By Michael Stern
For many of us, 2020 was one of the most challenging years of our lives.
As we move through 2021, many people continue to struggle with mental health challenges due to stress and overwhelm. Whatever happens this year, accelerating complexity and disruption is the “new normal” and the reality is that we must learn to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Here are a few tips to help you stay healthy, positive, and effective, no matter what this year brings.
Focus on What You Can Control
A central theme of 2020 was “uncertainty.” Life is always uncertain, but most of the time we operate as if we have more control over our lives than we actually do.
In the face of tremendous uncertainty, we can empower ourselves and take responsibility for our lives by recognizing and exercising our capacity to choose how we respond to the inevitable challenges of life.
The key here is to distinguish our circle of control from our circle of concern. Examples of things that are of concern but that we cannot control include: what decisions the president makes, when a Covid-19 vaccine is available, or whether other people choose to wear masks or not.
The more we focus on what is outside of our control, the more we hand our power over to other people and external forces and conditions. By focusing on what we can control – our mental and emotional state, our words, and our actions – we reclaim our power and discover our freedom.
Cultivate Your Core Values
While the pandemic is a global event, it has affected each of us uniquely. And our response to the experience can reveal a lot about us.
Many people I spoke to in the early phases of the pandemic found themselves reflecting on deep questions about their life and identity: What is truly important in my life? What type of person do I want to be? How do I want to respond to the challenges I face?
Reflect on your experience of 2020: Where did you successfully live and work in alignment with your values? Where do you still see room for improvement?
Then look ahead to 2021: What habits, practices, or projects would help you live your values?
Another lesson many people are taking from the pandemic is to slow down.
There are infinite ways you could improve your life, cultivate your character, and have a positive impact on the world. But we must honor the limits of our time, energy, and attention. When we say yes to one thing, we are also saying no to everything else we could possibly be doing instead.
Once we accept the reality of trade-offs, we can shift our question from “How can I make it all work?” to “Which problem do I want to solve?”
Living essentially means that rather than trying to do or be all things for all people at all times, we focus on discerning the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. We explore our options, and then eliminate the trivial many to prioritize the vital few. The focus is on less, but better.
Think about your life in terms of just three areas: Self, Relationships, Work. Then consider, what is the one change you would like to make in each of these areas?
Build Good Habits
Clear and specific goals are powerful. But habits are what get you there.
Even if you don’t hit your ultimate goal, a good habit will still generate positive results. And you may be transformed by the experience in unexpected ways.
I suggest three simple tips for building good habits through challenging years:
- Make it easy. Start small (smaller than you think) and design your environment to be more conducive for your desired behaviors.
- Make it enjoyable. Leverage your strengths and interests. Do it with a friend. Give yourself a reward. The more you look forward to it, the more likely you are to do it.
- Prioritize consistency over intensity. A new habit must be stabilized before it can be optimized. Remember that you’re playing the long game.
When we try to change everything all at once, we are more likely to fail. But if you take the time to build a solid foundation of a few keystone practices, everything else will get better and easier.
For the rest of 2021, focus on building one new practice every three months. Slow, sustained, gradual progress is exponentially more effective than any quick fix.
I’ve saved the best for last: Don’t try to do it alone.
There are many forms of support: friends, family, work colleagues, community, an accountability partner, a coach, or therapist. Explore options to find out which types of support are most helpful for you in which type of situations.
The new year brings a fresh start and a chance to be inspired by possibility, yet we know that 2021 will bring challenges as well, just like any other year. Applying these principles can help you turn your challenges into opportunities for healing, flourishing, and creating positive impact.
Michael Stern is a certified Emotional Intelligence coach whose mission is to support others in creating a better life and a more beautiful world. Visit www.IntegralAlignment.com. Read more from Michael Stern here.
Originally published online at CredibleMind.com. Republished with permission of author.