By Monica McCoy, founder of Monica Motivates
Much attention will be given over the next few weeks to setting new year’s resolutions. A study by YouGov noted that young people – the drivers of change – are most likely to be setting goals for 2023. Often these centre on personal development, but also career progression and diversifying skills.
This is great. But what does it mean without context? We push ourselves continually to do improve, to find fault in our work and to set increasingly challenging goals. This may give life purpose and direction, but is lacking without a proper understanding of the past. All too often, we are overly critical of ourselves without celebrating our successes. And if we hope to continue to see the sense in self-improvement, we owe it to ourselves to take pride in our wins and to reap the rewards of our labour.
A to-do list is rewritten every day and forgotten. A ‘done’ list lets you review progress made and milestones hit. This information is valuable context for analysing your growth. Whether for the benefit of stakeholders or oneself, understanding the rate of progress – by looking to the past – is key to managing the future.
Cognitive reappraisal is a term that means focusing on what you have accomplished, rather than what you have left to complete. Psychologists may use cognitive reappraisal exercises to reframe events and challenge how we view past experiences.
The aim is not to whitewash what has happened, but to motivate a positive and forward-looking outlook. Rather than looking at an overwhelming to-do list, you broaden your perspective to include what you have done, and the wider context makes what’s left seem more accessible.
Big, abstract goals often feel out of reach – especially when set on 1 January without an action plan for how to achieve them or a clear sense of where you are starting from. Hence, before you commit to meeting clients five times a week, sit and analyse how much time you were able to dedicate last year. What were the best experiences, and how did you perform at your best?
Cognitive reappraisal helps you see the bigger picture, but crucially in a way that empowers you with a sense of agency and momentum. This skill ultimately translates into a mastery of future to-do lists, better time management and lower levels of stress.
As important as it is to analyse and evaluate our successes to set us up for better things, it is just as important to appreciate how far we have come for its own sake. It is easy to get wrapped up in grading systems and Duolingo streaks with clear, measurable progress reports. Business demands it: what good is a piece of work unless we have a clear and valid measure of value?
But life takes many turns and it is healthy to be able to reflect on how far up the pitch you have moved the ball, even if the goalposts keep moving. Supporting others in their goals is worthy of acknowledgement, even when it does not have a clear ROI. So for all that can said for putting goals in context, the end of the year is also a good time to reflect on the decisions that make you you, regardless of whether they contributed to some higher goal. An unchecked drive to work and meet targets can distract us from the important things in life that are often inherently harder to measure: how much time did you spend with friends and family, or reading books with no immediate application? Can we also say this time was well spent?
Big outcomes are not everything, and the winter months – when people come together and celebrate life and community for its own sake – are the perfect time to reflect on that.
Sweat the small stuff
There is professional value, too, in putting a done list into words. A done list provides the basis of a Summary of Accomplishments (SOA) or a formal review that can be used later to justify career advancement at work.
The little things add up. At a six-month review, it is easy to jot down all of the obvious big successes. But this fails to capture the journey taken to reach those big wins. Revisiting a done list gives you the opportunity to track your thinking over a period of time as you wrestled to make a process more efficient or real a goal. A note of the things you completed and then realised were wrong is as valuable as a list of all the things that turned out right. By demonstrating to your boss that you have ended the year more wisened than when you started, you present yourself as a conscientious and diligent member of the team.
Start by writing down everything you do in a typical day without a filter. When you recognise how much work goes into your job and commitments, you see achievements big and small and your role in making them happen.
The year 2022 may have been filled with growth and good news; it may have been a particularly trying time. In any case, your efforts deserve to be acknowledged for all they were worth. Take time to consider how your thinking has evolved in the last year and to reflect on what really matters in the grand scheme of things.