Updated: Jan 2
"To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." -Socrates
At the dawn of each new year, before making a list of resolutions, I find it helpful to first review the previous year in order to gain some sage perspective. Everyone reading this post is a success in my book for having made it through such a transformative year, and now is the perfect time to look back and reflect. I find two methods to be helpful in guiding this reflection.
The first approach is called 'A Year in Review.' It involves taking about 30 minutes to sit down and write out the top three to five positive and negative experiences from each month of the past year. This gives us a framework for structuring the next year. If we can re-create more of the positive elements and fewer of the negative ones, then we set ourselves up for a higher probability of success. Little disasters and unplanned failures will always crop up, but guiding the ship back towards peak experiences is a useful buffer for life's randomness.
The second approach is of Japanese influence--the Naikan Method. It a way of realizing more truth in our lives by asking simple (yet deep) questions. There is no pretense nor expectation in these questions. We are simply asking them in order to glimpse a bigger picture of reality. Gratitude, purpose, and love arise secondarily to seeing things more clearly. The effect is rather cool.
The first question is 'What am I receiving?' This question asks us to consider, in a neutral way, what forces are acting for and against us. We often forget the banal elements of our lives that make everything else possible. For instance, if you were to break down how many things have had to go right for you to be reading this sentence (electricity, internet, computers, education, the evolution of eyeballs, etc.) you would run out of time before you reached the end. On the other hand, we readily focus on negative events like our lives depended on it...and they used to (See the post labeled Negativity Bias for more on that.). The point is to take time to inventory both the good and bad in a neutral way You will see how much you truly have going for you.
The second question is 'What am I giving?' This is a broad question but intended mainly for the asker to gain an appreciation for the balance between giving and receiving. If you break any act of giving down, you will quickly discover that it depends on you having received something in the first place. For example, I make a meal for my loved ones, but in order for that gift to exist I had to receive food from the store, money to buy that food from work, power to cook it from the power company, and the list goes on. Any act of giving is actually part of a much larger circle linked to having been given.
The last question is 'What troubles and difficulties have I caused?' This is a good time to be brutally honest with yourself and course-correct wherever possible. We all live in our own unique moral landscapes but cutting across all of them is the universal law of treating others as you would like to be treated. Consider the downstream effects of even the simplest of misgivings or misconceptions, and do your best to avoid them. I don't really think more needs to be said.
So there you have it-- The Year in Review and The Naikan Method of introspection. I hope this post was useful for helping to direct you with looking back at the past year and visualizing the next. It helped me. How do you all answer those important questions? Have you ever asked them of yourself? What lessons have you learned in the last year?