A specific kind of annual review for a very specific kind of year.
Doing a personal annual review is a great way to look back on the year drawing to a close and take stock of how far we’ve come – but we probably need to do it a different way this year. Many of us will not have achieved the goals we set out for ourselves at the beginning of 2020, but we have achieved a lot in other ways. We have all also lost something and experienced hardships that most of us had no way of preparing for. So I’m going to set out an annual review roadmap specifically for this year.
Many of us might not feel like looking back, only looking ahead to the year we hope will be much better. But I think there’s gold in them thar hills – we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge what we have survived, how we have adapted, how we have made sacrifices to keep others safe. We have literally given up our normal lives so that others can keep living theirs.
So in this post I’m going to look at some ways that we might be able to do an annual review for a year like nothing we’ve seen before. To recognise our effort and our growth and to mourn the things we’ve lost. We could put these feelings and thoughts off until later, but if you feel up to it I think it could help you.
While you do this I recommend that you sit somewhere quiet, use a notebook or diary to write down your thoughts and be kind to yourself. We’ve all made mistakes and not always been the people we have wanted to be at times, but a sense of self-compassion can help us to see ourselves as we are and to change if we need to.
- The Things we Overcame
This is a great place to start, to get the obstacles and challenges off your chest. We will be using three columns, so you can draw those on your page.
a) Make a list on the left side of the page of all the tough things you’ve experienced this year – these could be around work, relationships, feeling disconnected or others.
b) Then in the middle column, write all the positives that came about through this obstacle. They might be hard to think of at first, but stick with it. It could include things you learned about yourself, the ways you adapted, the strength you discovered in yourself, values you realise are important to you. Try and find the most real positives you’ve gained and if you really can’t think of a positive for a challenge that’s ok, you can come back to it later.
c) Now think of how these positives may benefit you in the future and write these in the right hand column. Why not also take a moment for each one to feel good about how you rose to meet a challenge. And if you feel like one or more defeated you, knowing that you’re still here and still going is evidence that you got through it.
2. Acknowledging What we Have Lost
Some of us have suffered extreme losses such as the death of loved ones, while others of us have suffered other kinds of loss – long separation from friends and family, losing a job, loss of our peace of mind, maybe even the loss of innocence in a way.
This is a personal annual review for yourself only – so try to give yourself permission to feel grief for the things you’ve lost, even if others have lost more. Even those of us who have been fortunate have lost something, and taking the time to name it and to acknowledge our feelings can help us to understand ourselves and our experience.
We will be using four columns.
a) Write all the things you feel grief over losing on the left hand side.
b) Then in the second column write down your emotions around each one. I know it can be tough to dwell on negative emotions, so only do as much as you can handle right now, but it can also be very healing to get it all out in the open and on paper.
c) Then in the third column write what each loss and its emotions means about you. For example, if your loss was “meeting up with friends”, your feelings were “frustration, restlessness, boredom, anxiety” and you think about what this means about you as a person deep down (and with an open mind) you might realise “I need human connection and stimulating conversation because I like to be challenged intellectually. I am also a caring person and I miss time spent around people”.
This is a very individual process and it would be almost impossible to predict what someone else would put in that third column because it is something you know about yourself deep down. And this is what we are really grieving the loss of.
d) If you would like to, you can then go through each and be grateful for times when you did have that person, thing or activity.
e) In the final column you can create an affirmation of something positive you can do now and/or the future, that includes the deeper meaning. For instance, using the example above; “when it is safe to meet up again, I am really going to appreciate my friends and show them that I care. For now I am going to connect with them in the ways I can and enjoy the mental stimulation of challenging conversation”.
3. Looking at What We Want to Carry Forward
In step 1. we looked at things you gained through experiencing hardships. Take some time to think about anything else you gained this year, maybe; time to be creative, resilience, compassion, patience, better communication, more zoom skills or others.
In this freestyle exercise, jot down what you have gained this year that you want to carry into next year and how it might make your life better.
4. Letter to 2020 You
I think that this simple exercise might be a good way to gain some closure around the difficulties of this year, to acknowledge everything we’ve been through and the ways we have grown as people.
So in this very freestyle and kind letter, write to yourself from earlier this year to say what you are grateful for and proud of.
Take care of the emotions of that earlier self, acknowledge their experience fully, maybe offer them some encouragement and love. Also, acknowledge kindly what could have been better this year as well as what you did that was great. This can include anything that is significant to you, perhaps being grateful for all the thousands of tiny things you did to keep yourself and loved ones healthy, being proud of helping someone, making someone smile, being understanding about losing your temper, knowing how you’ve been strong when you had to be.
Write the letter that would have made the biggest difference to you to read this year and try to write it from the heart. You may be surprised at what comes up, you may even find that some resolutions for the next year naturally come to light.
I would write the date on it also, because it will likely make an interesting read when you come across it in years to come.
Whatever you discovered about yourself from looking back at this year, I hope you have found that you have gained something special from a very difficult time, and it is something you can carry forward to help you in the next year and in life. I wish you a peaceful and fulfilling end of the year!
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