I often encourage my students to reflect on their behaviors, evaluating the results of actions or behaviors before considering how to move forward in life. It’s the reflection, the evaluation, and the multiple attempts in learning where my students show the most growth. I even tell my students that I can’t get mad at them when they make poor choices because that’s what their developing brain does best. It pushes back, seeks new experiences, and bends the rules. Finding time for reflection is a great way to ensure that future performance is closer to what we’d hoped.
I consider myself a positive person who rises to new challenges, yet I have the receipts to prove that I have found the last 3 years particularly challenging. In a webinar for SHAPE America on self-care, I shared this slide (above) as proof that I have had to up my self-care game to keep my head above water.
Joey Feith reflects by identifying his stars and stairs, and Justin Schleider talks about glows and grows, but whatever you call it, intentionally considering the past before striding into the future is a great way to wrap up the year. Previously on the blog, I have shared reflection prompts, but in an attempt to model best practice and vulnerability, I will share my responses to the following ten prompts.
If you had to describe the past year in one word, what word would you choose? What events made you choose that word?
Hard. I could put a positive spin on that if you like and say it was challenging, but to be honest, it was tough, relentless, unyielding. This time last year, when writing my popular blog post on choosing refresh as my #OneWord22, I said, “I can REFRESH my social life by being more open to new experiences and saying yes when asked to try new things.” That led to me saying yes to coming out of basketball retirement and playing for a local team. I hoped I would be the 12th man on the bench, playing garbage minutes and reuniting me with the sport I played in college but from which I had taken a 14-year break. Well, the squad was smaller than I’d hoped, my body was slower than my brain remembered it being, my muscles ached more than they had since moving to America…..and I loved it! But, alas, game 2, final few minutes, and with no one near me, I stepped back and completely tore my Achilles tendon. The ensuing surgery, which got infected, required a second surgery, the PICC line, the 8 months of antibiotics, the 3 months off of work, and the continuing physical therapy have meant that THIS year, more than any other, has been the hardest I’ve known to date.
What were your achievements from the past year that made you most proud?
It has to be the way that I navigated my recovery. I worked hard to frame my expectations, and from week 1, I set long-term goals, knowing I was in this for the long haul. When a much younger, more energetic office mate tore his Achilles 4 weeks after mine, we helped each other through the recovery. We shared observations and rehab ideas, but not once did I get competitive (or dejected) when his recovery progressed more smoothly and more quickly than mine. On social media, I shared my #selfcaresession images, the activities that had helped me move towards recovery while also holding me accountable for being intentional about my efforts. I worked hard at focusing on all aspects of my recovery, particularly the mental side. I knew I’d make a full physical recovery, but I knew that a more significant challenge would be my mental health, as my identities as an athlete and an educator were in jeopardy.
Which events from the past year proved to be most challenging? How did you deal with them?
As you can guess, my injury was the most challenging part of my year, and as I mentioned earlier, my identities as an educator and athlete suffered the most. The severity of the surgeries (plural) meant that I could not drive and therefore commute to work for over 3 months. As a result, I missed my job, my students, and my daily routine. I needed to wrap my head around being out of action for a long time and having had ankle surgery 9 years ago, and learning from my mistake of returning to work too soon, I knew I had to be patient. Even now, 10 months after my initial Achilles surgery, when asked when I’ll be at 100%, I tell everyone that it won’t be until at least the end of this school year. It took two of my favorite soccer players over a season to return to action, and their recovery inspired me to set my long-term goal.
While my physical recovery was aided by excellent therapists at Athletico, I turned to the Calm app for my mental recovery. One of my favorite features of the app is the ‘Daily Jay’ with Jay Shetty. This is 50% meditation, 50% setting intentions, and 100% investment in me. Listening to Shetty’s daily message while administering antibiotics intravenously allowed me to stack two powerful habits. These habits allowed me to start my day with two health-enhancing practices before breakfast. Good behaviors developed from adversity. Do I wish that I hadn’t suffered my injury? Certainly, but if I hadn’t gotten injured, I wouldn’t have developed the skills that allowed me to overcome my situation.
In what ways did your life move closer toward the life for which you aim?
The pandemic led me to redirect my focus and my goals. For the longest time, I spread myself thin and tried to expand my circles of influence. I said yes to each invitation to travel the country and present at conferences and looked beyond what was really important to me – my family and the students that sat in front of me each day. Teaching remotely, then in a hybrid set-up, and eventually, the tentative return to in-person learning allowed me to see that the closest people to me were the most important. I tell my students that I want them to achieve the ‘A’ in life that they deserve. My ‘A’ is to live a long, healthy, and happy life surrounded by loved ones. This year saw me move closer to my family as they rallied around me when I could not move freely. I learned to embrace the assistance and support from others, having previously been someone who stubbornly disliked asking for help. This year also allowed me to develop patience. Lots of patience. Although I wouldn’t have been able to see it at the start of the year, I have become a better person because of the events of 2022.
What brought you joy this past year?
I have such a terrible memory. When asked, “how was your weekend?” I have difficulty remembering the past 48 hours, so I definitely turned to this hack to help remember the joyful moments from the year. I take a lot of photographs with my phone and only delete the ‘bad’ pictures. As a result, my photo album is full of many of my highlights from the past 12 months. Starting with January and scrolling forwards, I can see the many joyful moments I experienced.
I joyfully returned to basketball, the sport that shaped much of my earlier life. Although the return ended in injury, I’m glad my family was there to watch me play.
My sons playing sports fills me with joy every time I watch them from the sidelines. They are involved with great programs and have excellent coaches who have good values and the development of players at the heart of all that they do.
Visits to the city fill me with joy. Leaving London in 2008 was hard, but Chicago is a fantastic city. I enjoy being a tourist there with my family, taking great photos, eating great food, and checking out the seasonal attractions.
Travel brought me joy this summer. I hadn’t traveled much until I was in my 20’s, but now I love any opportunity to travel and experience new scenery, cultures, foods, etc. My family drove West to Wyoming and Idaho and visited three National Parks. My ankle had recovered enough to allow a little hiking and biking and for me to move freely for the first time in months.
Finally, my family fills me with joy. My wonderful parents, who I hadn’t seen since the pandemic started, visited me from England. Spending precious time with them and seeing them spending quality time with their grandchildren led to more than enough joy-filled photographs to fill a whole album.
As an aside, my December Book of the Month pick is Choose Joy by Sophie Cliff.
Who helped you grow over the past year?
The number 1 person on my list has to be my wife. I couldn’t have gotten through the past 12 months without her support. She was there for me every (tentative, painful, and limping) step of my recovery, and she often put my needs before hers. I am incredibly thankful to her for everything she does…and I need to tell her this more frequently.
My school was very supportive when I couldn’t drive to work. I am thankful that they found an experienced long-term sub who could take lesson planning and grading off of my hands. I acknowledge that I work in a unique school in a unique community and feel valued as a teacher. I am supported with my professional development needs and the autonomy given to me as a teacher. I am encouraged to take risks and to try new things in the classroom, which brings me to…
…my students. I am the teacher I am today because of my classroom’s many wonderful young adults. I know the future is bright because of them, and they are the inspiration behind my 2019 TEDx talk.
What caused you most stress and how did you cope with stressors?
Obviously, my injury was a significant stressor, and I was determined not to use the pain and immobility as an excuse to withdraw, become irritable, or develop unhealthy habits. Being conscientious of my self-care became a daily project. As someone who was very active on my Peloton bike, I was eager to try other fitness categories on offer. Meditation on the Peloton app and the Daily Jay on the Calm app were very effective in keeping me grounded, developing patience, and staying positive. As my physical recovery progressed, I did a lot of stretching and introduced myself to chair yoga! Looking at my #SelfCareSession image above, I am reminded that cooking new foods, listening to music, and reading also provided me with engaging distractions. Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the many people on social media who messaged me with words of encouragement. There were too many to mention, but know that each message and each social connection improved my mood and kept me positive.
How active were you during the past year? Were you as active as you planned to be?
Bahahahaha! But….when I was active, it felt so good. Taking the first step without using crutches was scary and exhilarating. ‘Running’ on the Alter G treadmill at 50% of my body weight made me feel like I was flying. Taking a walk in a swimming pool for the first time post-surgery let me know that I was moving in the right direction. My 30-minute hike and 90-minute bike ride in the Teton mountains was a highlight of the year. Since then, I’ve had my first ‘proper’ Peloton ride, and I can even ‘run’ upstairs.
I will never take movement for granted again. This blog post is about looking back, but when it comes to setting a goal for next year, I can look at my Peloton stats and use them as the baseline for next year’s activity goals.
In what ways did you positively impact those around you?
I’m figuring out how to answer that question. I hope my family felt loved and supported by me throughout the year. My students give me fantastic feedback, and they appreciate my efforts in providing them with engaging and effective instruction. I attended my first in-person conference in 18 months when I traveled to the awesome MNSHAPE event, and the messages of thanks from attendees reminded me why I love to share my work with other educators. I volunteered in my community, gave my time freely to coach youth sports, and supported several charities. My lack of certainty as to whether I have impacted others reminds me that I should acknowledge the efforts of those who have impacted me.
If you were handed a re-do, what would you change from last year?
Wow. Would I choose not to say yes to the offer of joining a basketball team? If I hadn’t ruptured my Achilles in game 2, would I have ruptured it another time? In a PhysEd class? Playing with my sons? As I wrote earlier, “do I wish I hadn’t suffered my injury? Certainly, but if I hadn’t gotten injured, I wouldn’t have developed the skills that allowed me to overcome my situation.” These past 12 months have been frustrating. Not moving quicker than a fast limp, being unable to move freely, changing direction easily, and still feeling weak and painful in the ankle has been a constant reminder that I’m getting old. This has been a continual reminder to be thankful for all that I have in life.
It’s time to look forward, set goals and make sure I get the most from the gift that is the next twelve months, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
How will you reflect on the past 12 months? What prompts do you use?
If you’re looking for additional resources, in 2019 the Calm blog shared this Holiday Journal, a mix of practical mindfulness tips and contemplation prompts to cultivate more peace and joy https://cal.mn/holiday You might also like Jay Shetty’s 2021 podcast episode in which he reflects on his year.
Sophie Cliff, the author of our latest Book of the Month selection Choose Joy: Relieve Burnout, Focus on Your Happiness, and Infuse More Joy into Your Everyday Life also has a great podcast, and this episode will also be useful as you plan for next year.
Check out the Book of the Month selections for the past year.
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