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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stern

Five Practices for Making the Most of 2021

Note: This article was originally published on CredibleMind


For many of us, 2020 was one of the most challenging years of our lives. A sense of relief and hope is beginning to emerge as we move into 2021, yet many people continue to struggle with stress-related mental health challenges. They are feeling overwhelmed.

Whatever happens this year, accelerating complexity and disruption constitute the ‘new normal,’ and the reality is that we must learn to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

A new year is often a time for releasing what has been and setting intentions for what is to come. Here are a few tips to help you stay healthy, positive, and effective, no matter what this new year brings.

1. Focus on What You Can Control

A central theme of 2020 was uncertainty. Life is always uncertain, but most of the time, we operate as if we have more control over our lives than we actually do.

In the face of tremendous uncertainty, we can empower ourselves and take responsibility for our lives by recognizing and exercising our capacity to choose how we respond to the inevitable challenges of life.

The key here is to distinguish your circle of concern from your circle of control.

Examples of things that probably concern you but that you cannot control are when you will be allowed to get the COVID-19 vaccine and whether other people choose to wear masks.

The more you focus on what lies outside your control, the more you hand your power over to other people and external forces and conditions. By focusing instead on what you can control—your mental and emotional state, your words, and your actions—you can reclaim your power and your freedom.

2. Cultivate Your Core Values

While the pandemic is a global event, it has affected each of us uniquely. And our responses to the experience can reveal a lot about us.

Many people I spoke to in the early phases of the pandemic found themselves reflecting on deep questions about their life and identity: What is truly important in my life? What type of person do I want to be? How should I respond to the challenges I face?

Reflect on your experience of 2020: In what ways did you successfully work in alignment with your values? Where do you still see room for improvement? Now look ahead to 2021: What habits, practices, and projects would help you express your values?

3. Practice Essentialism

One lesson that many people are taking from the pandemic is to slow down.

There are infinite ways you can improve your life, cultivate your character, and have a positive impact on the world. But you must honor the limits of your time, energy, and attention. When you say yes to one thing, you are also saying no to everything else you could possibly be doing instead.

Once you accept the reality of trade-offs, you can shift your question from "How can I make it all work?" to "Which problem do I want to solve?"

Living ‘essentially’ means rather than trying to do or be all things for all people at all times, we focus on discerning the right thing for the right reason at the right time. We explore our options and then eliminate the trivial many to prioritize the vital few. The emphasis is on "less, but better." Think about your life in terms of just three areas: Self, Relationships, Work. Identify one change you would like to make in each of these areas. Then commit to making one of those changes at a time.

4. Build Good Habits

Clear and specific goals are powerful, but habits are what get you there. Even if you don’t reach your ultimate goal, a good habit will still generate positive results. And you may be transformed by the experience in unexpected ways.

I suggest three simple tips for developing good habits:

  1. Make it easy. Start small, and redesign your environment so it’s more conducive to your desired behavior.

  2. Make it enjoyable. Leverage your strengths and interests. Do it with a friend. Give yourself a reward. The more you look forward to it, the more likely you will do it.

  3. Prioritize consistency over intensity. A new habit must be stabilized before it can be optimized. Remember that you’re playing the long game.

When you try to change everything all at once, you are more likely to fail. But if you take the time to build a solid foundation of a few keystone practices, everything else will get better and easier.

For all of 2021, focus on building one new practice every three months. Slow, sustained, gradual progress is exponentially more effective than any quick fix.

5. Seek Support

I’ve saved the best for last: Don’t try to do it alone.

There are many forms of support: friends, family, work colleagues, community members, neighbors, an accountability partner, a coach, a therapist, etc. Explore the options to determine which types of support are most helpful to you in which type of situations. The new year brings a fresh start and a chance to be inspired by possibility, yet we know that 2021 will bring challenges as well, just like any other year. Applying these principles can help you turn your challenges into opportunities for healing, flourishing, and having a positive impact.

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