Going into 2021, most people have an attitude of cautious optimism. Surely it can’t be worse than 2020, with the vaccine being rolled out, but it can’t be magically better either, can it? But just because no one knows that the new year has in store doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it and even make it your best year ever.
According to a recent poll, 92% of people felt burnt out by the end of November and went into the holidays struggling with loneliness and anxiety. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of respondents also said that the challenges brought by 2020 took a serious toll on their mental health and that their mental health hadn’t been so low in the past ten years. In this context, the beginning of the year feels like a clean slate. An opportunity to start things over, revisit the lessons learned in 2020, and start again with a renewed sense of optimism.
2021 may be full of surprises, so here are some strategies to stay positive and make it a fun one.
The human brain has a tendency to focus on negative stimuli and ignore positive experiences. It’s called a negativity bias, and it’s one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of self-accomplishment. Of course, 2020 was challenging by objective standards, affecting many people’s health, careers, and social relationships. But that doesn’t mean that amongst all these challenges there weren’t any positive things worth cherishing.
Overcoming your negativity bias and seeing the silver lining in every experience is the first step towards making 2021 your year.
Look at every challenge as an opportunity in disguise. If you have to spend another month in lockdown, it can be tempting to think of it as a bad thing and experience that time as punishment. But what if you try to think of it as an opportunity instead? It can be an opportunity to get more rest, self-reflect, try a new hobby, learn a new language, and reach your reading goal.
Focus on what negative experiences can teach you. We all want to forget 2020, but why forget a year that taught us so much about ourselves, our needs, and priorities? From time to time, challenges will come along, and if you focus on those challenges happening for you, not to you, you’ll learn to take valuable lessons from them and apply them in your life.
Practice gratitude. A popular sitcom quote went like this “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them”. When things go well, we tend to take them for granted. Practising gratitude every day (you can make a gratitude journal if it helps) will remind you of all the wonderful things that are happening to you as they are happening. Yes, even minor things such as going out with your friends, going on a city break, or seeing a film in the cinema.
If you’re not your biggest fan, then who is?
No matter what you want to achieve in 2021, whether it’s losing weight, finding a new job, or being more organised, believe in yourself and give yourself pep-talks as if you were talking to a friend. It might sound cheesy, but most people are much more critical of themselves as they are of their friends, and bring themselves down when they only need a little encouragement.
Even when things aren’t going so well, and your plans are put on hold, don’t despair right away. You may not have gotten that promotion today, and you may have had to cancel that trip you were looking forward to so much, but think of these as temporary setbacks, not insurmountable challenges.
Try to apply the same mentality when approaching your New Year’s resolutions too.
Most people start off the New Year on a confident note and think they can achieve anything. But when they don’t drop those ten pounds or learn a new skill by February, they feel discouraged and think “well, maybe next year”.
But you don’t have to wait until next year, and you don’t have to stop dreaming big. If you have an ambitious goal, that’s great, but try to split it into more manageable milestones. For example, instead of saying “I want to stop smoking this year”, say “I want to smoke zero cigarettes this week” or “I only want to smoke one pack of cigarettes this month”. It’s a smaller, more achievable step, and when you do make it, that sense of satisfaction will motivate you to move forward.
As humans, we thrive on human connections. In 2020, these were harder to maintain, and in 2021, things won’t be back to normal – not immediately, at least.
However, just because you can’t see your friends and family as usual doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them. Many times, they are only one click away. And if you don’t have a close support system, connections can still be formed. You can find other people who can support you in 2021 and inspire you to be better. Whether you join an online community for one of your hobbies or get involved in volunteering, that still counts as a meaningful connection because it can help you learn and grow as a person.
The importance of self-care is one of the most valuable lessons 2020 taught us. It’s one of those things you should take with you going into the new year, and find time for it whenever possible. No matter how hectic things get, and no matter what challenges life throws at you, being able to stop, take a deep breath, meditate, and take care of yourself will help you maintain a positive mindset. And remember, self-care is different for everyone, so do what works for you, whether that’s a hot bath, reading a book, talking to a counsellor, or taking a walk.