As we look back at the previous year, we normally encounter several feelings:
– Proud for our accomplishments (e.g. graduation, job promotion, etc.)
– Thankful for pleasant events (e.g. engagement, wedding, etc.)
– Heartbroken for unfortunate incidents (e.g. deaths, breakups, etc.)
– Frustrated for missed opportunities (e.g. bad investment, job layoff, etc.)
– Concerned for the bigger challenges (e.g. wars, politics, poverty, economy, etc.)
Clearly, an average year would carry a varied proportion of the above-mentioned feelings and reflections; However, most of our friends’ comments and tweets are drowning in seas of negativity and complains. Even when disguised in a sarcastic tone, the ever-increasing level of dissatisfaction and the lack of contentment made me rethink my strategy in reflecting on how 2019 went for me. Without trying to be preachy, I think many of us agree that being intentional and living a life of purpose results in a more fulfilling and meaningful life. The increasing level of dissatisfaction in people’s lives is often caused by the disappointment that they have when they compare their present self to the expected one on last year’s New Year Eve. This article provides a framework to combat that, or at least transform the raw feelings of disappointment and regret into useful fuel that burns in your engine to start a reversing action. In other words, following at least couple points of this list should make your next year-end review (Dec 31, 2020) a much less painful experience:
1- Start a Journal
This past year was the first year for me to take journaling more seriously. I was not consistent at all, leaving gaps of 1-2 weeks at a time, while filling 2-3 pages per day at others. As you might expect, this is not your typical “Dear-Diary” exercise that my 9-year old would write (even if she actually did write hers on my diary, but that’s a different story!). It does not have to be detailed, emotional, or even meaningful to anyone at all (including myself). Regardless, the journal helped me to download many images and feelings from the previous year, and blended feelings of gratitude, regret, and inspiration in a much-needed dose. In other words, I was able to harness the brain power of my best-self during 2019 while preparing for 2020! I was a raw, authentic, and merciless meeting with multiple versions of my 2019 self that got clearer as I connected the dots of my life backwards. Without such reflection opportunity, all these priceless gems that were hidden in the corners of my brain would have been lost in that moment.
A valid follow up question becomes: what about those of us who don’t journal, or tried but kept forgetting where they kept their last purchased fancy planner? This is where step #2 may be useful:
2- Search for clues that will ignite your memory
I get it! you have not – and will not – journal in your life. Still, you can recover some of those lost memories and examine closely the power of reflection. Before I started journaling, I found the following to be extremely helpful in “salvaging” the buried experiences in my brain:
a- Credit card / bank transactions to remember and reflect “what in the world was I thinking on that day??”
b- Spy on your previous self by search for electronic records (messages, pictures taken, social media posts, etc.)
c- In case you didn’t know it, there is already someone who has been spying on you for a while: SURPRISE! Google has been consistent (through google maps, emails, searches, … ) in keeping track of all the places you visited. Yes, it is creepy and ugly, but you might as well put the Terabytes of data that are already collected for a good cause.
d- Call the guy who shared that then-funny joke with you and use this as an opportunity to recall the context of the whole conversation.
Once you have enough data to use for your positive year-end reflection, you should be ready for the following steps:
3- Review Book recommendations that were presented to you
Self-help readers are flooded with book recommendations from mentors, influencers, and peers who constantly remind them how worthless they are for not reading one book per week. I am not belittling the importance of reading (a routine that I am still grabbling with), but I am inviting you to expand your books list by considering also the ones that you wished to read. Mostly this happened after or during a useful intellectual discussion that ended up with bookmarking that title. A positive year-end review is in constant hunt for these small wins in every dimension of your previous self, and this can be very useful in guiding your plans and reflections for the next year.
4- Examine Quality Time Spent with Family.
You should be able to isolate this easily by tracking the days when your phone usage dropped (due to a dead battery or a bad coverage). We tend to take those around us for granted (our spouses, kids, parents, and close friends), since we heard their opinions about our driving style, loud voice over the phone, and study habits for a zillion times. They are always wrong, they don’t understand, and they only care about themselves. Still! You would be surprised once you connect the dots between what they say and what the data that google collected says about you. If you filter out the emotions and the dramatic exaggerations, you may find some few words that can be added to your new year resolution.
5- Recall 1:1 meetings with friends
Only recently, I started to appreciate the powerful impact of such meetings, especially for my ultra-extroverted personality that gets energy and motivation from big crowds and events. However, smaller group meetings provide a better opportunity for a complete and authentic human transaction. Whether I was the one mentoring a high school or college student, or I was receiving raw comments from a colleague or a mentor, these meetings were giving me more eyes and data on my previous self. Sometimes, such advice remains consistent throughout the time, whereas many times I am surprised that I used to think this way. Nevertheless, we keep learning every single day, and the worst thing that can happen to your 2020 self is when you are satisfied with everything you have done or said previously.
6- Fundraising campaigns that you donated / shared
The Arabic word for charity is “Sadaqa”, which is correlated with acts of honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. Moments of giving are not normally a fully rational decisions, but involve a lot of emotional and deeper connections with the cause you donated for. I understand that in the age of crowdfunding and recurring donations, the spiritual impact of charity has diminished. Nevertheless, a part of the blessings involved in giving is that it brings you closer to your true and authentic self, and a 2020 resolution needs that closeness as part of its vision and goals.
When considering donations, feel free to add volunteer hours, community service, and giving other kids rides for soccer practice. We sometimes use a capitalistic and rigid definition of donations that strips the beauty and the life of an essential part of your humanity. Community service and caring for others is not a weekend-only thing, but should surpass that to become a major element of your life’s mission and vision.
7- Them Awkward Moments …
Your year-end review would be biased if you only focus on the highlights, the outings, the vacations, and the successes. You may need to include those self-doubt moments when you started blaming your parents for being the reason for your existence in this world. You may need to reflect on days and even weeks when you felt completely bored, and wished that you did not wake up from bed. How is this useful for a supposedly positive year end review? Simply because by the time you are reading this article and preparing for your 2020 outlook, most likely things have changed. You have realized that such experiences were not as bad as you thought they would be. You are still living, breathing, and functioning despite that awkward moment that you felt would be the end of it all. Your silly comment in that meeting, terrible answer to the bank teller, and completely screwed up email that you wrote for all colleagues did not result in an apocalyptic disaster.
8- Celebrate Small Wins in Habit Change Battles
Many times, we look at habit change as a “winner takes all” game, which results in us constantly losing these battles. We want to lose weight, but cannot ignore that trickling 2-3 digit number every time we jump on that scale. We constantly try to sleep early, exercise, and reduce screen time, until we realize that we’ve been glued to our phones for the past 3 hours.
One way to positively look at this is: how many times you attempted to change the habit, despite the huge momentum of previous attempts that keeps dragging you down. In my case, I tried keto diet for three weeks, which was meant to be an experiment to see how bad it can get. At the end of it, my measure of success was not the number of pounds / kilograms lost. I am not gonna deny that I did not like the 10-lb instant weight drop, but I always looked at it as a bonus. My main goal from that experiment was more along the lines of:
– Did I die or witness a huge drop in energy due to lack of sugar and carbs?
– Can I come back to this life style later if needed?
– Did I prove to myself that I am capable of sticking to a schedule, even for the short term?
9- The Deceit of People’s Attention
Whether we badly crave for people’s attention and praise or we constantly maneuver our ways around their critique, we need to put that perception of attention in its place. After all, other people are also pre-occupied with how you and others view them, and everyone is falling into this vicious cycle of trying to please and attend to that hidden beast. A positive year-end review may not result in eliminating this dilemma, but at least it will help, if properly managed, to reduce its impact. A positive year-end review aims at eliminating all other “gods” that your ego has been trying to worship, in search for a One and Only deity that is worthy of your attention and service. A positive year-end review should result in a huge theater that has only one person in the audience: your true authentic self that knows everything about you, and is happy and satisfied with the efforts that you have made regardless of the results.
The outcome: Mercy + accountability
I am in no way shape or form qualified to tell you how a positive outlook of the previous year looks like, because I am still in search for that experience. I am still very harsh and critical on my previous self, and I was always under the impression that such critique is the only path to self-improvement. However, I am equally concerned with self-blame and victimology that result in passive negativity without real change. I am trying my best to keep my habits, thoughts, and emotions away from the driver seat of my life, and I am trying to fight back with more reflection, prayer, and intentionality.
As an engineer, I try to quantify every metric that I use to assess different “designs” and “systems”. For the year-end review process at hand, I believe the ideal experience should consist of two elements:
a) Having love and mercy for our human-ness, and accept that we are not and will never be perfect
b) With love and mercy in mind, hold ourselves accountable and keep track of our decisions and actions, and keep the nonstop search for small wins every single day
Mecca, 1/1/ 2020