First Take Stock, Then Take Chances.

(or Reflecting on 2016 and the Year that Was)


The year that was 2016 is rapidly coming to a close.


World over, people are bearing either collective sighs of relief… or possibly reflecting on the significant and positive experiences the year has brought to them.


Whichever way you are personally leaning, as psychologists we place great emphasis on the value of self reflection. The end of the calendar year is just like other milestone points in our lives – a prompt; a formal opportunity to stop and think about what we have experienced and how that has shaped us in the preceding period of time.


Classically, many of us will wait until we stay up to watch the clock tick over at midnight on 31st December, before we take the opportunity to pledge our commitment to new and vastly improved ways of being for the year ahead. However, research has often shown that the tradition of new year’s resolutions is mostly destined to end in broken dreams. Without genuine motivation, new knowledge or skills and personal accountability, sustained behaviour change is a pretty tough gig.


So, instead of rushing to buy the gym membership or throwing out all the smokes on Jan 1, perhaps there is value instead in pausing at this time of year (notoriously slammed for its frenetic pace amidst the general chaos and merriment) and creating the opportunity for yourself to individually reflect on your year that was.


The value in doing this, firstly, is retrospective in nature:


  • Learning. Through our many observations of events that have occurred during the year and impacted us either indirectly at a social level (think the passing of cultural icons… the election of political icons… natural and man-made disasters….technological and scientific breakthroughs….economic ebbs and flows). Or, through the events that have directly impacted us on a personal level (births, deaths, changes to our health, relationship events, new jobs, career changes, relocation, life lessons…). Consider what personal meaning we have attributed to or knowledge we have gleaned from these events. What do you know, do or believe now, as a result of these events, which you did not at the beginning of this year?


  • Recognition of personal growth and development. Separate to the indirect learning that occurs as a result of events happening in our lives, our growth can also be attributed to the personal effort and actions we have undertaken this year. NOW is the time for that critical pat on your back! World leading researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset has shown us that it is not pure brains or talent that automatically results in achievement. Those with a growth mindset believe that their abilities may be developed through personal effort and commitment, and that they are characterised by a desire to learn and grow. So, how did you attempt to grow yourself this year? Was there a moment, a day, a period of time when you really pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? What responsibilities did you choose to take on that have really tested you? And most importantly, how would you rate your overall development as a result of your personal efforts this year?


  • Gratitude. Notwithstanding the point above, there is also significant research stemming from the field of positive psychology (let alone centuries of Buddhist practice and philosophies relating to contentment) that confidently points to the value of gratitude in strengthening our physical and mental states of wellbeing. Gratitude helps us to be present, it blocks out negative emotions, it builds our resilience and our sense of self worth. By reflecting on what we have gained this year and what we have right now, we are cognitively wired to focus on these things with appreciation and not what we deem or consider is still missing from our life.


From looking backwards, to looking ahead….there is also immense value in transferring your new-found insights gained from the reflection process, into a goal setting process for the year ahead. Why attempt to set new goals for yourself, without first taking stock on what you have recently experienced and how that has led you to where you are now? You will be better informed, able to draw on your strengths, and have better perspective in deciding the direction your new goals will take you.


I offer one suggestion for setting your 2017 goals (shamelessly borrowed by a great mentor of mine):


First take stock, then take chances.


This same mentor was recently reflecting on his year that was, which included becoming an orphan, becoming a grandparent, changing homes twice, starting a new business and ending a long-standing business partnership of many years. His reflection of one of his most significant personal years to date? It wasn’t to do less. It wasn’t even to do things differently. He simply said: Take chances, take (calculated) risks. Some of his experiences this year were personally very challenging and not always easy, but all proved to be rich in their own way and none were regrettable to him. And he attributes many of the achievements and outcomes of the year to his willingness to recognise his capabilities, give things a go and take those chances. His coaching to others: know your value. Recognise your strengths. And ask yourself ‘why wouldn’t I give (insert audacious personal goal) a go? What do I really stand to lose?’


So for whatever you gained or pained in 2016, I wish you the opportunity to take stock of the year that was, and take chances in the year to be.


And maybe that thought will place us all in good stead as we prepare to stay up on 31st December.


Wishing you all a reflective and merry festive season and wonderful 2017.


Rearn Norman and the CLA team.

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