That's what we're all asking ourselves around now, and lots of us wind up tallying only the misses. Did I clean out my attic? Firm my tummy? Save the world? Whoops. The problem with this approach: We begin the new year hobbled by regret (so much for that fresh-start energy). There's a better way to look back. Use these questions from seven major motivators to create your own highlight reel — and launch an awesome 2016.
1. WHEN DID I NOT GIVE UP?
"This year I walked 200 steps; it was in braces in physical therapy, but under my own power. I sweated, and I cried, and I wanted to quit. I didn't. After my accident everyone said, "Your spinal cord is severed; you'll never walk again." When they were teaching me how to use my wheelchair, I thought, You're telling me I'm stuck in this thing, but I'm going to show you I'm not! Your doctor, your boss, your husband all may say things that limit you without realizing they're doing it. You're going to have bad days — trust me, I'm paralyzed: It's not all roses and unicorns. Every time I'm doing something hard, I ask myself: What would I get from giving up that I wouldn't get from finishing? That keeps me going."
-Amy Van Dyken, former Olympic gold-medal swimmer; an ATV accident in 2014 left her lower body paralyzed.
2. DID I DO SOMETHING THAT SCARED ME?
Coaching in the NFL was one of the coolest experiences you can imagine, but I had to step out of my comfort zone completely to do it. I was scared, but I didn't want to look back and say, I wish I would have taken the chance. I sold my condo and put all my stuff in storage when I moved to Phoenix. I wanted to be able to go anywhere and chase whatever opportunity came. When you remove your "fallback plan," you're in it 150 percent. It's normal to stumble when we take risks, but we learn how to get up, and we get stronger along the way. Betting on yourself is how you find the greatest happiness, and if you've done it once, you can do it again.
-Jen Welter, PhD, recently completed her stint as the first female NFL assistant coach.
3. WHEN DID I HAVE FUN?
Rather than looking back on 2015 and asking ourselves, How much did I accomplish? we should be asking ourselves, How much fun did I have? It doesn't have to be big-vacation fun — just anytime you truly had a blast. We need to give ourselves permission to let loose — it helps with the self-judgment that holds us back. Another bonus: Having fun is about being present in the moment, something we should all have on our resolution list.
4. HOW DID I DEAL WITH MESSING UP?
We often see things as black or white — either we're still overweight or we're not, either we got promoted or we didn't. But change is a process. Look back and feel good about the times that you didn't call yourself a failure despite not making a winning move. Maybe you skipped the gym or missed a deadline? Let yourself off the hook. Progress comes when we quickly move on: Whatever happened is over, and we can start fresh.
5. WHO DID I LEAN ON THIS YEAR?
This was a reality-check year for me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was one of the hardest years of my life — but I took from it what I needed to learn. A big lesson: You don't realize how much you need your friends until you need them. Not in the Hallmark kind of way, but in the "Can I help you change your bandages?" way. My girl gang brought me food, coordinated with each other behind the scenes to make sure I was OK, and threw me a surprise birthday party with Robin Roberts, who's been a major mentor of mine [having gone through cancer herself]. I also learned to love and respect my partner's input more — Andrew was wonderful and stepped in and stepped up when it came to the house and the family. Emotionally, too. You never know how someone is going to deal with those kinds of crises, and he was stellar. Everybody was on board to help out. And I let them. You have to lean on others. These bonds give you strength to keep showing up.
-Sandra Lee, TV chef and author, longtime partner of New York governor Andrew Cuomo. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2015, and recently announced that she's cancer-free.
6. WHEN DID I FORGIVE SOMEONE?
Everyone wants to start the year feeling lighter, and not forgiving someone is like carrying excess emotional weight and stress. If there's a grudge you can't let go of, think of someone you did manage to forgive. That's a start, because forgiveness is like a muscle that needs to be developed through practice — and reminding yourself you've forgiven before helps when you are overwhelmed with current resentments. So what if you didn't forgive the biggest wrong in your life yet? Practice with something small. When the cab is late or you got bad service, say, "Hey, it's no big deal. Maybe they were distracted. I can handle this." Change the story so you're not the victim. Forgiving anybody helps rewire your brain to let go of things more efficiently.
-Frederic Luskin, PhD, psychologist and director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good.
7. WHAT WOULD I HAVE MISSED IF I HADN'T LIVED THE LAST YEAR?
I ask myself this every New Year's, and I focus specifically on three areas:
First, I think about a new person I met who had the most impact on my life — because we are defined by the people around us. (This year, for me, it was Dov Seidman, who offers such deep insights into life's challenges; he's a businessman and a philosopher who helps companies thrive while using their moral compass.)
Second, a skill I learned that reinforced that I can improve myself (better backhand in tennis!).
And finally, the family activities that changed me — this one's easy: My daughter Daphne recently gave birth to her second baby, and seeing my new grandson for the first time (and watching his 20-month-old sister, Philomena, hold him) reminded me that we are all born with unbounded potential, and every one of us can tap into that potential at any time.
Answering these questions and reflecting on the answers reminds us that we're not just living, but truly alive.
This story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.