As the year comes to an end, we often find ourselves reflecting upon the previous months. In 2020, many people’s lives will have focussed upon keeping themselves and their families safe and well in the midst of the COVID pandemic. This kind of work – caring, protecting and maintaining contact with others – is often considered to be ‘women’s work’. It can easily be unseen and overlooked. Although we know this work to be important and vital to the wellbeing of our families and to the wider community, its lack of acknowledgement can leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled, that we have not achieved anything.
Talking to others is a way of making this work more visible and others can give further reflections upon the events we discuss. Finding others to trust who are affirming and non-judgmental is important. It is not helpful to be told that we should have behaved differently when we are already feeling unhappy about a situation!
When confidantes are hard to find, or even alongside this conversation, reflective writing offers us a tool to review a period of time within the quietness and privacy of the page for ourselves. Journal or diary writing is one of the most common ways of reflecting upon a day or week or longer. Daily journaling offers a means of recording events, responses, thoughts, feelings, creative ideas and plans. Less regular journaling, such as weekly accounts, can be useful but may be less immediate – memories tend to be inaccurate and coloured by others’ accounts over time. Often, we may feel that nothing of great importance occurred, or we may not have a lot of time for writing. In those situations, we can use a simple line prompt to record our day by completing the sentence:
It was …… (weather, time, place etc.)
I heard … (noise, sound)
S/he said … (event dialogue)
We discussed … (nature of discussion /event)
I felt … (your feelings)
We did … (activity/ decisions)
I thought … (your thoughts then)
Now… (your thoughts, feelings, ideas now – after the event)
By completing these lines, we can provide a brief account of a time in our own words that will capture events, feelings and moods of the time. It also brings us into the present so that we can move forward, rather than become stuck in the past or hold onto regretful feelings.
This type of reflective practice can also be used to build self-esteem by recording the day’s events in an evening review. The evening review can be completed at any time towards the end of the day and the writer then reviews the day by looking backwards and recording at least 3 things that we have achieved that day. These may be externally acknowledged life achievements e.g.
I passed my driving test
I was promoted at work
I completed my studies
Or they may be life achievements that are most important to us:
Today I got out of bed and showered.
I walked to the end of the street and back.
I played a game with my daughter for 30 minutes.
In this way, we can always remind ourselves that every day we have achieved something of value.
Looking forward, we can use the reflective pieces to improve ways we might deal with things in the future. Here, we use the term reflexivity to describe ways we can change the future through these reflections when we feel we are ready to do so.
One useful way to begin this is to underline or highlight achievements listed in our daily (or weekly) records by marking those events we most enjoyed or are most proud of – even if they mean little to other people. We can then look at ways of building more of the activities or behaviours that make us feel good and satisfied.
For example, we can plan to set aside some time in the day to repeat one of the ‘feel good’ behaviours e.g. walking to the end of the street. Or we could work with others to help us achieve that by arranging to go for a walk together. It is useful to have the support of others when making these positive changes and makes some of the changes e.g. walking or exercise, very much easier to complete when you are building a habit.
When we are working with others, these simple self-care measures are also important. It is easy to let others to take over our lives and to feel unacknowledged when we work alone or if those with whom we work with are not in a position to recognise that. Reflecting upon our day in a journal or simple record can be invaluable as an account and as a professional development tool but when we take that reflection further to respond to and make changes, we become reflexive. We begin to look forward.
Happy New Year!
Bolton, G (2001). Reflective Practice: Writing and professional development. Paul Chapman/Sage: London.
Hunt, C and Sampson, F (2006) Writing, Self and Reflexivity. London: Palgrave.
Pennebaker, J. W., & Chung, C. K. (2011). Expressive Writing: Connections to physical and mental health. In H. S. Friedman (Ed.), Oxford handbook of health psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University.