How to Reflect on the Past Year Without Getting Stuck

By Katrina Wagner
December 30, 2022

As we wave goodbye to 2022, and begin reflecting on the past year, it’s okay to feel sad or disappointed. Maybe, with all the uncertainty that swirled around, you didn’t get to check off as many things on your bucket list, or perhaps you aren’t exactly where you thought you’d be by the time December rolled around.

There are benefits to reflecting on the year behind us, even when things didn’t go according to plan. Doing so gives us the opportunity to learn from mistakes and course-correct in the new year. But when we only focus on the negatives, or the woulda, shoulda, couldas of the past 12 months, we can get stuck spinning our wheels in a rut of old worries instead of moving forward to the future.

How to Reflect on the Past Without Worry or Disappointment

Use the following strategies to avoid rumination and keep moving forward.

Focus on Positivity

To give the year a proper send-off and reflect on the past 365 days without falling into a pattern of dwelling on the past to the point that you have trouble moving forward, try listing the following:

  • 3 things that went well this year
  • 3 things that you're proud of
  • 3 things that you're grateful for
  • 3 things that are important to you from one year to the next

By focusing on what went right, rather than dwelling on what went wrong, we actively encourage our brains to make space for achievement, recognition, and happiness. Making an effort to accentuate the positive, as the song goes, can also aid stress management by providing an effective tool to help us let go and look to the future without anxious feelings weighing us down.

Adopt a New POV

Maybe this time last year, you told yourself that this was going to be the year you got a new job or changed careers. But now, 12 months later, you're still doing the same work, for the same company. You could look back at the year and only see wasted chances, or you could choose to reframe the experience.

Reframing can also prompt some aha moments where we begin to see challenges and supposed setbacks as opportunities. Perhaps you took on new responsibilities at work, learned new skills that will serve you well in the future, or made valuable contacts. Looking back with this viewpoint may help you realize that, rather than losing time in the pursuit of your ultimate goals, you've actually been taking concrete steps toward them all along.

Find a Healthy Distraction

Once you start dwelling on disappointments from the past year, it can be hard to keep from falling into a spiral of negative thoughts. The best way to halt the downward spiral is to notice when it’s happening and quickly choose another course of action. You could try:

  • Focusing on a different activity. It’s better if you choose something that takes some concentration, like working on a hobby or doing something creative with your hands.
  • Changing your environment. Try walking outside to get some fresh air or even washing your face. The change in temperature can snap you out of a negative loop, and as you splash water on your face, you can think about washing away those thoughts.
  • Deep breathing. Try counting to three on your inhale and down from three on your exhale.
  • Tossing negativity, literally. Write your thoughts down on paper and then throw them away.
  • Calling a friend.

Identify Your Triggers

Once you begin to notice you’re stuck in a loop of worry when reflecting on the past, pay attention to what may have set you off down that path. What makes you replay negative thoughts and occurrences in your head? Perhaps it’s a particular activity, person, or place. Once you identify your triggers, you'll be better equipped to stop negative thoughts in their tracks—or, even better, hush them before they happen.

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