Psychology Addict # 65 | Self-Awareness: Investigating the Past & Making New Year’s Resolutions.

in #psychologylast year (edited)

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It is that time of the year when even those who are not very fond of planning take a moment to make resolutions. It is that time of the year when even those who refuse to revisit the past reflect on bygone events. I don’t know how you feel about this. Personally, I greatly believe in setting goals, and I also think that occasionally ‘going back in time’ can be an invaluable tool towards building self-awareness.

Why is Self-Awareness Relevant? You might ask.

Through self-awareness we get in touch with our standards and values, something which consequently helps us make sense of our own world views. This is important because the way we perceive others and the world shapes how we think, feel and behave. For example, if one mostly sees life as unjust and believe their fellow humans are not worthy of trust, they will probably nurture bitterness and suspiciousness. Contrarily, if one has an overall hopeful perspective, chances are that they’ll adopt a more open, respectful stance towards people and the socio-environment.

Oftentimes, psychological distress stem from the assumptions our views give rise to, and our views are essentially shaped by our past experiences. Experiences that build a frame of reference within which we act and react under the influence of particular values, memories and suppositions. However, if this frame of reference becomes narrow and dictatorial, problems may arise. This is why it is key to develop the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed (e.g. painful past events) and the determination to change those that are changeable (e.g. yours perceptions, yourself). The wisdom to know the difference between the two, I believe, comes with self-awareness.

Awareness of The Past & Self – Evaluation.

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While some people love reminiscing about the past (my father-in-law is like that), others rarely go there (I’m like that). Obviously, nothing in extreme is beneficial. But, at the same time I encourage people to mainly focus on the now and the future, no one can deny that our pasts can inform us about the ways we can make our present and future unfold in a more positive, constructive fashion.

For instance, upon taking a moment to reflect on a recent specific situation when one of your imperfections dominated the plot and things went sour - you know : when you overspent, procrastinated or ruminated – you give yourself the chance to ponder about how you could’ve behaved differently in that given event. From there you can think of how this or that specific imperfection can be tackled more generally in order to be avoided in the future.

Similarly, it is essential that we engage in this sort of self-evaluation when it comes to our goodness. Thinking back of instances where the positive aspects of who we are improved our existence and that of others puts us in touch with our virtues, with our strengths – that last time you forgave someone, or recently when you just felt so grateful for what you have. ✰ How can these aspects come forth more often? ✰ What was your state of mind when they surfaced?

It is by means of this sort of introspection that we gain some wisdom and become aware of who we really are. Sure, it is not an easy task. Still, the possible negative emotions this practice may prompt should be used to propel your movement forward towards that desired future-self. Also, keep in mind that the most constructive way to face the past which we dread and loathe is through doing it of our own accord.

The Now & The Future.

We all differ in our understanding of when the present moment ends and the future starts [1]. Some of us, for example, think of the now as a narrow window in the continuum of time that’s sharply divided from the lengthy future ahead. Others, look at that same continuum and see the present moment as a long period that leaves little space for a distant future that seamlessly blends with the now [2].

This kind of understanding/perception considerably influences our self-regulation and the way we navigate through life [3]. In a way that can either maximize or minimize our physical, psychological and social well-being. If tomorrow never comes, it’s difficult to delay gratification. In the same way it’s harder to chillax if the future is just around the corner.

But once again: nothing in extreme is beneficial. And when it comes to the life that lays ahead of us, matters should be taken with earnest. I’ve come across various individuals who believe in a more spontaneous approach to living. Their premise is that by being concerned about the future one neglects the present. I respectfully disagree. For, I don’t see it as an ‘either-or’ situation. It is possible to both enjoy the present and plan for the future. Plus, having a direction to follow, a goal to pursue calms the mind.

Calming Down the Mind.

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In 1818 Walton wrote, on a letter to his sister, ‘nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose, a point in which the soul may fix its eye’. In the letter Walton says that his purpose dispelled his agitations and made his heart glow with enthusiasm [4]. Centuries before that the Stoic philosopher Seneca stated: ’Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view’, as he questioned, ‘how will you know what to do day-after-day, otherwise?’[5].

How much control people think they have (over their particular situations and overall life) is a key determinant on how stressed/anxious they feel [6]. Irrespective of our perception of where the present ends and the future starts it’s important that we feel we’re in charge, at least to a certain degree, of what happens to us. A simple way to achieve this is through structuring our daily lives as a means to meet short and long-term future goals. Psychologists have observed that just by following a structured daily routine (e.g. having a timetable to wake up in the morning and having meals) patients’ levels of anxiety drop to sub-clinical levels [7].

And, of course, when our mind is less anxious or stressed we obtain more clarity to decide what we want to achieve, we gain more lucidity to direct our path. Subsequently, we know what to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to, we realise when we’ve lost our way, and ultimately, we have a track to get back to.

The Stoics didn’t say that we’re guaranteed to meet our goals by merely setting them. They did, however, warn people about the ‘oblivion of directionless’ - a state which brings a sense of meaninglessness and successive defeats to individuals’ lives.

So, to which direction are you moving towards?

✰ What habits would you like to abandon? ✰ Which ones would you like to adopt? ✰ What are your future ambitions? ✰ How can you improve your relationships (with your children, spouse, siblings)? ✰ What would you like to learn (to cook, about yourself)? ✰ What will you do to relax (blog, watch movies) & when? ✰How can you live a healthier lifestyle?

What is your new year’s resolution? 😊


Image source: 1, 2, 3.

Reference List:

1,2,3 Hershfield, H. E., & Maglio, S. J. (2019). When does the present end and the future begin? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol.148, No. 12 [Online]. Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-54571-001

4 Shelley, M. [1818] (2018) Frankenstein, New York, Penguin.

5 Holiday, R. & Hanselman, S. (2016), The daily Stoic - 366 Meditations on wisdom, perseverance and the art of living, New York, Penguin.

6 Glass, D. C., & Singer, J. E. (1973). Experimental studies of uncontrollable and unpredictable noise. Representative Research in Social Psychology, Vol.4, No.1, pp. 165–183.

7 Peterson, J. (2018) 12 Rules for life: an antidote to chaos, Canada, Random House.


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Thank you, my dear reader, for everything! It has been a while and I sure missed writing for my Steemit blog. Life often gets in the way (but I’m grateful for that 😊)! Still, I couldn’t see the end of 2019 without wishing you all Happy Holidays & a New Year filled with peace of mind & good health. I wish only the best to each one of you with much love, always <3

Ps: I’ll post again only next year. But, until then, I will be stopping by whenever I can to read your work :)

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Hello!
At the beginning of your piece, where you were talking about self-reflection, I had a recent fight with one of my sisters in mind. We did our usual nonsense: she said "you don't trust me" or some such (which is true) and I said "no, I don't." which I always do. Then she had her hissy fit and hung up. Totally unproductive and hurtful as always. I need to learn to recognize when she is trying to trigger me to accuse her of some horrible thing (and she's horrible but that's beside my point right now) and take a moment to consider my response, knowing not to respond at all could be one of my choices. to say "I don't understand this." could have been another. Saying "no I think you are a lying piece of shit" (paraphrased) is never a good choice. But it is so hard to break the patterns we have solidified over these past 62 years, since the day of her birth probably! It takes a will and an awareness that require self-reflection every single time it happens. Hopefully next time (if we ever speak to each other again) I won't take the bait.
I disagree that a daily schedule helps. I've found this advice to be both ubiquitous and harmful for some. Any parent of a newborn, for instance, can attest that to try to enforce a daily schedule causes more stress than relief.
As for living in the present, I myself try to cherish each moment in whatever way I can, even those moments that are filled with grief and terror, knowing that joy is always always always within reach. But goals, however small, once met make those moments much brighter and can definitely give meaning to the now. I'm thinking now of a particularly difficult period of time in my life when my guiding principle was "how can I navigate this problem today so that my the lives of my children are disrupted the least." It was a comfort to have that principle to guide me, and turned out to help me enormously in making decisions. This was an amorphous but solid goal. I believe that making my decisions based on the needs of others also helped me to see outside of my own misery at that time.
It is always a pleasure to read and react to your posts. I am so glad I happened upon this one in time!

Hey @owasco <3

Great comment. So honest! As always.

It pleased so much to hear this post made you reflect about a recent episode when things could have been carried out in a less upsetting, more productive way. I do hope you and your sister talk again. And you are so right. When situations have become a habit they are that little bit harder to change. But, armed with the info one obtains from self-reflection + the will to set things straight, old habits can always be replaced by new (positive) ones.

It is true that in some cases actually trying to follow a daily schedule might even bring more stress to some people. Your example of looking after a new-born is an important one. Especially for mums experiencing postpartum depression. Trying to follow a schedule here could be counter productive!

I do think of daily plans as steps to greater goals and a means to enable people to experience the present moment more fully. This is, however, a highly subject aspect of life. And I think the illustration you made here with your very personal example is a touching one. A principle that guided you through your troubles in the now in order to achieve overall piece.

I like to think of this sort of approach to life as 'compound interest'. Adopt it month in, month out and when one least expects .... a year's passed and tranquility has been reestablished. Giving us the chance to objectively measure the extent of our self-development :)

Thank you for meaningfully stopping by once again dear @owasco. I wish you Happy Holidays & an upcoming year filled with good-health, tranquility and many, many smiles.

Abigail :)

I wish the very same for you Dear Abigail.

Welcome back Abbey

But, at the same time I encourage people to mainly focus on the now and the future

I totally agree with you here. There's no amount of focus we give to the past that will undo what has been done. This is why we need to focus on what we have the power to change; which is the present and the future.
This does not overrule the fact that we can draw lessons from the past to make for a better future.

Coming to the area of new year resolution: I wonder how many people even stick to their new year resolution after the first few weeks into the new year :) 😃
We shouldn't wait for new year to make resolutions. We can do that anytime. Even when we fall short, we can restart again and again till we hit it, and not waiting till new year (My opinion though).

Nice piece again Abbey. Much love and season's compliment from Naija

Well said:
This is why we need to focus on what we have the power to change; which is the present and the future. This does not overrule the fact that we can draw lessons from the past to make for a better future.

That's a hard balance, but worthy--not to feel the burden of the past, but to learn from it.

Good morning Sammi! :D

I did think of a couple of your posts while I was writing the past section for this piece :) You serve as inspiration Sammi! <3 I remembered how you mentioned something in the lines that our energies should be placed on that which we have control over: the present & the future. Not the past!

Thank you for highlighting the fact that we can always make resolutions. This is important advice indeed. It's encouraging and kind.

I am glad you liked this post Sammi.
Also, thank you for all the kindness you directed at me throughout 2019 :)

Much love to you from rainy Portugal.
Happy Holidays & a 2020 filled with prosperity and smiles!

It has always been my honour. Stay blessed Abbey

2019 is not the best year for me, but next year will be better.

This:

when our mind is less anxious or stressed we obtain more clarity to decide what we want to achieve, we gain more lucidity to direct our path.

True!

Also about the acceptance of things that cannot be change and determination to change those that are changeable, this is the key of happiness. (I’ve just finish reading Sisifus by Camus and find that your post is very relatable in this matter).

So, thank you for sharing this. :)

It looks like we're both drawn to existentialism! There are many parallels between Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus and the message conveyed by the Stoics: How (and why) to live with dignity and truthfulness in a world that lacks meaning and predictability? These are important questions to ask.

It pleases very much you found some value in this post, thank you for taking the time to let me know about it. I must say I respect your resilience 'next year will be a better year, despite the hiccups this one brought!'. That's the spirit! :) I wish you a great 2020.

All the best,
Abigail.

Yes, those questions are really important to ask, and we will always searching for that meaning as we live. Funny how those questions reminds me of people from my calm and warm hometown in Jogjakarta. I’ll be there for Christmas, and meet that peaceful community, where people live with truthfulness, dignity and happy. Maybe not rich by financial or monetary standard, but happy and full.

I wish you have a great Christmas and New Year too.
Warm regards from Jakarta.

Thank you for your very good post! Unfortunately i am not good enough in speaking english, for there is one point i want to talk about. I try it with my words hoping there will not be any missunderatnding. ;-)
I think there is only the now. That is the point where we have the power...
the power to react
the power to make plans
the power to learn from the past
the power to communicate with others or with myself or with god roe example
the power of feeling myself in all dimensions
the power of reflecting situations, occasions...
the power for a change
the power for the first step - into another "now" which determines the next steps - therefore plans could be made, but remaining lively (not static) ...
every now can bring me the same goal (maybe a little bit different like yesterday) - so i agree with you that a goal is a good thing, but it is not in the future - there could happen so many things that i now can't see.... I don't know the future - the past is gone (giving me experiences and "wisdom") - there is only this "NOW". Every step starts from the now...
I hope you understand what i was thinking about... Best regards Kadna

Good morning @kadna :D

It's nice to see you around. Also, you have made yourself perfectly clear :) Great reflection about the past as a provider of experience and wisdom, excellent observation about making 'non-static' plans. Very well put. Flexibility is an essential element for psychological well-being! Good point about the future, about the uncertainty of it. I think it's this very uncertainty, the so many possibilities that may unfold that prompts us to turn to plans (plans gives us a sense of control).

But, as you emphasized: it can only be all executed in the now. No one can dispute that the now is our forum for action!

Your understanding remind me very much of E. Tolle's ideas. I bought his book The Power of Now a few months ago. I like his concept of 'clock time' (the use of time for the practical aspects of life).

He says (p. 66):

If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time. You are aware of where you want to go, but you honor and give your fullest attention to the step you are taking at this moment.

I like that line very much :)

I'm glad you enjoyed reading this post @kadna, and I truly appreciate the valuable information you took the time to share here with us. You have reminded us of something very important: of being mindful!

Merry Christmas & all the best to you,
Abigail.

Thank you for your nice reply and for Tolle's words. I like them too. ;-)

Merry Christmas - enjoy the moment(s) ;-) Kadna

My dear Abigail,
A delight to read your gentle words here.
I related especially to your discussion of control, and chuckled as I recalled my behavior when I sense that I'm about to be ill: I clean. This gives a sense of control. It's calming. When my husband sees me cleaning with particular vigor he worries and asks if I feel alright :))

This is such a thoughtful blog, not one I will digest and put aside. Much to think about. I relate this to some of your earlier blogs, especially the one about guilt. We have to let go... forgive ourselves and others.

Your wisdom is received and welcomed because you offer it without judgment. We are fallible, but that's Ok. The idea is to move forward. Not to be obsessed with our faults, but to address them consciously.

Reading advice that is given with such generous goodwill not only gives me something to think about, but also lifts my heart. I'm reminded of the goodness in others.

Thanks for taking the time to write this seasonal/end-of-year essay. It was well worth the time and effort it cost you, at least to this reader.

With great affection and respect,
AG

It is wonderful to start my day with your beautifully written words my dear @agmoore2 :)

We all have our peculiar ways to feel we're in control, don't we? I have a constant necessity to have things clean and in order, at all times. And, although I am getting a little more flexible I still have a long way to go 😌 Your husband seems observant and thoughtful. Mine is like that too <3

Thank you for always being fully present and for always kindly engaging with my work here on the platform @agmoore2. Having you as my reader makes my blogging time and my experience here all the more enjoyable and meaningful. Steemit is a place of friendship, kindness and affection indeed (as you once pointed out!). And your presence and actions on the platform are evidence of that :)

Much love always & forever all the way from Portugal :*

Hello Abigail,

Nice to find your gracious response this morning as I wake up with coffee. Yes, my husband is observant. We are rather tuned to each other, as is usually the case after so many years. Plus, he loves me :)

I appreciate your kind words to me, but I think kindness, even more than wisdom, characterizes your blogs--and your comments. Sometimes, when I read your responses, I take a deep breath and remember to be patient with life. You lead by example.

I wish you health, peace, joy and fulfillment in the year ahead.

Love, from your friend across the sea,
AG

Thank you for this wonderful read Abigail! Have a blessed and joyful December!

Posted using Partiko iOS

I wish the same to you too @konen22 :) as well as a very prosperous & peaceful 2020. Thank you for stopping by and for resteeming my work <3

Best,
Abigail.

Hello Abigail ! Long time no see .. :-)
I thought to check if you are still here or not.. but i am glad you are here ! :-)
I just returned to steemit a few days ago after a short break.
Anyways , i am happy and i hope to see you around!
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Hey Agnes :D It's wonderful to see you're still around. We all need (or are forced to) take a break from the platform from time to time. Aren't we? :)Thank you for thinking of me. I hope everything is fine over there with your studio, work, the animals and your husband!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all <3

Yes Abigail, everything is great here, i am almost in my studio! And then i can finally "explode" in my creativity ! :-)
You too have a lovely season, and GREAT NEW YEAR !
Much love to you!


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