Use Your Past to Direct Your Future

Nicole Akers

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This year has been incredibly tough for everyone. It doesn’t matter how pretty you try to make it, there’s an underlying sadness where moments of beauty shine through. A loss of someone dear, hopes you had, plans you made. And there’s an aching pain for not being able to accomplish all that you wanted to achieve.

This year, more than ever, I think moving forward has to involve looking back, not in a pessimistic way, but in a form of revelation. Few of us have lived through a year as unpredictable as this one. In large part, we will see great things, not because we look to move ahead so quickly to where we’re going, but because we survived and learned something from being where we have been.

You have emotions to deal with: pain, loss, sadness, grief, but also moments of strength and survival. It’s important not to let the losses overshadow the wins. As we move forward, it’s both the good and the bad that will allow us to make something beautiful of the ashes. Putting this year to bed isn’t as much adding a bookend to cap off the year, but finding the seedling that will become a beautiful rose. And as we know, a rose isn’t beautiful all by itself. It carries thorns and painful memories that remind us of where we’ve been.

Before we try to throw off what we’ve been through this year, let’s take a few moments to put some perspective around it. If for no other reason than posterity, it may be worth thinking through some questions as a way to process what you’ve experienced. I suspect the journey is different for each person but no less valuable for one over another. Let’s ask and answer some questions for reflection.

Write the Untold Story

You couldn’t have foretold the events of this year, but knowing what you know now, how would you write this year like a story? If you’ve ever dreamt of writing a book, I bet your account could fill enough pages to be a full-blown book. Don’t put pressure on yourself to shape anything about the final form. Just let your feelings fall onto the page. I’ve never been a journaling success story, but when it comes to processing my emotions, I write about them. Science Daily says putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to journal daily, because I can’t do it myself. Although journaling is beneficial, it’s not for everyone. The path is personal and different for each individual; how you process may be different too.

James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas says:

“There’s no right way to process your emotions.”

I’ll add the caveat that the above is true, provided physical harm doesn’t come to you or others in the process. Pennebaker is a proponent of writing your feelings as well as examining why you feel the way you do. The practice of emotion-regulation strategy is known as reappraisal. The emotionally-driven process is a good strategy for self-processing, not one that’s best to share fully. Hopefully, as you process and examine your emotions, you arrive at a better place to move beyond them.

Tie Words to Your Emotions

Many people choose a word for the year, intending to live it out. When choosing your word, you often align your personality and your goals for intentional living. It’s the path and focus you set for yourself to be goal-oriented. This year I suggest looking back and choosing words as a way to review what you’ve been through. It’s doubtful anyone who doesn’t live off the grid would have forecast isolation to the degree you’ve felt it this year, but I’ll venture a guess the word tops many of our word lists for the year. Personally, I’d add frustration, and early-to-mid-year, fear. I’m curious what words you’d use to define this year.

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

Specifically, ask: What energized you? And what drained you? The answers may surprise you. You may uncover strengths you didn’t know you possessed. I know I did. Indeed, I felt weak for not being able to continue regular activities like going to the gym for a time.

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Two pole saws stuck in a tree. I need an upgrade. Photo by Author.

I rediscovered yardwork, not the gardening, nurturing kind, but the cutting down tree kind. I have a black thumb and can’t grow plants to save my life, but I love to use a chainsaw. Give me a saw, wind me up, and watch me go. Do you need some yard work done? If it requires a chainsaw, I’m your gal, but gardening is not my sport. One day I got two pole saws stuck in a tree after only a few moments of use. It was some time later that I received a chainsaw.

What did you learn about yourself? Did you realize you have different traits and abilities that you hadn’t considered before? It’s worth contemplating what you can do with your new-found strengths. And if you’ve found weaknesses, it’s also worth noting those areas for personal growth. After a year like this one, we’ve likely all found growth potential.

Review and Forecast

If you’ve ever completed a year of life and thought, I hope I never live another year like this one, I’d bet a lot of people relate with the thinking this year. We’ve all had tough years, but this year has been challenging and anything but predictable. It has been a roller coaster of uncertainty, and unfortunately, the ride isn’t over, but it’s starting to look like we can begin to put some normalcy of life back to its proper order. Still, the year contains valuable nuggets of wisdom that we probably aren’t done learning from yet. As we look back and reflect on where we’ve been, we can look forward to shape a brighter tomorrow. Let’s make this year great.

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Professional freelance writer | Happy Mom of 2 bringing you amazing tips on parenting, travel, & lifestyle with a touch of humor & sarcasm | Dog Mom | Bestselling author.

Austin, TX
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