“I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.”
Almost every conversation I’ve had in the last month started or ended with this phrase. But other than the calendar telling us that we are at the beginning of a new decade – what has truly changed?
At 12:01 AM on January 1, we celebrate AND reflect and many of us resolve that the coming year will be different and we will be different too. So many of us attach a kind of symbolic importance to the opportunity to literally and figuratively ‘turn the page’ and start anew.
We celebrate that last year is over and are eager to say goodbye to a year that brought us the onset of the Covid19 pandemic, a severe downturn in the economy as a result, and a contentious election. Family, friends, workplace colleagues, and community members have gotten ill, died, or faced incredibly daunting challenges. Stressed out and exhausted, we collectively exhale and as we keep score of how things are in our own lives, take a mighty exhale and celebrate the fact that we got through 2020.
As we look towards the coming year, we make promises of improved survival: living a healthier, more intentional, and aware life. Eating better, exercising more regularly, sticking to a budget, and being kinder – that’s how we feel more empowered over what lies ahead in 20201 – because the truth is that the future is disconcertingly unknowable. So we commit (at least for now) to things that help us feel more in control.
As we look ahead, it helps us feel better to promise ourselves that we can turn the page and make improvements (even if statistically, evidence shows that 88% of those promises fall by the wayside). Who doesn’t want to reduce the scariness of what might lie ahead?
Regardless of the date, a lot of things will remain the same for us all for a while: the economy, mask-wearing, social distancing, and virtual work/meetings/conversations.
And last week as a stirred up mob of people stormed the capitol building in Washington DC (my new home city) we watched on screens, thinking that things were supposed to be better this year – not worse. Many of you told me you had gone in a nanosecond from hopeful to scared.
So how can we reassure ourselves against a scary future?
No Crystal Ball: Realize that we never know what the future will bring. Not only is hindsight 20/20, we all tend to compare ‘NOW’ with ‘THEN’ – and when we look back, it is with the knowledge that we now have (that we did not have before). This is known as hindsight bias. You can reduce this by keeping a journal. Having a record of what you thought, felt, and knew will reveal what was really going on in your mind at the time.
Stay Flexible: Having a degree of openness about outcomes is actually a stress-reducer. Allowing for the fact that no one can predict with 100% certainty how the future will play out allows you to be a little more comfortable with ambiguity.
Imagine Good: Not to be all ‘Pollyanna’ but there are literally volumes written about the psychology of positive expectancy. Thinking about good outcomes can produce feelings of optimism and hope. A simple exercise it to think about 5 positive things that could happen each day (realistic things). Studies reveal that people who do that show an increase in happiness. Even those of us who always imagine the worst that can happen can flip the switch and after they assume the worst – take a minute to assume the best.
No Control Motto: I like to be in control and I know I’m not alone. It’s just not always possible. So to remind me of that fact and to accept it as true – I have a motto. The phrase (or mantra) that serves to remind me when I get stressed out about my lack of control, that – “I’m not always in charge.” For some, it’s the Serenity Prayer.
For others it’s the self-cheer from The Little Engine That Could which serves to remind them that hope can provide the will they need to succeed.
As we all go forward into the unknown of 2021, remember to pass the chocolate and the fruit, raise a glass and celebrate whenever possible that we continue to survive and thrive. Every day that we wake and have the option to make it a good say, a BETTER day, we should do that.