New Year’s resolutions focus our goals and intentions on the upcoming year. Creating a list of goals is a worthwhile ritual, but why do we spend so much time looking forward and so little time looking back? Why don’t we focus more energy on year end reflection? You know, reflecting on all of the thoughts and memories from this past year before moving on to the next one.
Ten years ago I created a new end of year tradition. In addition to setting New Year’s resolutions I ask myself one very important question each December:
What moment made me feel most alive this year?
I close my eyes and try to picture that magical event in my mind. I ask myself:
- Where was I?
- What was I doing?
- Who was I with?
Some years it’s difficult to narrow down all of the events to one specific moment. This year I had a ridiculous number of moments to choose from, but one in particular really stuck out in my mind.
The Moment I Felt Most Alive
I eyed the water slides over and over again. They loomed high in the sky, past the kiddie pools and lazy river. A series of weaving tubes in bright colors of green, blue, orange and yellow.
I’d ridden on a few of them earlier in the day, but not the tallest ones. Not the ones with the steepest vertical drops. “It’s not so scary,” my brother said, but that didn’t stop my heart from racing.
“I have to go,” I told myself. The park was closing in fifteen minutes and I was running out of time to gather my courage. I marched across the pavement and climbed the nine story high metal platform straight to the top.
The stairs were empty. Everyone else must have been finished for the day. As I climbed I questioned my decision. Why on Earth did I feel compelled to ascend these lonely stairs? Why did my feet keep moving forward when my mind said to turn around?
When I reached the top of the platform the water park attendant stood all alone. One blue slide stood to my right. A green one to my left. The sound of water gushing down the slides was all I could hear.
I told the park employee I was terrified, because I was. You can’t fathom the height of those slides until you are standing at the very top of one.
I climbed onto the top of the green slide. “Cross your arms, cross your feet, rest your head back against the slide and do not move,” he said. “The system will countdown.”
The plastic shell enveloped me. I closed my eyes, held my breath and suddenly felt the floor drop out from beneath my feet.
Why does it feel so good to feel alive? During that drop I didn’t think about the bills I needed to pay, my future employment or any of my family responsibilities. In fact, in that moment I may have forgotten I had children all together.
I thought about nothing other than the sensation of my body moving down that slide at heart-racing speed. The thrill of that moment stayed with me for the rest of the summer.
It was the first time in a very long time that I let myself go. The first time that I felt truly alive in quite awhile.
The Highlight Reel of the Past Year
Why should we focus on year end reflection? Thinking about the past provides incredible insights into our mental health and wellness. It is an indicator of our current state of mind. It also impacts our thoughts, feelings and motivations in the future.
What happens when you look back at your highlight reel? When you cruise through the timeline on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or simply through the memories in your mind? Do those moments and accomplishments make you feel alive, excited and inspired?
Does this year look the same way you hoped it would last January? Did you end up where you wanted by the end of it?
The Checklist Approach to Life
Here’s the truth. Many of us subscribe to the checklist approach to life. It goes something like this:
- Go to college. Check.
- Get a job. Check.
- Find a partner. Check.
- Get married. Check.
- Climb the corporate ladder. Check.
- Purchase a house. Check.
- Get a pet. Check.
- Have kids. Check.
- Go on vacation. Check.
- Work. Check.
- Retire. Check.
Some of us will accomplish all of these things. Others will check-off just a few of them. It doesn’t matter how long or short your list is. That’s not the point. The real question isn’t how many check marks you’ve made. It’s what happens as you check off your list.
You feel utter elation, right? Pure and unadulterated joy? You stand back, admire your work and wait for the smile to spread across your lips. “Oh come on happiness,” you think. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
But what if instead of beaming with pride you look around at your life and think, “Huh, I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel invigorated or alive.”
Why Don’t You Feel Alive?
Why doesn’t that checklist fulfill us? Shouldn’t there be satisfaction in completing our goals? Yes and no.
The path to happiness and satisfaction is not a single, straight line. Take marriage for example. I love my husband, but being in a relationship is ridiculously difficult. As the years progress do I think more about the good times or the number of fights we’ve had?
The goals may be easy to accomplish. Getting married is the easy part, but a lifetime of resolving issues and learning how to navigate the relationship. Well, shit, that checkmark never made it on to the checklist. It’s a constant work in progress.
Children are another example. I love my children with all of my heart, but they produce an inordinate amount of worry in my life. In fact, I worry more than I ever could have imagined. Am I happy that I had children? Most definitely, but the act of childrearing can be unbearably painful at times.
What Moment Made You Feel Most Alive This Year?
Most of us won’t wake up happy every day grinning from ear to ear. Not even after the checklist is complete. Not even after we quit our jobs and retire to Bora Bora.
So go back to the question: What moment made you feel most alive this year?
Why should we ask ourselves this? Because life is not meant to be a checklist. In fact, the act of checking off your goals is not as important as the journey we take to achieve them.
We can step through the motions from Point A (birth) to Point B (death) without feeling alive at all. We can fulfill our obligations and responsibilities without joy or excitement.
But we should not take our limited time for granted. We must pinpoint the moments that make us feel most alive and recreate them as often as possible.
Reevaluate Your Journey
Sometimes the burdens of life keep us trapped in a place of unhappiness. We continue to go to work to pay the bills for the life we thought we wanted to live.
When you reflect on the past year ask yourself, “Are these the goals I want to pursue? Is this checklist worth completing or are there elements that should be removed?”
Then think back to the moments that made you feel alive. How can you recreate those events or incorporate new ones into your goals? How can you feel excited about life and the moments that make up your days?
The Hard Times Also Make Us Feel Alive
Keep in mind that positive moments are not the only ones that make us feel alive. Sometimes traumatic events remind us of our mortality and the desire to live an inspired life today.
Over the years friends have come and gone from my life and death has taken away some of my favorite people.
From the depths of tragedy my mindset is forever altered. My dreams, goals and thoughts shift my thinking and view of the world.
Sometimes we can only build ourselves up after we feel decimated and destroyed. From the depths of pain and agony we can emerge feeling stronger than we’ve ever felt before.
Do not discard these reminders. Feel the weight of their presence. Use your sorrow to make a better, brighter world.
Remember that your life won’t last forever. Invest in the moments that fill your soul with excitement and passion. When you recognize that your time is limited you will find a way to follow your heart. Chase the moments that make you feel inspired and alive. Don’t let today pass by like any other mundane day. Create a better hope for your future.
The Tiniest Moments Can Leave the Most Lasting Impressions
Also, remember that the tiniest moments can leave the most lasting impressions. My children and I love to listen to music in the car. I play tunes on the way to and from school each day and sometimes a song is still playing when I pull into the driveway.
One afternoon the music was blaring and my children and I were singing at the top of our lungs. My four year old’s favorite song in the whole wide world is “From Now On” from The Greatest Showman.
Rather than turning off the car I turned up the music. My boys unstrapped their car seats and we belted out the lyrics together.
They were smiling, singing and dancing in the back of the car on an ordinary day in the middle of September. These are the moments I live for. Singing that five minute song with my children was nearly as exhilarating as my trip down the water slide.
The lyrics of that song read:
“I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for”
As you perform your year end reflection think carefully about those words. Remember your checklist should not be written by someone else. If you make a checklist of goals it should be yours and yours alone.
What we think we want out of life, what others want for us and what we really want are rarely the same thing. Reflecting on these moments can help us refocus our goals.
How to Feel More Alive This Year
After you complete your year end reflection think forward to next year. Then consider making a new year’s resolution to feel more alive. These four actions might help you:
- Say something you’ve been meaning to say
- Try something you’ve always wanted to try
- Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go
- Do something you thought you couldn’t do
Most importantly pay attention to the aspects of your life that fill your heart and spirit with passion and excitement. Try to focus on feeling alive. If you do you’ll have an even better answer to next year’s question.
The more you seek out moments that make you feel alive the more alive you will feel.