By Dr. Dan Reinhardt

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said Edmund Burke. While this is bemoaned of governments, it is also true of people — like you and me. If we don’t know our own history, we are destined to repeat our mistakes.

The end of the year is an excellent opportunity to make sure we know our own history. Here are some practical suggestions …

Ask yourself three key questions:

 1.  “What happened?”

This is the normal place to start. The fact that you remember something is the first indicator that it was significant. You don’t remember everything about this past year; in fact, that is the important role of memory – sorting through the thousands of events and storing the important ones. Brain research indicates that’s what’s going on during your REM sleep.

If you are like me, you may find it challenging to bring up much more than what happened last week, let alone the whole year! And this is why Burke says people repeat their mistakes – they have forgotten their history, and have not brought forward the learning of experience.

So … we have to pay more attention. Here’s a way: flip back through your calendar.  It’s surprising how much we do remember, but it’s just below the conscious recall level. A calendar will help you bring it up from the subconscious memory bank.

 2.  “How did you feel about those events?”

Explore the memory by recalling your feelings. They are attached to your memories, and with a bit of reflection you will be able to recall them.

Why is this important? Because emotions are reliable indicators of your values. When you feel excited or joyful about something, the event or experience is affirming your values. If something makes you fearful or angry, then a core value is being threatened or trampled. Processing the emotional memory of events is an insight into what is core to you.

Go back through your journal for the year. If you do not journal it is likely that many of the good lessons learned in your experience will be lost, and you may have to go through the lessons again (echoes of Edmund Burke). A good journaling habit is one of the best ways to capture the deeper thinking of your history.

 3.  “What have you learned from those events?”

Humans instinctively seek for meaning. Without a coherent meaning our lives feel worthless, without hope.

If ‘all things work together for good,’ then what is the good? What have you learned about yourself? About others?

Kirkegaard’s aphorism is that “Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.” It’s at the end of the year looking back that you are most likely to get the best understanding of what happened. Reading your journal entries later is an intriguing experience. You may see things from a different perspective. This is when you get the gold from digging through your memories.

Write it up in your journal

Recording all this into your journal is an excellent way to hold on to the lessons God is giving you through your life’s experiences. Experience is the most powerful teacher – if we are paying attention. Without attention, we don’t learn and we end up repeating mistakes. Edmund Burke was right.

Christmas is the annual reminder of our faith history – that God became man, lived among us, and showed us the way to the abundant life. If we lose memory of this history …