What went well last year?

Hopefully after your first task of picking your theme tune for the year, you’ll be in the mood for another pleasant activity. Today’s job requires up to an hour of your time.

To prepare you’ll need either paper and pens, or a computer or laptop, or your phone. You might also need your (paper or electronic) diary and access to social media. You’ll definitely need sustenance! I suggest some leftover holiday chocolates, mince pies and a cup of tea, but it’s up to you. You may want to play some relaxing or uplifting music while you work.

Once you’re ready it’s time to think back over the past twelve months and make a list of all the things you are most proud of.  Given we’ve been living through a pandemic and you may have experienced losses and hardships due to Covid or other reasons, this task may feel challenging or even potentially upsetting. If you need mental health support there is advice at Every Mind Matters, which you may want to read now, or use throughout #ResearcherRenew and the coming year.

If you’re not sure what to put on your list, here are some prompts to help you focus on the last year

  • What things (big or small) did you enjoy?
  • Was there anything you were dreading that turned out to be okay?
  • What milestones (big or small) did you hit that made you happy?
  • What other lovely things did you do for yourself – or did others do for you?
  • Did you persist at something even though it seemed too difficult at the start?
  • How about quitting a task that just wasn’t working, saying no, or maintaining boundaries?

All of this counts!

Other things you may consider are times when you helped another person with their work or their worries. When you planned something even if it didn’t come to fruition. Where you attempted something for the first time, or where you achieved something you previously believed you were not equal to.

You may want to look back across all of the last year, noting specific events or achievements by month. Or you may prefer to focus on key areas – for example your written work; further study; mentoring, volunteering or activism and note what you achieved there. Life might have given you opportunities, or indicated key abilities and strengths you never knew you had. Or you may just be glad to still be here.

If other people gave you compliments or noted something you got done, then add this to your list as well.  You get to decide what goes on your list, so don’t just focus on ‘big wins’. In fact the smaller things might be as important as those might not be so dramatic or memorable but they may have made life bearable.

Once you start you may remember other things, or over the coming weeks remember stuff you’d not included. It’s fine to keep updating your list (and remember if any of this belongs on your CV to update that accordingly, noting a lot of this isn’t necessarily relevant to your CV but is important to you and makes you feel good so is important to acknowledge).

Ways to take this forward in the coming year
Looking back is great, but noting progress prospectively can help you feel more in control of your situation and also give you ideas to focus on if you are looking to make any changes to your home or working life. It can also make it easier to recall positive activities and events so next year you’ll have more lovely things to be glad about.

Here are some ideas you might want to try

  • Create a list or folder (aka your #FeelgoodFolder) you save on your computer or phone to look back on when you feel in need of a pick me up. And to ensure you don’t forget key things you need in order to promote yourself!
  • Write a card or post-it note when you’ve done something you’re happy about and stick it where you can see it.
  • Make yourself a certificate (like the one at the top of this post) you can fill in and give yourself.
  • Make a collage or cartoon of your key achievements.
  • Find images online that represent your best bits of the year and keep them in a folder, or add to Instagram or Pinterest.
  • Share your list with friends, particularly people that really ‘get’ you. Enjoy your milestones together. Or if it’s tricky to write nice things for yourself, write nice things to each other recalling the things you’ve managed in the past year.

There are more ideas on how to do this in Chapter Seven of Being Well In Academia: ways to feel stronger, safer and more connected.

If you found this task difficult
It may be because you’re assuming you can only participate if you’re putting super big stuff down. It’s fine to note anything you did that gladdened your heart. If it did, it is worth celebrating. It doesn’t have to only be based on something you’ve written or that comes with funding, or that your organisation deems important. In fact the more things you can add that aren’t ‘official successes’ or ‘work accomplishments’ the better, particularly if you’re between jobs or work outside universities or industry.

The reason for doing this task is to note just how much we do and how often we fail to give ourselves credit.  This can be those things we never notice and are not related to career progression – doing a neighbour’s shopping, checking in regularly with shielding/isolating friends and relatives, or trying a new hobby or sport also count!

If you’re already working within disadvantage due to racism; ableism; financial hardship; job precarity; chronic mental or physical illness; Homo, Bi or Transphobia; or any intersections of these then note this as your starting point. If these barriers may have had an impact on your life and work in the past year you may understandably want to focus on what you didn’t achieve or how you were obstructed or hurt. It is okay to be rightfully angry about this, and later in this month we’ll focus more on your rights and wellbeing. For today if you can acknowledge these hardships while also noting you’re facing more obstacles than your peers and still getting stuff done or just simply surviving, that may build your confidence. Again, use those mental health resources listed above if you have been especially disadvantaged or are living with trauma.

You may also find this challenging if you are someone that finds it difficult to begin or end a task or sustain activities. Being asked to think about what went well in this context can leave you feeling a lot of shame. So don’t measure yourself by other people’s standards – or ticking off lists or goals. Instead note other ways that you got things done, where you helped others, or managed to do something (however small) that was more than you expected of yourself, or found yourself enjoying your work or studies.

If you cannot think of anything that went well last year it might be a sign things were particularly challenging or bleak. Or it might be you are struggling with depression or burnout, or are unsupported in your workplace. It may be this activity reminds you that you need to speak to your doctor, join a union, create a support network, or call a helpline. Or tells you that moving forward with hope might be the message you need to heed. The next year holds a lot of possibilities you can look forward to exploring.

For the coming year
There may have been things you did in over the past twelve months you’ve forgotten about, or perhaps didn’t note at the time. I’d recommend keeping a diary or ‘happiness jar’ throughout this year so next January you can look back at all the good things you did.

A happiness jar involves writing on scraps of paper good things that you enjoyed or achieved across the year. Alternatively you can do this digitally in notes or a folder on your phone. It’s important not to restrict yourself to limited things like getting a paper published or applying for funding. But to broaden out to things like ‘enjoying the audience clapping after I gave my first conference paper’, ‘getting around to finishing off that paper’, ‘giving my first lecture’, or ‘helping a colleague finally understand something they’ve struggled with’. You might want to use different colour pens and decorate each piece of paper you put in the jar. At the end of the year take them out, spread them on the table and take photos celebrating you. Here’s a photo of my jar from a few of years ago.

All that, however, is for another day. For today take stock, and take pride in yourself.  Feel free to share any achievements you’re comfortable with either over on Threads using the hashtag #ResearcherRenew or on LinkedIn Tell us what you did that gave you most joy!

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.