Looking Back to Look Forward

I am writing this on a cozy, wintery day. The end of the year is quickly approaching, and it can be easy to shift into looking forward to a new year. As we should. But success planning should include a look back… an evaluation of what has happened. So before you look too far forward, let me invite you to look back. Look back on your year, and all that it contained. What happened in it? 

I hope looking back is encouraging to you.  And even without knowing your situation, I know you have accomplished much! You have fed and nourished your body and your family to the best of your ability. You have learned and applied new things. You have navigated this rapidly changing world and made innumerous decisions for yourself and your family, and more. This year, you have done amazing!

You may not believe me. You may argue that you could have done so much more. It can be difficult to look back objectively. On a good day, you may be proud of what you accomplished, but on a day where you are discouraged, or your children are sick, you may look back and see only how you feel like you failed and wasted time. 

It can also be hard to remember. Maybe you experienced a lot of grief, loss, and hard things the past year, and looking back brings up unpleasant emotions. Or it could also be scary to look back. Maybe you had an amazing year, and you’re worried that the good can’t last too long. Or maybe all you see are your failures.

All of those things are valid. But when you are feeling scared, or sad, or tired, the appropriate thing to do is to rest, grieve, and receive comfort. Your emotions today are not the indicator of what you accomplished over the year. They are showing your current state… how you are feeling now, and what emotions you have not yet had the chance to work through. 

Do you know how I know you did the best you could? Because you couldn’t have done better. Despite what our society constantly screams at us, you are not lazy. You are always doing the best you can. So am I. And what you accomplish in a day is amazing! The world around us is fast paced, and the only way most people keep up is with fast food, caffeine and energy drinks, convenience stores, and burning the candle at both ends. No one can actually succeed in the “western ideal.” On this point, I love how much discussion is happening around the idea that social media primarily shows unrealistic “photoshopped” lives. Because it’s true. What is being portrayed on social media, and even what other people may share with you in conversation, is not an accurate picture of the whole or real life. Do you tell the stranger at the park all the ways you failed that day? Or do you share primarily the successes you’ve had recently? They are doing the same!

I talk to dozens of moms every month in my appointments, and most of them feel the same way… that everyone is keeping up better than they are. They believe that they are the only ones having a hard time doing everything they need to do in a day, and if they just “got themselves together,” they would actually be doing enough for their family. It’s not true! I wish you could all be a fly on the wall so you could know that you are not alone! You are doing great! I am immensely proud of each one of you. You are doing such a good job!

Maybe you still don’t believe me. That’s okay. Could you maybe, just for a short time, pretend to believe me? Because I have an exercise for you to do.

I want you to write down all the things you accomplished this year. Just the accomplishments. No “I wish I did this” or “I didn’t quite finish this.” Write things that you completed. If you had a goal of making 12 new ferments this year, but you only made 3, don’t worry about the “missing ones.” On your list you should put the accomplishment of making 3 new ferments this year. Because that is an accomplishment! 

This exercise goes against a well-known part of human psychology, something called negativity bias. Negativity bias means we focus on the negative aspects of a situation, even if the positive aspects are equally present. The theory is that this is a safety mechanism, that emphasizing the negative helps us learn from mistakes and avoid problems in the future. But when we allow it to be the only way we view things, we lose something very important: hope. Hope, encouragement, and dopamine boosts are also necessary to accomplish the tasks and goals that are important to us. Negativity bias is helpful, but it should only play a small role in how we think and remember. But unless we purposely think otherwise, we can view everything with a negativity bias. 

How can you change your view? Purposefully focus on the positive. What you are proud of. What you and your children accomplished. What you did complete. What you are grateful for. I would encourage you to practice this, and teach your children to practice this. One thing I have practice saying (out loud) is “I got a lot done today,” even as I’m reviewing my list at the end of the day to move undone tasks to tomorrow. We will always default to negativity bias… you don’t have to teach or practice that. But you do have to teach and practice gratitude, celebration, and looking at the positive. And if you do this consistently, watch what happens! 

In closing, I’d encourage you to take some time to review your year. Review your accomplishments. Then you can look forward to what you want to accomplish. Next year you will be building on what you already did this year… and if you have written it down, you will have a clearer picture of what you are building.



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