After four days of 2021, most of us Monday-through-Friday folks headed back to work this week. Some schools have resumed, holiday hours have expired, and normal(ish) life has returned–almost as if it were not a new year at all.
In the past I’ve discouraged New Year’s resolutions. They work for some, but often end up causing more problems than progress. And in a lifetime of Januaries, this is one where we need to avoid doing anything that makes our lives more painful.
Still, this is a time of nearly inescapable improvement inertia. So how do we use that to improve our well-being? By taking a mindful approach to steer our intentions and priorities.
With the awareness of a new year comes an opportunity not just to look ahead, but to examine the present. We can refresh our habits, initiate change, and position ourselves for a better year by looking within, manifesting connection, and appreciating the world around us.
Self-focused attention in the form of insight, internal self-awareness, and self-reflection directly impacts our well-being and ability to change. It’s from looking within that we are able to determine what it is we want, why we want it, what is getting in our way, and how to move forward. Taking time to notice how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, when we’re content or longing, and then imagining a desired future–this is the foundation of self improvement and satisfaction.
Soliciting feedback, working with a coach, making public declarations, and looking for best practices can support our self improvement efforts, but can’t drive them. Our change is our work.
Have you had an in-depth and honest conversation with yourself about your best hopes for the year? Beyond what you want to accomplish, have you considered how you want to do, think, or be in 2021? Consider making space to visualize a desired state and check in with yourself each day to focus on it.
Just as checking in with ourselves is essential to our well-being, so is connecting with others. At a time when digital mediums are our primary communication channel, it’s easy to think that we’re always connected. We’re not.
Emotional Intelligence pioneer Dan Goleman warns of the “electronic cocoon” that, “shuts us down in terms of sensory awareness. We lose some of the richness of the moment and the ability to simply be. It makes us constantly do, whether it’s our work or Facebook.” While staying plugged in may facilitate accessibility, it doesn’t facilitate connection.
Meaningful organic engagement with each other is one of the casualties of social distancing. We have the technology to stay in touch with family, friends, colleagues, and clients, yet even we use it regularly we can feel cut off. Because the neuroscience is against us in this area (seeing someone on a screen activates a different part of our brain than seeing them in person), it takes extra effort to make our interactions rewarding.
The more we can commune–not just communicate–with others, the better our chances for a happy and successful 2021. Look for opportunities to mitigate or bypass digital mediums. Share a long-distance meal, go for a masked walk, have a team gathering with no agenda. Provide space to be together, engage, notice what’s happening, and imagine the devices away.
Appreciating the world around us
When stuck in constant doing, rather than being, we overlook not just the people in our lives, but also the spaces, objects, and natural world that surround us. Sensational and negative messages weigh on us, to-do lists fill our minds, the things we can’t do and the people we can’t see tug at our hearts.
We know from positive psychology that satisfaction begets satisfaction. So making space to escape the drain and loneliness of mundane digital life provides not just an immediate reprieve but energizes our efforts to follow through on goals and intentions.
As you venture further into 2021, taking stock of the wonderful things in your physical world–from the minute to the monumental–is one of the easiest and most powerful ways you can set yourself up for success. Making time to get outside provides an opportunity to replace screens with nature, engaging your senses and giving your mind an opportunity to recover from two-dimensional interaction.
If you can’t take a literal breath of fresh air, you can still do a mental reset. Consider pausing right now to notice your surroundings. Slowly, one at a time, tune in to each of your senses. Inventory what you see, smell, hear, feel, taste. This is a quick way to calm overwhelm, ground yourself in the present, and reset your mind for productive functioning. Do this on your own throughout the day, or if you are part of a virtual gathering, consider offering this as a group activity. It can give everyone a boost.
Of 2020’s silver linings, increased attention toward mindfulness practices is a big one. By intentionally looking within, manifesting connection with others, and appreciating the world around us, we can integrate more wellness and resilience into our daily lives.
Let’s use these practices to make 2021 a year not just of completed resolutions, but of abundant successes.