Wow! Awful. Disastrous. These are words that sum up 2020 — we’re sure you can think of others. Who would have thought the year we started a mere 12 months ago would have turned out the way it did? To say 2020 was a difficult year is an understatement.
We’ve never been as ready for a particular year to end as we were for 2020. We’re well aware there is nothing magical in flipping the page in our calendars forward one day from December 31st to January 1st, yet it seems to hold so much more promise than any other calendar day page flip. (Yes, we know flipping calendar pages shows our age!) How many of us see January 1st as a special day? A day that holds hope for a better year ahead…
The New Year is an opportunity for a fresh start – a time to reflect and to build upon the lessons we’ve learned from the past year. Who doesn’t want that, especially when it was 2020? Think about this time last year: did anyone have a New Year’s resolution of surviving a pandemic? Or how about a resolution to improve our skills at working from home while our spouse/roommate is also working from home all while homeschooling our kids? Or of finding a designer mask to wear when we dared go out? We can all agree 2020 is a year that we’d like to put it in a box, tie a bow on it and shelve it – never to be seen again, right?
After surviving 2020, how do we make New Year’s resolutions for 2021? Do we shrug our shoulders and say, No plans for me since I’m not in control? Or I never keep them anyway, so why bother? Or do we try even harder to wrangle control for our lives into our own hands and develop detailed plans and strategies for coping?
Research shows that more than 50% pf people make New Year’s resolutions; let’s look at some of the most common ones:
Get in shape/lose weight/eat healthier
Learn/try something new/start a new hobby
Spend more time with people that matter
Decrease stress/sleep more
Nothing’s wrong with any of these, yet research shows that less than 10% are kept. Why? There are of course lots of reasons, but giving up is usually based on a few key things: difficulty in breaking habits, focusing on a specific outcome, and problems with knowing our true purpose.
What typically happens when we mess up on one of our resolutions just a day or two into the New Year? It can be all too easy to simply give up. We’ve missed our expectations yet again.
Resolutions are directly related to expectations, so let’s look at the definition of an expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future or a belief that someone will or should achieve something; suppose, assume, believe, have confidence in, trust, anticipate, hope.
We know that people, plans, and places can all too easily fall short of our expectations. But how often are our expectations of ourselves unrealistic? Or those we place on others – especially our spouses and those we’re close to – a bit unrealistic? Whether or not it’s unrealistic expectations, let’s face it, we often receive less than we expect from others, right?
These missed expectations cause problems when we let them control us. Expectations are everything, as it relates to New Year’s resolutions. If we think about it, what are our expectations based on? Faith. Like faith, the deal is what (or Whom) we put our expectations in. Can you recall the last time you allow missed expectations to control you? How did you move on? Does anyone have a problem with expecting too little from others?
Instead of crafting typical resolutions (or expectations) this year, then getting down on ourselves for not keeping them, what if we think a little differently this year? How can we maximize our skills and talents in 2021 to help others? Let’s consider a few things:
Having the right perspective on what’s important is key. When I think back to my good friend Susie (who lost her battle to cancer in 2020) and how she truly saw her diagnosis of cancer as a blessing – not as a curse, it causes me to pause and wonder if I’d see it the same way. It also begs the question: Should it take a diagnosis of cancer to open my eyes to what is truly important in my days? Let’s make sure the priorities we set for ourselves are in line with the legacy we want to leave.
Making it a priority to start each day with a few moments of gratitude. Take time to notice the beauty of a snowflake. Or a daffodil – I can’t wait!
Another benefit of gratitude is that it helps us to be present – in the moment, and not always thinking about the future – or the ‘what if’s’. Anxiety comes from focusing on the future. If we find ourselves getting anxious, take notice of it and then pause to be grateful for something. Think of 3-4 things for which we’re grateful, however small — yes, a piece of dark chocolate or a hot cup of coffee counts. This keeps our bad moments as ‘moments’ instead of letting them spiral into bad days…or bad weeks….or bad months.
It’s also important to remember the BIG picture – so that we don’t get ‘wrapped around the axle’ over the little stuff; let’s face it, most of it is little stuff when we put it in perspective.
Be intentional with our time. Our thoughts. Our words. Our expectations. We often see what we’re looking for, so look expectantly in the right direction.
We don’t often realize how much negativity we hold onto day-to-day. Too often we let things dwell in our minds; things that we shouldn’t have even allowed to visit our minds, we somehow allow to take up residence there. It doesn’t mean we won’t have any negative thoughts or any more bad days – but if we’re intentional about it, then we can capture our negative thoughts and once again, instead of them ruining our day (or year), they can become bad moments instead of bad days.
It helps, once we have a goal in mind, to get more detailed; this is especially true for longer-term goals. Let’s look at some ways to make our goals more actionable: instead of listing “exercise more” as a resolution, let’s walk 3 miles/day at least 5 day/week. Or read one new book per month, instead of “read more books” this year.
Instead of focusing on a specific outcome we desire, we can set SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). Breaking our long-term goals into bite-sized pieces helps us achieve them. Sharing our goals with another person also helps.
A few questions to help us get started:
What am I better at than other people? How can I better use that skill?
Is there a specific phrase or word that I want to ponder – and live by – each day in 2021?
Is there a habit I want (need) to break?
What am I willing to do to in my current situation to make it better? What next step can I take?
Do I need an accountability partner for this?
As 2020 has shown us, like never before, we are not promised tomorrow, so let’s be about maximizing our time and talents to make the world a better place in 2021. St. Teresa of Calcutta said it best, I can do what you can’t do; you can do what I can’t do; together we can do great things.