Moving Forward While Looking Back

Unfortunately, most of us are familiar with the concept of regret: the acidic guilt that seems to stay coated in the inner walls of your body for days, weeks, or even years. There are regrets that one gets over, and then there are others that haunt us with no reprieve. And no matter how hard you try, you just cannot move on. You distract yourself, you get busy, but the what-ifs and the could-have-beens niggle at the back of your mind incessantly.

The year of 2020 has undoubtedly gotten us acquainted with back-up plans and second choices. The times that we’re going through have affected almost every aspect of our lives – be it socialising, indulging in hobbies, how we conduct our jobs, living with family, taking up classes, amongst many other facets.

As such, it’s not surprising that it’s bleak to look back on the year. “There wasn’t much happening,” you might have muttered to yourself. When all you see laying behind you are Plan Bs and untapped potential, it can make it seem like the year has gone by in wastefulness. 365 days have whizzed past us without even giving us the chance to do anything as we had planned to do.

No doubt, when you look at the tangibles of 2020, it may feel like a haggard year. But perhaps this is the year we learn to look at the intangibles; the things we’ve gained without even realising and will keep with us. We look back and see what we haven’t done, but it would do us good to change our perspective and see what we have indded managed to accomplish. We think of failed plans and feel regret rise up within us, but who would ever be able to determine that the original plans would have been the better ones? Our assumptions lead us to belief that our original ideas would have led to optimal results when, as it’s glaringly obvious, life hardly goes how we think it would have.

This is when shifting mindsets helps. You might not have realised it, but you could have learnt and grown in infinite ways subconsciously. Qualities of perserverance or learning to stay positive might have shown much more brightly this year. Or, you might have learnt to prioritise and manage your mental health much better. Conversely, there’s a chance you learnt about having a healthy work-life balance and understood the line that has to be drawn between professional and personal boundaries.

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect; instead of being caught up in the past, this is a great time to review your past and move forward with what you’ve gained and learned. In fact, there are several ways you can do this.

1. Journal

It’s never too late to start. Whether you’re mentally still in 2020 or have already progressed into 2020, there is no better time to start journalling than now. Be it daily journaling or weekly, regularly reflecting on what you’ve done helps you in highlighting what you’ve been doing well. Instead of being bogged down by the seemingly unforgettable blatant negatives, journalling a day’s events includes penning down everything – good and bad. When you go back to read your journal, you are able to remember the positives that you might have glossed over.

If the concept of freewriting intimidates you, you could journal with a set purpose in mind. You could aim to pick out three things that you were proud of, events you were looking forward to, or tasks you would want to improve on. Framing your day by conceptualising it as actions you have completed on builds a beneficial outlook as to how you view yourself. Don’t worry about writing “significant” things; some days, even getting out of bed and freshening up can be a thing to be proud of.

When you look through your journal on a monthly or yearly basis, then, it will remind you of how far you’ve come. By consistently framing your journal in a positive manner, you reflect your growth in a forward-looking way as well.

2. Photographic Year-in-Review

Looking through my photos taken across a year is one of my favourite things to do as the year comes to a close. Unsurprisingly, many of us take photos throughout the year, be it of the smallest thing or an event that is worth remembering forever. One thing is for sure: when you take a photo of something, you make the conscious decision to realise that this event is important to you, no matter in what degree.

When we capture these moments and hope to keep them for however long, they accumulate, and there are chances that we may forget many of these happenings. However, if you take the time to sit down at the end of the year and go through all the photos you’ve taken, there is high possibility that you would recall a lot of significant occassions that might have slipped your mind. When looking back on a year, we have the tendency to remember the big events – and often the unfavourable ones – because that’s how most of us tend to work. Looking through your camera reel, on the other hand, might make you remember about the joy you felt taking up a new hobby. Alternatively, it may make you remember a new recipe that you attempted. Or, it may remind you of the beautiful sunrise you witnessed on a day you were working from home.

All this is to say is that we don’t prioritise remembering a lot of things: a lot of things that should be held in high importance and should be reasons for us to be proud of ourselves. The unintentional diary that we make our camera reel is one way to remember these reasons again, and immortalise them.

3. Hold Important Conversations

Hold yourself accountable by having conversations with the people around you and yourself. Change and growth is a part of us, and we are creatures who grow out of our concept of our self and transform into a new self. It makes sense, then, that we set goals for self-development and try to hit them to the best of our abilities. Despite that though, sometimes, we fail to do so and find ourselves disappointed in ourselves, and then try to self-develop, and then fail, and then try to self-develop, and then– you get it.

One way to overcome is to physically voice out your goals to yourself and the people around you. This innately creates a sense of accountability within yourself to hold yourself to your goals. Don’t mistake your determination with your results though. It’s important to remember that the goal should be to try your best to achieve your result, not the result itself. Attaching your sense of self to results can lead to lower self-esteem and thinking you’re not good enough, when results often have other factors in coming true (such as the contribution of others, life commitments, or the unavailability of resources, amongst others).

As you look back into the year you’ve had and try to better yourself into the coming one, don’t be too harsh on yourself. Try your best to be the person you want to be, but understand that all of your experiences will make into a more multidimensional person than you could’ve envisioned yourself to be.

4. Change your Environment

Changing your environment is something that is especially valuable to me, because it helped me a lot. The years of 2018 and 2019 taught me a lot about me lugging around unnecessary thoughts and worries that were bogging me down for no reason, and this was largely influenced by the environment I had created for myself. The end of 2019 came with the realisation that I had a cluttered and crowded room/workspace, and this translated into me having a mindset that was the same. When you are constantly surrounded by items that can distract you, you can’t create the mental space you need for yourself and for your thoughts to develop.

Reflecting on the year of 2019, I took the time in 2020 to declutter and reorganise my room. I packaged boxes and boxes of items that were to be donated and resold, and stuck to a policy of keeping only what I needed and sentimental items, and henceforth only purchasing what I deemed was essential with the occassional moments to pamper myself. By consciously creating a functional space for me to work and relax in, I was able to give myself a break. Having a decluttered space means that you don’t have to spend the time worrying about misplaced items; it also gives you the illusion that things are neater, which boosts your brain to think better and more creatively.

Of course, this may not be the optimal arrangement for many. What I want to relay is that taking the time to reflect and understanding yourself is important in wanting to move forward. Your physical space is important for you. Take the time to figure out what is best for you and what you need, and slowly adapt your surroundings to your needs. Help yourself to help yourself.

Reflecting on the past is a force of habit for most of us; consciously or subconsciously, we look back at our lives and form our impressions of it. How we look back and interpret is the key in moving forward. Contemplation and introspection can undoubtedly be beneficial, but it is important that we don’t dwell in the past. Rather, what we should do is use our past experiences to push ourselves forward into trying to create a better versions of ourselves and our lives.

After all, we’re a product of ourselves. Everything we’ve done – intentionally or unintentionally – has played a part into building our life as it is today. The positives fight perfectly into our puzzle board, but the negatives take some processing before they can be the puzzle pieces we need them to be. We beat ourselves up over our decisions and actions much more than we process what we’ve learnt and use the experience for future incidents. We can be our best critics, but we are often our worst.  

Pondering helps us to accept our past (yes, all of it), live in the present, and anticipate the future. Our actions have consequences, yes, but how do we know that other actions could have had better consequences? We don’t. Therefore, living with less regrets and more pride in our work is something we all should work on. Being comfortable with ourselves and who we are comes with effort, but it is worth it.