Prepare for the new year with mindful reflection

Prepare for the new year with mindful reflection

By Bob CunninghamLife & Work Connections
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Mindful reflection can help you to celebrate your successes and move forward with confidence, says employee assistance counselor Bob Cunningham.
Mindful reflection can help you to celebrate your successes and move forward with confidence, says employee assistance counselor Bob Cunningham.
Bob Cunningham, employee assistance counselor at Life & Work Connections
Bob Cunningham, employee assistance counselor at Life & Work Connections

There is no doubt that 2020 will be etched into our memories for some time. We have had to make significant changes this year to adapt to "pandemic life." It hasn't been easy, and we are facing at least several more months of increased stress and restricted activities.

However, as we approach 2021, we have an opportunity to turn the tables in our favor by taking inventory of what has worked well for us in recent months. Conversely, we can examine what has not worked so well, and discover ways to make adjustments that aid us as we move forward.

By exploring our strengths and identifying opportunities through mindful reflection, we can prepare for the new year with confidence and hope, and set ourselves up to thrive, despite the continuing challenges of the current circumstances.

Exploring mindful reflection

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment, without judgment. When you engage in mindfulness, you pay attention – on purpose – to your body, your feelings and your thoughts. You essentially become a curious and kind observer of yourself, and you can calm your nerves and quiet your mind by using the sensation and rhythm of your breath.

You can also combine mindfulness with the act of reflection, allowing the kind observer within you to explore questions that interest you.

Here is a brief mindful reflection practice you can try:

  1. Begin by taking three deep breaths and setting a rhythm of deep, slow breathing.
  2. Notice your body and how you are feeling emotionally and physically.
  3. As you settle into your body, consider the following questions, one at a time. Shift to the next question as you feel ready:
    • On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being excellent), what number represents how you think you have adjusted to life in the pandemic?
    • What have you done that has worked well?
    • Are there areas that have not been working so well?
    • What could be helpful to you and your family in the new year?
    • Envision yourself thriving in 2021. What does this look and feel like for you?

This exercise will help you to focus and relax. Additionally, it can get you thinking about what you might need to support a healthier lifestyle.

For example, maybe you realize you are struggling with loneliness. On the other hand, maybe you have taken good care of yourself physically by structuring your time and exercising regularly. Perhaps you can apply this structured approach to your social life and organize consistent times for social connection.

Journaling to reinforce what you learn

I am a big proponent of journaling after a mindful reflection exercise, and I frequently encourage my clients to give it a try, even if they don't like to write. By engaging in mindful reflection, you have opened yourself up to self-discovery, and writing about your experience can solidify what you have learned. You can also revisit what you wrote at a later date for further contemplation.

Prompts you might try include:

  • One of the strengths I discovered was:
  • When I envisioned myself thriving in the coming new year, I felt:
  • During this exercise, I noticed that I felt:

Journaling offers an opportunity to connect with your emotional self. Feelings are information, and you can use that information to inform your future decisions.

Embracing nature to settle the soul

Another way to follow up mindful reflection is to get out into nature. Or, better yet, do your mindful reflection outdoors! (While you're at it, why not bring your journal along, too?)

The natural environment can provide calming effects, especially if folks are feeling cooped up due to the pandemic. Studies have recognized that spending time in nature, as in the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, supports overall health.

As temperatures cool in Arizona and you emerge from the crucible of the summer, you have an opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. Walk among the trees of the local park, stop to smell a flower (yes, really), feel the texture of a leaf in your hand, and listen to the sounds of the birds or the wind through the trees.

Practicing mindful reflection is like scheduling an appointment to visit the calmness within you. It's there – you just need to take time to access it. Within the calm, you can examine your life as a kind observer, without judgment or criticism.

In this coming year, I hope that you experience more peace, embrace your strengths and thrive in 2021.


Bob Cunningham, an employee assistance counselor at Life & Work Connections, is a licensed professional counselor with a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and more than 17 years of experience in medical and higher education environments. His areas of expertise include career development, mindfulness and burnout prevention. In spring 2021, he will lead "Cultivating Hope," a workshop to help employees develop a positive mindset despite adverse circumstances.

To learn more about opportunities to improve your wellness, join the Life & Work Connections email list.

A version of this article appeared on the Life & Work Connections website.

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