3 Things to Leave Behind
as You Head into the New Year
2020 is a year for the record books! Everyone experienced it differently. For some, it was a great year full of opportunities. For others, it was a year of loss upon loss. I’m somewhere in the middle. I experienced opportunity, joy, and many reasons for gratitude this year. I also experienced loss and grief.
As I look back over what I’ve learned and gained and lost and experienced, one thing is clear: I’m ready for a change! And though I cannot (by myself) change the economy or the pandemic or the political climate of my country, I can always change my own behavior.
Here are three behaviors I’m leaving right here in 2020 as I walk forward into 2021. I won’t do it perfectly, but I purposefully and mindfully leave these behind:
I’m not your typical worrier. Life has its ups and downs—neither last forever. I tend to have a positive outlook and not get bogged down in the details of all the bad things that could happen. Even this year, I haven’t worried about getting COVID or failing in my business or the outcome of the election, though those are all huge, valid concerns. But I do tend to worry about whether or not I’m doing things “right” in my business, in my family, in my community … in everything! I worry all the time about whether or not I’m good enough.
You worry, too. Maybe you don’t worry about the same things I do, but there are things weighing you down, taking up space in your brain, overwhelming your thoughts and emotions. That’s totally normal, especially after a year like this one! Yet worry doesn’t feel very good and doesn’t produce great results. In fact, worry shuts down your ability to think rationally and to act decisively. That just leads to more problems. Worry fuels worry.
Here are some ways to let go of worry. I aim to practice these more regularly in the upcoming year:
- Say it out loud. Giving voice to your worries brings them into the light of reality. Most of the time, the simple act of saying your worries out loud immediately makes you realize how overblown your reaction is. Even when that’s not the case, speaking makes it concrete; you can work with what’s concrete.
- Stay present. Worries are always future-focused. Be here, now.
- Be proactive. If there’s action you can take, take it! Even small actions make you feel more in control and less anxious.
- Label your thoughts. When you find yourself worrying, say, “Oh look! That’s a worry. I don’t need that.” Acknowledge it and let it go.
- Move your body. Work those worries right out of your body. Running, weightlifting, and dancing are especially good for releasing feel-good endorphins and giving your fears an outlet.
- Resist stories. Or as Louise Hay says, “Stop scaring yourself!” Stop expecting the worst of other people or life in general.
Take each day as it comes. Don’t let future problems rob you of today’s strength and joy.
Someone recently said, “This was a wasted year. I spent the whole year waiting.” While I wouldn’t have put it quite so starkly, I can certainly relate. The enormous levels of uncertainty and constant change made planning exceedingly difficult this year. Without a plan, I tend to spin in circles. I often felt adrift and lost this year. I’m not known for my spontaneity and flexibility!
There were many things I didn’t wait on, of course. I took advantage of opportunities—both professional and personal—as they came along. I used my extra time at home to pursue some hobbies and spend more time with my family. I read and researched, developed new products, and finished projects. I kept busy… but I felt mostly like I was busy treading water versus moving forward. Treading water is an important skill to have, but you can’t do it forever. Eventually you get tired and go under.
It’s time to act, to move, but to do so with purpose. I had goals for 2020. I met about three of them. I was thwarted at every turn! So, I kept busy and waited—waited for circumstances to change so I could get back on track. I’m embarrassed by my new plan, because it’s so obvious it’s almost silly: Make goals, and if you are thwarted, make different goals.
I’m used to making course corrections along the way—that’s normal. Sometimes, though, you need a whole new destination. That can be daunting. You’ve likely invested time and energy and emotion into your current path. And certainly, abandoning your goal at the first sign of resistance isn’t a good idea, but neither is stubbornly hanging on when you aren’t—and likely never will be—getting anywhere. Stop waiting. Let go. Move forward in a new direction.
3. Wishing & Whining
Okay, this is a twofer. I cheated a little. But they come together as a pair, joined at the hip.
When you’re unwilling to face reality, wishing and whining rush right in. Wishing is not the same as dreaming or hoping. It’s good to spend time exploring possibilities, imaging the future, and not only looking forward to, but working toward, what could be. Wishing, however, is wanting things to be different when you are unwilling or unable to make them so. You wish the pandemic was over. You wish you could get together with family on holidays. You wish you could lose weight and still eat chocolate and potato chips every day. You wish you had more clients or time or money or friends. And because things aren’t how you wish they were, you complain.
Not just you. Me too. (Especially the chocolate and potato chips part.)
Facing the reality of unmet expectations can be painful. It brings disappointment, loss, and grief. That’s why we wish and whine. It’s less painful to focus on what could have been rather than what is. Wishing and whining are things you do—they’re actions, and it feels good to take action. But it’s false action; they’re really just DISTRactions from feeling the crummy feelings that come up when you take an honest look at your situation.
When you face reality, you have more agency over yourself and your life. You have more capacity to make change. Ironically, when you wade through the crummy feelings of disappointment and grief, you end up on the other side with more hope and confidence.
Look reality square in the face. Get to know it. Sometimes when you take a good hard look at it, you’ll realize you are capable of changing the situation (it’s just hard or scary). Then you get to choose whether or not it’s worth doing the hard, scary thing. Even if you decide not to, at least you got to choose. You will feel stronger and more confident for it.
Sometimes there truly is nothing you can do to change your situation. What’s lost is lost. What’s done is done. What’s happening is beyond your control. To get past wishing and whining, you’re gonna have to dig into the crummy feelings. Acknowledge the truth. Feel the loss. Sometimes talking to people or writing in a journal can help. Processing your reaction is not the same as whining—the first is constructive and leads to healing, the second keeps you stagnant and stuck in the past. Once you do that, you can let go of your unmet expectations.
Letting go of wishing and whining takes time and practice, but leads to peace. Who doesn’t want more peace in life?
I don’t know what 2021 will bring. It could be better. It could be worse. I’m not making any predictions! I would have never guessed this time last year what lay ahead.
In the face of uncertainty, my main hope for the upcoming year is that I will be better in it. What happens, happens. The question is, how do I—and you—handle it? I’m planning on getting rid of these unhelpful “coping” techniques—worrying, waiting, wishing, and whining—and developing some healthier ones. Out with the old and in with the new!