Facing Old Challenges in a New Way in a New Year

Facing Old Challenges in a New Way in a New Year

For most, 2020 did not turn out as expected. It was a year of frustration and anxiety leaving many of us feeling uncertain and unsure of what is to come. Although we would like to forget the challenges we faced as we begin the new year, it’s important to reflect on the year we leave behind. As difficult a year as it was, there was also a great deal of opportunity for growth and learning. It’s important to review what we have learnt and experienced in order to prepare ourselves for a better 2021.

Move Forward with Hope Not Assumptions

Make fewer assumptions but remain hopeful. Assumptions can lead to disappointment if we have unrealistic expectations of what the New Year will bring. Remaining rigid in our beliefs of what we assume 2021 will be will likely lead to disappointment. This does not mean you need to be pessimistic. Rather, you should frame your thoughts about 2021 with hope of what could happen rather than rigorously sticking to what you assume should happen. This gives you flexibility in thought and action and allows you to adapt to circumstances more easily. So, make plans and have dreams and objectives, but give yourself scope to adjust them should it be required.

This does not mean you shouldn’t set yourself goals for the new year but in deference to our current circumstances you may need to reframe the goals you would normally set. For example, separate your goals into those which are achievable regardless of the world situation (such as finally reading the classics or perfecting a recipe) and those that are desirable but may not be possible if current circumstances continue (such as going to the gym three times per week or more face time with friends). Focus on what can be achieved within these new circumstances but don’t limit yourself as circumstances could easily change and you don’t want to close yourself off to the opportunities these changes may bring.

Take Control Where You Can

An aspect of 2020 that many have struggled with is feeling a lack of control. It is not unusual to struggle with acceptance in circumstances over which we have no control. For those of us with a chronic condition, this is a familiar feeling. Therefore, you can use the skills you have developed to cope with feelings of a loss of control in regards to your condition and apply them to your approach to 2021. You may even be able to help those around you as they are less likely to have developed these skills to the same degree.

In 2021, focusing on what you can control rather than what you can’t may lead to greater inner peace and contentment. You may not be able to cure COVID, but you can set goals around personal development. Travel plans cancelled? Why not use the funds to take a course, develop a skill you’ve always wanted to but have put on the back burner for a variety of reasons? Shifting your mindset from how you think things “should be” to how things are helps to keep you moving forward rather than being stuck mourning the things that are not currently an option. Two things you definitely do have control over are your own thoughts and actions. You have the ability to decide to spend all your time lamenting what has gone wrong or you could turn your mind and actions to opportunities you have as a result of letting something else go.

Foster Old and New relationships

Human connection is a big part of our mental health and contributes greatly to our world view. 2020 has seen many of the traditional avenues for fostering these relationships taken away. How we experience 2021 may be influenced by how much effort we are willing to make to discover novel ways of maintaining our relationships. We are certainly fortunate in that technology offers a variety of ways to accomplish this. Our interactions can extend far beyond a quick phone call. If you used to meet up with friends for a run sign up together for an online exercise class. This maintains common ground and experiences and, in that way, reduces the distance you may feel from those closest to you.

Helping You Helping Me

In the same vein, not only should you find new ways to maintain old connections but you should actively seek out new ones as well. One popular avenue for this last year was a group that recorded themselves reading children’s stories. These recordings were sent via mobile phone platforms to young children unable to go to school and unable to institute homeschooling. Floods of stories were submitted from all over the world and an equal number of grateful messages, letters and drawings came back from the children who received them. In this way people were able to connect through a shared vision.  Helping others is also a fantastic way to generate positivity in your own life. Being prosocial strengthens our sense of relatedness to others, thereby helping us meet our some of our most basic psychological needs. Research has found many examples of how doing good, in ways big or small, not only feels good, but also does us good.

Many of these suggestions can be found extensively in philosophies designed to find contentment in life. The notions of accepting loss of control, of focusing on the welfare of others, and of redirecting negative emotions are central tenets of most religions and spiritual pursuits for a reason. They allow us to move beyond ego-based frustrations and find joy in the simple act of existing in any situation. It is not always easy to find such peace of mind, but it is easy to start the process. With an open mind and a little flexibility, you may find that 2021 exceeds all positive expectations no matter what impediments present themselves.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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