What were you up to back in December 2009?

I’d been living abroad (Madrid) for longer than ever before– a whole 3.5 months! After spending a week exploring London with a new, dear, friend, I was preparing to ring in the new year with 12 grapes and champagne in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.

When I look back on that time, I have to try really hard not to put a cheery spin on things. I have to intentionally try to remember how hard things were. How one month into living abroad I was googling “homesickness” in an internet cafe, and how I missed a lot of work because I was sick all the time, and frequently had to visit doctors. In fact, I spent a whole day of that trip to London in bed in a tiny hostel room.

Looking back, what I remember are the fun moments– fall picnics in Madrid’s Retiro Park, my first opportunity to introduce Thanksgiving to people from outside of the U.S., and the delicious mini cupcakes we enjoyed at Harrod’s department store on that trip to London.

This tendency to put a positive spin on remembering the past is what psychologists call the “Pollyanna Effect.” It’s actually pretty great that our brain does this, and I always try to keep it in mind when going through a tough moment (especially when traveling). I tell myself– “When I look back on this, I won’t even remember how hard this was.”

But in a recent interview on the Tandem Nomads podcast, I was reminded how this tendency of our brains can actually hold us back from celebrating our progress. When we look back, instead of giving ourselves a pat on the back for all of the hard moments we overcame, we minimize how hard it was to get where we are today and focus only on where we want to get to next.

By intentionally reflecting on how far we’ve come, including the hard parts, we can increase our self-gratitude, our confidence in our ability to do hard things, and step into the next decade feeling ready to bring more of our dreams to life. 

Here are some journaling questions to help you intentionally reflect on the past ten years:

Looking back on the past decade, what are some of the challenging moments that your brain glosses over? Can you briefly bring them to mind and thank yourself for all the work you’ve done to get through these difficult times? 

If your 2009 self could sit down next to you, what would they say? What would they be excited to learn about your current life? What would they thank you for? What would you tell them about what you’ve learned about life in this past decade?

And if your 2029 self could be here too, what encouraging words would they have for you as you enter this next decade? What words of wisdom would they share? 

What things do you feel proud of about this past decade? What skills have you cultivated? What hard lessons have you learned? How can you celebrate all of this as you wrap up the year? 

What are your hopes, goals, and dreams for this next decade? What do you hope to experience? To learn? To accept? 

I hope these questions help you to reflect on the past ten years with compassion and fill you with a sense of hope and encouragement as we enter the new year and new decade. I’d love to hear one of the things you’re most excited about for the year ahead. 

See you next year! 

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(Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)