As we say a not-so-fond farewell to 2020, a new year creates an opportunity for us to take a different approach to the day-to-day. It is in the challenging and uncertain times that we see the human spirit at its best, and 2020 was certainly one for the books. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” It’s easy to be optimistic, upbeat, and positive when things are going well. Consciously shifting our perspective to create optimistic neural pathways takes repetition, practice, and persistence. By shifting our focus to the positive, we can change our perspective to take a longer view of any situation.
With the increasing number of environmental, social and personal trials we’re likely to encounter in the coming year, resilience is the greatest asset any of us have to overcome the obstacles in our path. Building resilience over time helps us to pick ourselves up and carry on in the face of adversity. Neurons that fire together wire together—the more we practice resilience and nurture our recovery from stress, the more natural it becomes to have an optimistic, forward-thinking outlook, and the more capable we are of overcoming fear and moving forward in spite of it. Years of research into resilience and hardiness have revealed several building blocks that emerge consistently to help us develop our resilience muscle, regardless of what life throws at us.
Seek out new experiences
We saw communities come together in 2020 as we navigated new waters and found different ways to connect. When we are exposed to new experiences, we learn and grow. A lack of familiarity forces us to pay attention, and be fully present. This mindful attention creates healthy tension, as we experiment with new ways of seeing the world with curiosity and a willingness to find a different perspective.
Find your trusted guides
We saw families rediscovering quality time together, and friends leaning in to support those who were struggling with loneliness. Seeking out those who will support and encourage us, and whose opinion we respect gives us an opportunity to accept help with grace, and offer it in return. Trusted guides will help you through difficult times, will help pick you up when you fall, and will remind you that you never have to go it alone.
We saw tireless essential workers approach each day determined to serve and support their communities with purpose and compassion. Those who believe that the choices they make drive what happens to them have a sense of control over their destiny. They deal with setbacks as opportunities to learn and adjust their approach, rather than irrefutable proof of their inability to succeed. Learning how to fail successfully can be a powerful tool.
Apply a lens of possibility
Despite uncertainty and struggle, we saw the human spirit persevere. Resilience is not about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses or avoiding negative feelings or events. Negative thoughts have their place, particularly when dealing with events over which we truly have no control, but our ability to find the silver lining in these events and get back up to strive again is a significant indicator of resilience. Our perspective on challenging events drives our response to them.
Give a little gratitude
We saw acts of kindness, big and small, transform our communities. Choosing to be grateful for our blessings and actively focusing on the good in our lives builds neural pathways to optimism, physically training our brains to be happier. Extending the appreciation of the good in life by sharing our observations with others and performing acts of kindness has been known to increase happiness both for the person doing the sharing and the recipient of the message.
From Zoom-meeting fail memes to do-it-yourself haircuts, we’ve laughed together and grown closer through our shared human experience of 2020. I believe that if we can embrace the messy imperfection that makes us human and be open to exploring a new approach to the way we engage with the world and connect with each other in 2021, we can discover an entirely new perspective and learn to thrive. And if we can change ourselves, each of us has the power to make a difference for those around us. As Mother Teresa said; “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” I wish you all the best on your journey as you cast your stone across the water in 2021.