The Secret to Achieving Self-Improvement and A Better Life

Making a New Year’s resolution can be a noble endeavor. But most of the time, resolutions don’t stick. Multiple studies show that 80% are abandoned from mid-February on into June.

Why such a poor track record? Many resolutions won’t come to fruition because they reflect unrealistic expectations. Most die on the vine for lack of an action plan, social support, and/or motivation. Aware of this bad reputation, in one study, 42% of the people resolved not to make them.

Still, many religions and cultures have New Year’s traditions of self-reflection and renewed commitment to values and goals. So it’s natural to feel inspired by the dawning New Year and make resolutions with the hope of self-improvement, better living, or a new beginning.

And there’s lots of advice out there (see here, here, here, & here) on how to succeed.

Tips include:

  • Choose realistic goals that are meaningful to you
  • Create an action plan you can follow
  • Take baby steps
  • Keep track of your successes
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Practice positive-self talk
  • Be mindful and self-aware of how you sabotage yourself

But here’s the rub: We tend to be unskilled at most or all of these activities, which means that all of those “tips for success” qualify as New Year’s Resolutions in and of themselves. Good luck with that! No wonder the rate of failure and lack of participation is so high.

There’s got to be a better way to encourage one’s own personal growth and achievement.  

A way that

  • has a higher chance of success,
  • makes you feel good about yourself,
  • honors the path you’re actually on, and
  • inspires you in the present moment, and going forward.

The answer?

Reflect on the lessons you’ve learned and milestones you’ve reached during the past year.

How does this encourage personal growth and achievement?

Have you ever made a to-do list, where you include tasks you’ve already completed over the past few hours or days? Being able to cross off those tasks gives you credit for what you’ve been busy accomplishing, lets you bask in your success, boosts your morale, and energizes you for the rest of the list.

Reviewing the past year does the same for you—it gives you credit for the accomplishments already achieved, improvements already made, and lessons already learned.

How do I get started?

Reflect on the notable experiences and events of the past year. You might make a month-to-month timeline, or you can do it by category, such as “Work,” “Health & Fitness,” “Relationships,” “Finances,” “Home.” Make a list of what you achieved, whether it was on your to-do list or not. Make a list of the challenges, struggles, and conflicts you endured. Then ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers:

  • What went well? Why? 
  • What can I keep doing to ensure my success?
  • What went wrong? Why?
  • What did I learn from this? What did I do differently or better?
  • What am I still learning? Where is there still room for growth?

Reflect on your good and bad experiences, including the whens, the whys, the hows, and what role you played in the outcomes. Making a list of your struggles can be especially rewarding, because they may reveal where you’ve made the biggest strides.

Why does “reflecting on experiences” work?

Research abounds on how reflection boosts learning and positive change. Because it’s so effective, reflection is woven into schools, and is routinely practiced in many professions, including teaching, nursing, and business. We benefit in many ways, such as:

  • gaining new insights about a subject, an issue, ourselves, and others;
  • seeing connections between our behaviors and outcomes;
  • being motivated to find solutions and seek better results;
  • questioning assumptions and entertaining new perspectives;
  • strengthening new skills and habits;
  • recognizing our progress and growth;
  • boosting morale;
  • encouraging continued personal and professional growth.

As you take stock of this past year, you can reinforce the gains from your successes and solidify the lessons learned from your mistakes. You might also pinpoint improvements or projects still under construction, fueling ongoing growth.

What are some concrete examples of topics to reflect on?

Here are some successes that might resonate with you:

  • Think about a time when you handled a social situation well.
  • Review how you reached out and connected with others.
  • Note what you did to improve your health or fitness or nutrition or sleep.
  • What bad habits did you drop?
  • What good habits did you acquire?
  • Did you learn a new skill or expand your knowledge about a certain subject?
  • In what ways did you try to make the world a better place?

Here are some struggles you might identify with:

  • Perhaps you’ve been trying to get along better with your mate, a friend, a colleague, child, or student, and you’re learning new communication skills or simply being more generous or compassionate or connected.
  • Perhaps you reluctantly took on a new task at work or in your community, and learned to overcome failure or obstacles.
  • Perhaps you got fired or laid off or divorced or relocated, and new doors have opened for you.
  • Perhaps you were sick or injured or struggled with a chronic health challenge, and you learned more about your body and how to better seek health or well-being.
  • Perhaps you acquired a new relationship, which compels you to step up in new ways (new boss, new colleague, new neighbor, new friend, new stepparent, new significant other, new marriage, new baby, new stepchild).

You might also find inspiration in other blogs—Marnie Jameson in the Orlando Sentinel; Georgie @ In It 4 the Long Run.

I can barely remember what happened yesterday, much less during this past year. Can I start by reflecting on what happened today?

Yes, absolutely. Reflection can be an ongoing daily practice. Spending 5 to 10 minutes a day reviewing “what went well,” “what was difficult,” and “why,” can set you up for a lifetime of success and contentment in all areas of your life. You may already do it to some extent. Try doing it more deliberately, mindfully, and see how it works for you.

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