Upon the arrival of the New Year, it’s only natural to find our minds racing with thoughts about what happened over the past 12 months and what might happen over the next 12 months. After all, we’re the narrators of our own story, and without a past or a future, we don’t have much of a narrative to create the type of self we want to be in this life.
So how do we reflect on the past without living too much in a time that’s long gone? And how do we project our future goals without getting swept away by a fantasy that’s not yet real? Being present is one thing, but maintaining that state while reflecting on the past and planning for the future is another.
As you do this very personal inward work this New Year’s, use the following steps to keep you grounded in the moment, even as you allow your mind to run wild with thoughts.
Reflecting on the Past
Practice the following when you look back on the past year.
Whether you plan to meditate, journal, or even talk to yourself out loud, remember to breathe deeply and continuously with no breaks between inhaling and exhaling through your nose. This will keep you present and aware of your thoughts and emotions, which will prevent you from being pulled into so much that you end up reliving them as if they were happening right now. You want to be aware of them without reliving them.
While you’re breathing and remaining present as an observer of your own mind, unwanted thoughts and strong emotions may arise as well. As you continue to breathe, allow those thoughts to reveal themselves to you and let any emotions be released from your body. Emotional reactions that occur during reflection work suggest that something that may have gone unfelt, suppressed, and left incomplete in the past. To grow and become more whole, surrendering to emotions is necessary.
It’s easy to accept those events and experiences that led to great outcomes, but not so much the ones that were painful, embarrassing, frustrating, shameful, and overall just plain undesirable. By surrendering to all thoughts and emotions that arise — even the ugly ones — you automatically open yourself up to accepting the effect they had on you, so you can let them go and move forward.
Planning for the Future
Practice the following when you look ahead to the New Year.
When it comes to goal setting, it’s typical to fantasize about a new and improved self that will eventually exist in some distant future dimension — a self that we’re disconnected from because of the gap we create between present dissatisfaction and future desired achievement. Instead, visualize yourself living your goals as if you’ve already achieved them. Though it might feel ridiculous at first, it’s a clever psychological trick that can motivate you to start acting the way you need to act in order to realize your goals.
Setting goals always feels great in the beginning, but everyone knows that life makes the journey kind of messy. Even as you work toward a goal, you end up learning things along the way that may require changing it. So instead of attaching yourself to achieving a very specific goal in a fixed amount of time, open yourself up to continuous learning and the reality of uncertainty. Your journey toward any long-term goal will almost never be linear, no matter how much you plan, so if you can embrace the need to adapt to change and respond to unexpected events, you’ll have a greater chance of succeeding.
Using your visualization and open-minded state, you can start taking action and adapting to the unexpected right now in this very moment. Rather than maintaining the gap between the present version of yourself that you want to improve and the future version of yourself that you want to be, bring the two together by making your future self your identity right now — not a year from now. Embody who you want to be in the present rather than fantasizing about who you want to become “someday.”
Remember to practice self-compassion as you do this work. If you get sucked back into the past or find yourself feeling a little delusional about a future goal, don’t demonize yourself for it — just breathe, bring yourself back to now, and go back to practicing these steps.