Who Am I?

Exploring your identity.

You: A Retrospective

Where are you going, and where have you been?

As we ring in the New Year, many of us will make a resolution, or firm decision to do or not to do something in the future. There is a lot of great advice out there on how to actually change our behavior too, whether it concern fitness, finances, or family, so that these resolutions can be brought to fruition.

Yet as an identity researcher, I know the importance of exploring our options before committing to a change. If we are itching to leave our current position at work, we might want to survey the career landscape for any roads less traveled instead of just dashing off toward the nearest well-trodden path.

For example, just because some nurses who burn out do well later as personal injury attorneys, this route isn’t for everyone. Some nurses weary of their work find fulfillment by switching employers, others by moving into management, and others by retraining into a different specialty.

So as you commit to resolutions for 2014, take a few moments to review this past year before planning next year. And if you are wondering whether there is a benefit to looking back before looking forward, the answer is indeed yes.

We tend to view ourselves more highly now than in the past, and expect to become even better in the future -- and our overall well-being prospers when we view our present selves more positively (Kanten & Teigen, 2008; Kim et al., 2012). Mental health is also greater when our evolving life story incorporates self-exploration (McAdams & McLean, 2013).

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For example, if you are planning to make a drastic career change within the next 12 months, it is certainly helpful to plan the steps that will lead to a successful transition. Yet it would also behoove you to consider the significant career events, both good and bad, which occurred within the past 12 months. These might include a new position within the same company, a new company, a promotion, a demotion, a successful presentation, a not-so-successful presentation, and so on.

Some of you may be wondering what possible benefit there could be in reviewing regrettable past events. Well, the purpose is not to shame ourselves into good behavior in the future, but simply to notice that which we want to improve, such as our public speaking skills.

Revisiting the past before embarking on the future can also make it easier for us to see clearly our current self, such as someone who has already improved his/her public speaking skills within the past few months and will continue to do so in the future. Remember, overall well-being is greater when we view our present selves more positively.

If you are struggling to remember significant events within the past year though, try creating 12 boxes in order to visualize each month, then perhaps go back over your calendar and/or email to jog your memory of major events that occurred within each time frame.

Or for a briefer version of your retrospective, just start jotting a ‘back in history’ section, along with a ‘highlights’ section similar to the ‘Year in Review’ retrospective holiday cards such as this one on Mixbook.com: http://www.mixbook.com/cards/holiday-photo-cards/vintage-year-in-...

Either way, you will be able to see your past self more accurately, and appreciate if and how you have changed just within this year. Speaking of counting your blessings, research indicates that life satisfaction is higher when we contemplate events and people for which we are grateful, rather than when we merely recall memorable events (Rash, Matsuba, & Prkachin, 2011).

So, give retrospection a try. Once you are able to map where you are right now in December 2013, and likely how far you have come since January 2013, you will be better prepared to choose and become the future selves you wish to be in 2014.

Happy New Year!

 

References

Kanten, A. B. & Teigen, K. H. (2008). Better than average and better with time: relative evaluations of self and others in the past, present, and future. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 343-353.

Kim, Y-H., Cai, H., Gilliland, M., Chiu, C-Y., Xia, S., & Tam, K-P. (2012). Standing in the glory or shadow of the past self: Cultures differ in how much the past self affects current subjective well-being. Emotion, 12(5), 1111-1117.

McAdams, D. P. & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative identity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(3), 233-238.

Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K., & Prkachin, K. M. (2011). Gratitude and well-being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3(3), 350-369.

 

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.

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