed.
Grab a notebook and a pen so you can make some notes, or if you prefer using your phone or tablet that’s fine – however. make sure that you turn off notifications or put it on flight mode so that you won’t be disturbed.
Once you’re settled, it’s time to reflect. First, make a list of the things in your life that you feel most satisfied about – brainstorm them (which means just write them down without filtering them; the thing with brainstorming is to remember that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ideas).
Now make a list of the things in your life that you feel dissatisfied with – my advice is to set yourself a timer for just a minute or two, and only use that time. Why do I say that? Because if you’re prone to negative self-talk, anxiety or depression, etc., you could wind up spending hours focusing on negative things and end up feeling crap afterward. Keep it super-short and focus on the big-ticket things, and don’t process any of them – just get them down on the list.
Now, take your dissatisfied list and look at each item for no more than thirty seconds, and ask yourself this question: What can I do about it? Your options are: (1) accept it and move on, (2) change it if it’s within your control, or (3) let it go. That’s it. No other options – sorry about it! And when I say “change it if it’s within your control” I mean if it’s something you can directly control; in other words, your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You cannot control another person – you can certainly attempt to influence them, but you have zero direct control over what they think, say and do, so don’t waste your time even trying. I know that last one might be hard to deal with – especially when it’s a loved one, like a partner or close family member – but the reality is that nobody can control another person, no matter how hard they might try, so your peace is to be found in letting go of the illusion of control.
Work through that list of dissatisfied stuff and consider what you can change, what you need to accept, and what you need to let go of. Once you have your three lists of things to focus on, make those your self-improvement focus moving forward.
Now spend time with your satisfied list – which is that list of all the good stuff in your life. If you’re satisfied, then the trick is to first be grateful for it, and then to consider how you can have more of that in your life. For example, do you love helping people? Great! Do more of that! Go volunteer, or find something that works for you and increases your satisfaction. Satisfaction in our life rarely just happens – it takes some effort and it involves us choosing not to take things for granted.
One of the things I consciously do to increase my satisfaction is that I choose to start each day with a positive mindset. A simple way you can do that is with a daily gratitude practice; this is a bit of advice that pops up a lot and with good reason, because many studies have shown gratitude practice to have a positive effect on mental health (here’s an article from Harvard Health if you’re interested in reading more). Why does it have a positive effect? Because when you focus on the good you are more inclined to look for the good in situations, thus increasing your overall satisfaction. I have a reminder on my phone every morning to do a Daily Gratitude list and I stick to it, noting five things I am grateful for and taking a few moments with each to really feel the gratitude, and then each night as I go to sleep I spend a few minutes reflecting on the highlights of my day.
Choose to think about what’s good in your life and actively look for the good, especially when you’re having a tough time – so by all means, reflect on the not-great stuff (so you can identify what you want to improve) but be sure to balance it with what is great in your life.
Reflection is an opportunity to process stuff from your past – the good, the bad, and the ugly – here in the present, so that you can either accept it, change it or let it go, and move into your future with optimism, hope and a renewed sense of purpose.
What to do next
So you’ve done your reflection… now what? Well, now it’s up to you to work through what you want to work through! You can create the life you want by addressing the things that make you feel dissatisfied (by either accepting them, changing them or letting them go), and also by actively doing more of the things that make you feel satisfied – as always, I believe that as long as it doesn’t harm anyone, including yourself, you should just go for it! You only live once and life is far too short to waste it on feeling shitty about things or not pursuing what makes you feel satisfied and happy.
Make time to pursue self-development activities that enable you to address the things you want to address – take a class, read a book (and actually do something with what you learn from it…!), find online resources to help you, seek professional assistance… there are many things that you can do, and it’s up to you to push yourself forward. If there are specific areas of your life you want to work on in more detail, I’ve probably got a podcast episode in my back catalogue that can help you with that. For example:
- Mistakes – listen to/read Episode 2 for advice on how to work through in detail
- Overthinking – Episode 4
- Working through your emotional baggage – Episode 7
- Dealing with stress – Episode 8
- Setting your priorities – Episode 3
- Resetting your life – Episode 1
- Taking Chances – Episode 5
Self-development takes time and effort, and you don’t have to go through it alone – ask for help and support if you need it, but remember that only you can create the change you desire in your life, because it’s your life.
Summary and three quick tips for getting through the holidays
In short… when we talk about ‘reflection’, it’s a chance to look back objectively on where we’ve come from and where we are today, and to consider where you want to be in the future so that you can adjust your course if necessary. It’s about being fair but realistic with yourself, and recognising that growth doesn’t just happen by accident; creating the future you want and which will help you to achieve good mental health and wellbeing takes daily effort, but it’s worth it when you see it start to produce results. Just remember – one day at a time!
To wrap up, here are my three main tips for reflection:
- Reflection is an opportunity to look back objectively so you can see where you are today and how you got there, in order to identify where you’re heading and what you might need to do more of/less of to get there.
- It can allow you to make changes in your life to increase your overall satisfaction.
- There are three things you can do with any situation/circumstance: accept it, change it, or let it go, and you only have direct control over your own thoughts, feelings and actions.
As always, let’s finish up by reflecting on a quote related to this week’s topic. This is a quote from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard; take a moment to think about this quote in relation to the topic of reflection and consider what it means to you. The quote is:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”Søren Kierkegaard
So, that’s it for this week and for this year! I will be taking a week off over the new year’s period, and will return in early 2020 – the next issue of the Mental Health Talk newsletter will go out on Friday 3 January, followed by the next podcast episode/article on Monday 6 January. Thanks for all of your support in 2019! For more content, go to:
- Website: Head over to www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for more information about Let’s Talk About Mental Health and to sign up so that new posts/newsletters will land in your inbox, and find past episodes here.
- Podcast: You can listen to the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast via your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and others) as well as an audio-only version on my YouTube channel.
- Social Media: Connect with me on social media – you can find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamhofficial (I post extra content daily).
Next episode I’ll be talking about new beginnings – since it will be a new year, I thought it might be time to have a chat about the pros and cons associated with new beginnings from a mental health perspective, which will then lead into a series of episodes throughout 2020 on some big topics like choice, growth, purpose and meaning. That episode will be released on Monday 6 January, 2020.
Until next time, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world – you get back what you give out! And, have a safe and happy new year!
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2019 Jeremy Godwin.