In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus a two head god was the god of beginnings and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. The Romans named the month of January in his honour. December 31st became a symbolic time for Romans to make resolutions for the new year and forgive enemies for troubles in the past. People all over the world have followed this tradition by setting goals for the future year but few have spent the time to reflect on the past year. I believe that reflection on our past achievements and challenges provides direction for our future.
I am starting out this year with a series of three (3) blog posts that will assist us to develop meaningful, achievable goals for the coming year. I will explore the following concepts:
Who was I?
Who am I?
Who do I want to be?
Who was I?
Yep! Today lets look back on the year that was 2014. Last year I set myself a number of goals for self - change. I set them out in a Going for Gold in Goal Setting. I also outlined my struggles in achieving these goals in a number of other posts including Staying on Track with your Goals. Laura King and Joshua Hicks in the research paper "Narrating the Self in the Past and Future: Implications for Maturity suggest exploring and elaborating on lost goals - a future self we did not achieve - reveals a capacity for self development, maturity and tolerance for our own vulnerability. Remember goals represent an individual's hopes for the future - so a future self.
In January 2014, I saw my future self being 55kg and able to jog 10km in an hour in December 2014. This future self was thin and fit. I will now admit that I have imagined this future self for many years - probably since I gained weight and lost my fitness - 10 years ago. Research on goal change has tended to show that when individuals are confronted with failure they tend not to change their goals but rather to redouble their efforts. Other research suggests that persevering on unavailable goals is not likely to bring fulfillment.
What were your goals in 2014? Did you achieve those goals? Have you set these goals before? What was the future self you were trying to create? Are these goals still relevant or achievable?
Unfortunately I did not reach my goals for weight loss or achieve the fitness level I had aimed for. Was I a failure at achieving these goals? I guess you could say that, given I did not reach the stated target in the given timeframe. I am sure there are thousands of people out there who are in the same boat as me who are telling themselves a story about how they are hopeless at staying focused and committed to their goals or they might be blaming others or life circumstances for the short fall. I know I certainly have trotted out this well worn story for many years. However, this year I am going to examine an alternative narrative (story) that I think will be more helpful to my present and future self.
As we look back over the past year we have two alternatives – an abundant mentality (glass half full to over flowing world view) or a deficit mentality (half empty world view). I prefer the former view, directing my energy and attention to the positive outcomes, progress or learning I have made during the year. I want to focus on what worked, what I have learnt from the challenges I have met and how I could improve on went well. I've discovered that this strategy is critical to building my emotional resilience and motivating me forward. If I create a story that is one of learning, growth, and empowerment, I feel motivated to imagine my best possible future self and meet the associated challenges. Which story do you prefer?
Here are a list of self reflection questions you might find useful to explore your past self:
- What did I learn? (skills, knowledge, awareness, etc.)
- What did I accomplish? A list of my wins and achievements.
- What would I have done differently? Why?
- What did I complete or release? What still feels incomplete to me?
- What were the most significant events of the year past? List the top three.
- What did I do right? What do I feel especially good about? What was my greatest contribution?
- What were the fun things I did? What were the not-so-fun?
- What were my biggest challenges/roadblocks/difficulties?
- How am I different this year than last?
- For what am I particularly grateful?
This is also a time to consider all those things in your life you would like to let go - this includes de-cluttering and giving the boot to your fantasy selves (lost possible self) and all its accessories. For me, this includes throwing out the images of a super fit and thin smooth skinned woman that no loner has a place in my life. What "lost possible self" are you going to give the boot before the New Year?
Activity: Letting go of "Lost Future Selves"
- Create the most vivid image (picture) of your lost future self - the one you not longer have the opportunity or inclination to achieve. Describe this person in every detail including looks, thoughts, behaviours etc. What do they do on a daily basis? Where do they live? The greater the detail the better. Use whatever medium you like to create your image - draw, paint, collage or write.
- Now it is time to put this Possible self to rest. Light a candle and burn your picture. Grieve for what might of been.
- Expect to feel sad after this process. Seek professional assistance if you become depressed . Letting go is part of moving forward.
In 2015, I encourage you to step into a new way of living by relinquishing cherished goals that are not loner available and reinvest in new goals. To be happy and avoid regret it is best to relegate lost goals to"what might have been" and move on. A person can not persevere on old goals and maintain happiness. Rather the pursuit of happiness requires a central change in one's motivational system - relinquishing one's previous sources of meaning and embracing life's second chance. Also remember that growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Not only is it important to accept the discomfort of taking steps forward, it is also necessary to let go of comfortable routines and situations from the past. Holding on to the way things were, prevents you from growing into who you are now, and who you are capable of being.
I hope yu have some time to spend between Christmas and New Year reviewing your life to date. Perhaps you might find some time to do the activities I've listed above.
I would be grateful for any suggestions on moving forward after you have had to let go of a dream or goal.