Over the past year, you’ve made strides in your mental health journey—sometimes in big leaps, and at other times, slow, painstaking steps. For most people, progress doesn’t come in life-changing epiphanies but in slowly adopting day-to-day habits that move you toward your goals. For that reason, it can be difficult to recognize the difference between where you are in your health journey now versus 12 months ago.
Taking the time to reflect on your mental health journey can inspire you to keep moving forward and motivate you to make changes that align with your goals.
Looking Back: Reflecting on Your Mental Health Journey
The past year undoubtedly brought unique challenges and experiences along with opportunities to address unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviors. As you reflect on your mental health journey over the past 12 months, it’s important to consider the challenges and opportunities with acceptance and without judgment. Considering the habits you’ve adopted, the ways your coping mechanisms have evolved, and the thoughts that dominate your mind can help you evaluate your journey.
End of the Year Reflection Questions
What were my biggest challenges this year?
As you think back over the year, it may be helpful to recognize some of the hurdles you faced—relationships that changed or ended, employment or housing changes or new personal struggles. As challenging as these periods may be, they can help us build resilience. Reflecting on how we faced them can give us confidence that we have what it takes to handle whatever challenges the next year has in store.
What am I thankful for?
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative – the dwindling number in your bank account, the never-ending list of chores and the day-to-day needs of those who rely on you. Taking time to focus on feeling gratitude for everything in your life can set the right tone for evaluating your mental health journey.
How is my day-to-day life different?
What habits have you adopted to make the past year a success? More consistent sleep? Embracing a fun hobby that lets you decompress, or making time for regular exercise? Your daily habits have a significant impact on your mental health, and taking the time to reflect on how they’ve evolved over the year can help you assess your progress.
What cycles have I broken?
Maybe 2023 was the year you pursued addiction treatment, or maybe you finally got help for ADHD or another condition that’s made your life harder for as long as you can remember. Breaking cycles and establishing new habits and routines isn’t easy, so if this was a year of change, make sure you take time to reflect on your progress.
What areas can I improve?
As you’re looking ahead, identify some small, actionable steps you can take to improve areas that still bring challenges.
Progress and Achievements in Mental Well-being
Moving forward in your health journey requires you to constantly evolve, but establishing new habits and seeing the benefits of those changes doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to note your progress and celebrate your achievements in your mental well-being.
Journaling can be an effective way of recording your progress, but it can be difficult to know where to begin. Following some journal prompts and answering some wellness questions can give you an accurate idea of how much progress you’ve made over the past year. Some end-of-year reflection questions to consider include:
- What new social connections have you made, or how have you honored the relationships you have?
- What are some new ways you’ve learned to unwind?
- Is your sleep quality better this year compared to last year?
- Have you learned to set—and stick to—your boundaries?
- Have you taken the time to care for your physical health?
- Did you find opportunities to volunteer in your community or serve people around you?
- Do you take time to practice gratitude?
Challenges and Lessons Learned Throughout the Year
While it’s gratifying to reflect on your progress and achievements, the challenges you faced are what ultimately bring growth and development. With every obstacle you experienced, you had the opportunity to learn from your struggles and build resilience. An old African proverb serves as a reminder of this, stating, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”
The more opportunities we have to test what we’re capable of and to see our strength in difficult circumstances, the more we learn about ourselves. Maybe 2023 brought new job opportunities that came with challenging coworkers or managers, or maybe you had a setback in your mental health journey. Despite those challenges, you’ve pressed forward. Remembering how you overcame the challenges 2023 brought can give you the confidence you need to face whatever 2024 brings.
Setting Positive Intentions for the Upcoming Year
The new year offers a fresh opportunity to create the life you want. For about a third of U.S. adults, the new year inspires New Year’s resolutions. For most people, New Year’s resolutions are health-focused—nearly half of respondents in one survey vowing to exercise more and about four in 10 people committed to losing weight. Unsurprisingly, a lot of these resolutions are quickly forgotten, with one study showing that three months into the year, nine out of 10 people report that they’ve already given up on their goals.
Intentions are different in that they tend to be broader, encompassing multiple areas of life rather than just one. They allow for greater flexibility and room to discover what works best for your lifestyle. For example, instead of setting a resolution to lose weight, you may set an intention to prioritize your health. This may mean learning how to cook a few new dishes, going for more bike rides or hiking a more strenuous trail rather than your typical easy route.
The process of setting an intention is different from setting a resolution. You’re not setting firm goals; you’re establishing a new framework for your current lifestyle. Instead of coming up with some goals for the new year, start off by making two lists: a list of the top five things you value and a list of the top five things you enjoy.
The list of things you value may include:
- Helping other people
The list of things you enjoy may include:
- Bike rides
- Laidback weekend mornings
- Going for walks
Then, think of ways the two lists may overlap, and write out a few sentences to connect them. For example, you might write something like:
- I set aside time to watch fun movies with my family.
- When I travel, I spend time exploring new places on foot.
- I prioritize relaxation on the weekends.
- Your intentions act as gentle guides, rather than strict to-do lists, helping you put your time, money and energy toward the things that really matter to you. Post your intentions where you can see them often and look for ways to incorporate them into your routine.
The new year provides a great opportunity to look behind—at the challenges you faced and the victories you experienced—and ahead toward new ways to grow and opportunities to create the life you want to live.