“…our True Self wants to experience, connect, create and celebrate. It simplifies. It wants to heal and grow from any conflict and knows that it may have to go through its pain to do so.” -Charles L. Whitfield
The end of the year can be a time of change and mixed emotions. Maybe a combination of excitement, stress, gratitude, connection and even loneliness and grief. We may also start putting pressure on ourselves to make big changes next year to become “better” in some way with the belief that this change will lead us toward happiness. We often set goals for the new year and then in just a few short weeks see the habits fall off leaving us believing we have failed.
Russ Harris, a therapist and educator of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), discusses how our goals are sometimes disconnected from our true self. In his book, The Happiness Trap, he explains “In Western society we tend to lead a goal-focused life. Life is all about achievement, and success is usually defined in terms of status, wealth, and power. Typically, we aren’t that closely connected with our values, and because of that, we can easily get caught up in goals that are not truly meaningful to us.” When we instead allow our personal values to guide our goals, we live a more fulfilling and rewarding life in the present.
If we allow it, the end of the year can be an interesting time of reflection and self-awareness. What if instead of creating New Year’s resolutions based on achievement or what we “should” be doing (according to societal expectations, messages in the media or advertising, our family or social group’s opinions or any external sources), we redirect that energy inward and take time to get to know our authentic selves a little better? What could happen if we examine our own true values and begin to live a life more in sync with our values in the present, not only at the beginning of the year?
Questions to ask yourself to help with reflection on the past year and connecting to your authentic self:
When did I feel fulfilled and at peace this year? Sometimes we become so convinced that we will only be happy when we reach “x” goal, that we dismiss or ignore the times in the present when we are content and already have what we need to be fulfilled. Living a full life is going to be filled with a variety of emotions, ups, downs and in between. There will never be a goal that we can reach that will put us in a constant state of bliss, this is an illusion and impossible. Feelings are always changing. We can take note of when we do feel good and we don’t have to minimize those times because we had negative emotions at times as well. See if you can reflect on some positive times this year; what situations, thoughts, environments, activities etc. had you feeling fulfilled and at peace? This may give you information about what you want to include more of in the future.
What did I learn this year? We all make mistakes, we all fall short of goals at times because we are human. Humans are imperfect. We need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow. When practicing self-compassion, we accept our humaneness and we talk to ourselves as we would a friend. How can you speak to yourself as a positive mentor and reflect on what you learned from your experiences this year? This information can help you in making future decisions.
In what ways did I grow this year? Don’t forget to give yourself credit for how far you have come. Life is made up of constant change and adaptation and there is no way you avoided growth this year. In what ways are you already living more authentically and how does it feel? Reflect on changes you made, ways you adapted, areas of life where you feel more expanded and less constricted.
Questions to help you connect with your authentic self for intention setting in the new year:
What are my current values? What is truly important to me at this stage in my life? It can be helpful check in and re-evaluate our values from time to time. Values are the things that are important to you, the things you feel good about investing energy in. Our values are unique to us, there are no right or wrong values and they can change throughout our lives. When we are living a life according to our values, it leads to feelings of contentment and fulfillment. Can you make space in your life this year for what matters to you? Here is a link to a worksheet by Russ Harris that can help you examine your values and consider what is important for you to invest energy in this year.
What external expectations can I let go of? We all have core beliefs that may have developed earlier in life, that may have served us at the time but are no longer serving us. We may have lingering voices of unhelpful advice or viewpoints from others that show up in our thoughts automatically. If these thoughts or beliefs no longer fit with our values and our authentic self, we can practice acknowledging them when they show up and simply letting them pass through. We can then redirect our thoughts back to what is important to us. Take time to reflect on the beliefs you want to work on letting go of.
If you find yourself often setting goals and then having trouble following through with them, here are a few things you can be curious about:
- Is this goal out of touch with my values? It makes sense that it will be difficult to follow through with something that really isn’t that important to you.
- Are other thoughts or beliefs (that aren’t my true self) getting in the way?
- Am I avoiding discomfort? Can I make room for the uncomfortable feeling that change may temporarily bring?
- Are there other forces at work keeping me stuck, is the behavior that I’m trying to change serving me in some way?
- Are my goals too big? Are the goals realistic for me or even humanly possible? Do I need to break up the goal into smaller objectives while I gain the skills I need?
I hope these questions for self-exploration can help you feel more connected and at peace this year.