Sizing Up Your New Year
January 04 2012 1:00 AM ET
So here we are at the beginning of 2012. Yes, it's that time of year when we're hit with those 'best of the year' and 'worst of the year' lists as everyone reflects on the year we just finished. It's a good time to do your own year-end review, thinking about what happened and what didn't happen, what you accomplished and what you didn't. How do you think you did?
I know, this may be a sensitive topic'at least it has been for a lot of the people who pass through my office. Here's what I heard from clients I'll call Deb and Carlos.
Deb came in with a pretty bleak attitude about 2011: 'The new year just reminds me of what I haven't accomplished yet. I look back over 2011 and I feel like I let myself down. What do I have to show for this year?'
Carlos also decided that 2011 was a bust and predicted more of the same for 2012: 'I didn't get anything I wanted in 2011. I have to ask myself what I have to look forward to in 2012. After all, I'm still going to be in charge, right?'
Let's go back to that question of how you did last year and ask it one more time but change the emphasis. How do you think you did? It's important to emphasize the word think because that's where you can get yourself in trouble when you're doing your annual review. Here's why.
Who's doing the judging here? As you evaluate the past year, whose voice are you really hearing in your head? Is it a realistic, encouraging voice, or one that can only point out what's missing and what could have been better last year? Or, worse, is yours a voice that flat-out screams what a loser you are? If so, it might be time to fire that little Simon Cowell holding court in your head and see if Oprah can fill in instead.
Don't give in to all-or-nothing thinking. It's easy to fall into that 'if I didn't accomplish this one thing, then I didn't do anything' trap. So 2011 didn't look like you expected it to. Take a step back and ask yourself, 'What's good in my life?' I suspect there was more to the year than you are giving yourself credit for. Make a list of 2011's achievements, no matter how small you think they are.
If you are comparing yourself to others, you're only going to come up short. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone else. Instead, acknowledge that each of us is on our own path'we have strengths, weaknesses, joys, and challenges. Let go of the shoulda-coulda-woulda and accept where you are at this moment in time. Ease up on the self-criticism.
Focus on the bigger picture. Life is an ongoing process of growing, developing, learning, caring, and being cared for. Life may seem to go better'fewer challenges, more successes'some years, and not so great others. But the point is that your life isn't about only one year, but the years that you have lived and the years that you have ahead of you. So don't lose your perspective.
Give in to the possibility of change. While you're looking at the bigger picture, ask yourself, 'Is 2012 a year for new directions?' The only thing we can really count on is that things change. You've already seen it in your own life, with the changes that your HIV diagnosis introduced. The more flexible you can be'ready, willing, and able to shift your priorities and change your routine'the easier it is to live with uncertainty. Open yourself up to the unexpected.
Set some realistic priorities for 2012. Think hard about where you want to focus your efforts this year. Be honest about what you want to make happen in your life and realistic goals that will get you there.
Make 'take better care of myself' the top priority. Think about what you need to do to strengthen your own foundation: Give more attention to your physical well-being by creating an exercise plan? Sign up for that dance class you keep putting off? Read in bed each night, take up a hobby, or spend more time with friends? Figure it out and do it first.
Celebrate the close of 2011 by celebrating your future. Remember that 2012 is a year of even more opportunities for personal growth. Make 2012 the best year yet'at least until 2013.
Gary McClain is a counselor in New York City with a specialty in coping with chronic health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy.