Take a moment – yes right now – to close your eyes and reflect. What are some achieved goals, those special past-year highlights? In what ways was this a great year? If that sort of question seems strange to you, it might just be because it’s out of the cultural norm; “New Year’s resolution”, anyone? A lot of New Year's messaging is about intentions, goals, and the like: lose five pounds, read more, get more organized, do more cardio, learn another language. The dance world certainly partakes in that end-of-year, change-oriented focus.

There's a lot that's positive about all of that! It can inspire us to reflect and get clear, for ourselves, on how we can work towards positive growth in our lives. Yet what if we also reflected on what's gone well: growth we've achieved, milestones we've experienced, our recent accomplishments and special memories? What if we celebrated things about ourselves and what we do – those things that we're proud of and want to capitalize on?

Enjoy the memories. And don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back a bit.

Apart from creating some feel-good brain chemicals, such a perspective can be empowering. It can remind us of what we’re capable of, and what further growth we can experience. We’ve encountered some wonderful things, we’ve done wonderful things – and the best may be yet to come!

Here are a few practices that dancers can try around the New Year for that celebratory reflection. Enjoy a stroll down Memory Lane, with landmarks of possibility abounding.

Yearly highlights: scrolling, skimming, strolling through the memories

We may create more records of our accomplishments and good memories than we may realize: in planners, journals, and our social media feed. Skimming and scrolling through all of that from the past year can bring great reminders of what we’ve done over the last 365 days: rehearsals, classes, performances, auditions, travels, dance-adjacent or even dance-unrelated creative explorations, books we’ve read, friends we’ve seen, family events – the list goes on. Try to savor all of the memories as you go through all of that; take your time, if you have it!

One may very well do that for hours, depending on how much of a record of the past year they’ve kept – yet it could take as little as a half hour to an hour (yes, December into early January can be quite the hectic time). This sort of practice can be as individual as we are! Timing indeed could be a concern, and you might know that you would be one to get swept away in a task to then lose track of time. If so, setting an alarm can be helpful.

All of that could even come with some helpful organization of our personal spaces; we all know how easy it can be to stuff show programs or used notebooks in a drawer, especially when we’re particularly busy. As you organize, you might even find little treasures that you had completely forgotten about (probably my personal favorite thing that can happen when organizing my space!).

Journal exercise: focus on the positives

After doing the above, you may very well be moved to reflect further. Journaling – whether through lists, paragraph blocks, or less structured free writing – can be helpful for that. Some people can just write, and some people benefit from prompts. Either way, these could be helpful questions to inspire, shape, and color your writing:

  1. What were some meaningful lessons and breakthroughs (technical, artistic, personal, et cetera) from the past 365 days?
  2. With one or more significant events from the year – a tour, a mainstage season, getting a big job, a special project you did: How did it feel? Who did you connect with? How did you grow? What did you learn that you’ll really bring forward with you?
  3. What were some notable shifts of perspective and epiphanies that you may have experienced?
  4. What previous goals, those that you had at this time last year, did you meet? How did you do so? How can you use any or all of that to meet your upcoming year’s goals?
  5. How might you be able to build upon this year’s accomplishments (any or all of), and any shifts of directions that occurred and/or “leveling-up” that you did? How can you go even further?

Discussion: two (or more) brains are better than one

Some people are auditorily-inclined: learning and experiencing more fully through auditory means (listening, speaking, discussion). Particularly for those people, but perhaps for everyone, talking with friends and colleagues about the past year could be an effective way to reflect on significant accomplishments and experiences.

That discussion could happen organically: for example, talk turning towards the topic on a phone call or coffee chat. It could also be planned, such as scheduling a call or meet-up with a friend or colleague who’d also like to talk over the treasures of the past year – specifically for the purpose of doing just that. That might seem a little hokey, but it could feel good and bring productive reflection; if it works, it works!

Such discussion could be done one-on-one or in a small group. Again, customize this strategy to make it work for you. Additionally, many of the guidelines of looking through records of the past year, as well as journaling about it, also apply here. If you have it, take your time. If you do have a hard time constraint, set a timer.

How did your achieved goals feel? What human connections did you make? How did you grow, as an artist and as a person, and how does that match up with your one-year-old goals? What can you take forward, to help you keep moving towards your goals and visions? Enjoy the memories. And don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back a bit! Humility is a wonderful trait, but like anything else, we can take it too far.

Lastly with this strategy, as you talk with a friend or colleague, share as well as listen. Celebrate your accomplishments as well as your discussion partner’s. The best joys can truly be the ones that we share.

We do deserve to celebrate the good things: the lessons, the growth, the fun times.

As noted, all or any of the above can be as individual as you are: mix, match, and shape your reflection practice as best serves you, to the best of your awareness and knowledge. Also to note: such celebratory reflection doesn’t need to come at the cost of more growth-centered reflection practice (focused on goals, intentions, “New Year’s resolutions”); to the extent that your time, and mental space allows, you can do them both! They are not mutually exclusive – and in fact, they could complement each other.

You might also remember the less pleasant experiences as you reflect, and that’s okay. We can make space for challenging thoughts, emotions, and memories, too. Yet we do deserve to celebrate the good things: the lessons, the growth, the fun times, the awe-inspiring experiences.

Sometimes it’s a matter of intentional perspective-shift, of actually choosing to focus on the positive (while not denying that the hard things also exist). The New Year can then feel full of possibility; we achieved so much in the past year, why won’t we again in the next one? We can. We will. The sky’s the limit. Go get it! 

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