Learning From 2020: How To Create a Fresh Start In 2021

2020 takes the prize.

If there has ever been a year filled with reasons for near constant anxiety, 2020 takes the prize.

As we enter 2021 with social distancing fatigue at an all time high and COVID-19 cases still on the rise, it is tempting to resign in defeat. Thankfully, as distribution of two approved vaccines gets underway, there is hope on the horizon – and it’s closer than it might seem.

In the meantime, how do the lessons we learned last year equip us to thrive this year? How do we move forward into 2021 with a positive mindset and eyes open wide to a more meaningful and brighter future?

Instead of dwelling on the lost opportunities and unfortunate circumstances that the pandemic forced upon us, one of the best places we can start is with a simple question: how has this experience caused you to learn something new about yourself? Is it possible that the difficult experiences this past year have actually helped reveal things in our lives that we might not have seen otherwise?

Some of us have suffered more than others, and some of us have been directly impacted by COVID-19. Many industries have been decimated, and many have suffered the loss of a loved one. Today, we look at five lessons from 2020 which we can take with us as we stagger onward into the new year.

We don't need all the things we thought we did.

By any measure, 2020 has been one long, extraordinary moment in time.

Previously, it would have been hard to imagine not being able to freely attend social gatherings, eat at a restaurant, or travel to see family for the holidays. By removing many of the fundamental activities that we once took for granted, we have been forced to reset our expectations. Our day to day circumstances, while unpleasant, can actually help us to grow. Having been stretched, we realize we are more flexible than we imagined. Many of the things that we thought we had to have to exist, we have realized that we can do without.

We are a lot more resilient than we thought.

It would be easy to reduce the last nine months of life down to one big collective trauma.

With so many of our vulnerabilities exposed, it is critical to remember that human beings are remarkably robust in the face of adversity. We are fundamentally social creatures, and as regrettable as Zoom calls and distance learning may be, we have found ways to persevere through difficulty. It doesn’t mean it is any less pleasant of course,  but we must remind ourselves that we are able to adapt when changes occur. Even in the dark, we can navigate through tough times.

Remember your heroes.

Even in a good year, there are so many things to push you off your path. It is so easy to get distracted, disillusioned, or depressed.

Who are the people in your life who have been your hero in challenging times before? What did these people do to help you reframe your circumstances? Looking to them (or keeping a picture of them nearby) can help you get re-aligned with yourself. These people, whether you know them personally or not, can help you remember what you want to be, that it’s actually possible, and inspire you to keep moving forward. Remember them often, and don’t let go of their inspiration.

Be your own scientist.

As we deal with our own frustrations, it is tempting to immediately pronounce judgement on the situation and at ourselves. This can be harmful and sidesteps the root causes that lie behind our emotions.

Instead, our job is to act as an emotional investigator, not as a judge. We need to speed time honestly looking at the facts and taking stock of what we have actually lost. As we assess what our recovery might look like, we must replace worrying with problem-solving action. Focus on the aspects of your situation that you can control. Accept the challenges the world has placed before you. Remember, your mind believes whatever you tell it!

Retrain your brain by caring for your body.

Surprisingly, you may find as you take time to care for yourself – that you will find yourself more valuable.

It may sound counterintuitive, but intentionally caring for yourself is a way to train your mind that your body is deserving of respect. The act and art of caring for yourself is a way to signal to your brain that you are a person worthy of affection and love. The same thing occurs when you help others. Studies have shown that when you volunteer, serve, and help others – your connection to them grows. You find them more valuable as humans. And there is simultaneously a strong correlation between lower depression and increased resilience for you as an individual. The good news doesn’t end there either. Simply taking care of a pet or a household plant can increase your sense of well-being when circumstances otherwise have you down. Creating opportunities to care for something, whether roses or a rabbit, is a daily practice which can impart long term benefits

Lastly, what do you want 2021 to look like?

Lastly, what do you want 2021 to look like? One of the most important things we can do as we begin a new year is to envision the future that we want to inhabit. With that inspiration as our guide, we can take action, even in small steps, toward creating a new set of circumstances for a healthier and more positive outlook in 2021.

About the Author

Andrew Barile, PsyD, NCSP

Clinical Supervisor

Andrew provides experience treating children and their families with a concentration in anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and trauma. He has wide-ranging assessment experience in neuropsychological, psychodiagnostic and psychoeducational evaluations to assist in therapeutic and educational treatment planning. He uses CBT, ACT, and compassion-focused approaches in his therapeutic relationships.

“My personal knowledge and experience of anxiety and fear, as a victim and as a conqueror, has gifted me the valuable asset of emotional intelligence. Knowledge and experience that will give me the empathy to connect with others and the grit to overcome adversity.”

Dr. Daniel Villiers

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