The end of the year tends to spark a reflection process where we think about all of the experiences we had during the year, some moments much happier than others. Reflection is always a good practice because it helps us process and grow, but it is easy to turn reflection into destructive self-criticism, especially for those of us who are more susceptible to the topsy-turvy emotions and stress that the holiday season showers on us.
When our lives do not match up with what we envisioned we would have accomplished by now, our state of being can get bleak. Perhaps we pictured being our own boss by age forty, or purchasing a house and starting a family, moving to a bigger city with more opportunities, or traveling and experiencing other parts of the world. The list is endless because we all have our own specific aspirations that we have engrained in our minds, in some instances we created these visions decades ago. Our thoughts can be constant reminders of these desires and when they have yet to manifest we can jump into a destructive self-criticism mode.
Worse yet, our self-criticism can intensify if we start comparing our achievements with those around us. When we measure ourselves against our family members, friends, or even acquaintances our perception of our lives can take a hard hit if we already feel that we are ‘behind’ in our lives.
Life happens. This is reality. We may set out to create a certain path in life, but we encounter pushes and pulls along the way that we couldn’t have predicted. In life there are always aspects that we don’t have any control over. We do have control over our reactions to these unpredictable occurrences, and sometimes our reactions take us in a different direction than we’d anticipated. Our priorities may shift or we may end up needing more time to figure things out.
And though this is a natural part of life, many of us still beat ourselves up over how long it has taken us to realize a dream. When we get to the point where we are beating ourselves up, we leave no mental space for improvement. We start dwelling on how we aren’t in the place where we envisioned we’d be and in some cases start feeling pity for our situation.
Destructive self-criticism digs us deeper into a hole; it doesn’t provide us with the tools to climb out. A genuine and constructive reflection, however, can be harnessed into motivation and action.
If we approach our reflection practice with honesty and accountability and leave out judgement, we will benefit from the experience rather than suffer from it.
Timing is a mysterious force, but accountability is not. If we are dissatisfied in any area of our lives we always have actions that we can take to remedy the situation, or if not the situation our attitude and how we receive the experience. The actualization of dreams does not magically materialize; life isn’t, after all, a predictable Hollywood movie. It is our responsibility to take the actions that are right for us and put in the work that it takes to reach our aspirations.
If our job makes us miserable, whining about it will get us nowhere, but taking the steps to transition out and land another job will. If we are in an unhealthy relationship of any type that we know is headed nowhere but pain, then we need to be accountable in acknowledging this and moving towards creating the type of relationships that we want, whether this means we need to work on ourselves or that we need to let people go.
Reaching anything worthwhile takes hard work and sometimes it takes longer than we originally thought that it would. There is no point in admonishing ourselves because we are not there yet. Life isn’t a competition, nor is it a lesson on comparison between ourselves and others. If it were then we’d be too busy competing and we’d miss out on the actual ‘living’ part.
When reflecting on this past year, we need to be aware of the difference between destructive self-criticism and a self-loving and honest reflection. The former disempowers us, while the latter empowers us by pointing us to actions that we can take today to reach our goals.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can help ease the judgements that may arise when we take the time to reflect on our progress in reaching our goals. Being mindful of the way we treat ourselves when we reflect upon the past year helps steer us towards a more fruitful and useful experience instead of a destructive one.
If one of our dearest friends is feeling bummed because it is taking longer than imagined to achieve what he/she wants to accomplish in life, we wouldn’t bring our friend further down by adding to the criticism. We would listen, uplift, and encourage action. Why, then, not treat ourselves with the same generosity?