What’s Next

There are a lot of ways to look at 2020. While assuming the year was a disaster seems to be the norm, was it really? I saw one recent post that said, “For the first time, hindsight will be 2020.” Funny – and so true! If the last year has shown us anything, it is that we have very little control over the storms that enter our lives. Like it or not, the storms are going to come. For a control freak like me, that’s the bad news. But there is good news.

We do have control over our response to the storms.

If you think back to the beginning of 2020, we had no idea what the year would bring. It’s been a stormy one on several fronts. While we all may be glad to see 2020 end, there is no guarantee that 2021 will be any better. There are storms coming that we cannot even predict. How do we get ourselves ready?

As I have reflected on this year, I’ve come to realize that it’s not our plans and efforts to control that prepare us for storms. It’s learning to trust and strengthen our personal repertoire of responses, especially those that keep our minds from running away, screaming “the sky is falling!” In my own case this year, I realized that I take a certain enjoyment in negative, catastrophic thinking. It’s more fun than exercising the mental muscles to deal with what is and then find real solutions to the real problems. Complaining is a tempting but false balm for what ails me. And this past year has brought us a lot to complain about.

We just have to remember that we have a choice in how we think.

That voice in our head isn’t real – you know the one that chatters on about how you did this, that or the other thing wrong? Even though it feels like it’s a part of you, it’s just chatter. It’s not YOU. We’ve been compiling that mind chatter from our experiences since birth; that inner fake voice has built up a lot of incorrect connections over the years. The good news is this: we compiled it, we can change it. We can turn our thoughts from greatest critic to greatest inner coach.

Times like these are actually a gift. Pressure, uncertainty and failure shape us. We get to choose how. Yes, the good times are pleasant. But it’s the challenging times that make us better, if we choose to see it that way.

So, for the coming year, which we can be sure will be filled with the unexpected, start by recognizing that you are more ready than you realize. This time of year when everyone is deciding on New Year’s resolutions, picking a word of the year and setting their intention, I suggest something different. Let’s focus on what we did well and got right in 2020. Let’s focus on all we have to be grateful for. We all had moments of compassion, of touching someone deeply, of managing our own fear, of helping someone else through their fear. We cleaned the junk drawer or talked a friend through loss without being able to hug them. We woke up and decided to get dressed even though we were not going out all day.

How big or how small does not matter. You did things you can be proud of during this last year. You put one foot in front of the other. Let’s focus on that.

One of the core principles in my upcoming book, The Elegant Pivot: An Inspired Move for Navigating Corporate Politics is this: Focus on what you want. What I have found over and over again is that you get more of what you touch. When I focus on what I did wrong, I get more of that. When I focus on what I did well, no matter how small, I get more of that. As simple question to keep me on focusing on what I want is this: “What’s next?” It keeps me from focusing on what just happened – which might have been good or might have been different than what I wanted to happen. That simple question helps me do more of what serves me.

So, here’s my challenge for you as we begin a new year that will bring new storms. Take an inventory of everything you did well in 2020. Make a list of every little and big thing you did that you can be proud of and make it as long a list as you can. Go for at least 25, and if you want to stretch, make it 100.

Then make a list of everything you have to be grateful for. Start with the very breath you are drawing as you read this. Remember that you woke up this morning. You have food on the table. You love someone. Someone loves you.

Put these lists in a place where you can revisit them as the year goes on. They will serve as reminders of who you are and what you value. They will help you access the best part of yourself when the storm clouds gather, and that inner voice of doom starts shouting.

Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative, worrisome parts of life. It’s just how survival mode works. The pressure and uncertainty from the storms is real. But everything is not as bad as our brains would have us believe. We have something to say about that. It’s up to us to balance the scales.

If you are feeling so moved, comment to share a few items from your proud of or grateful list. I would love to hear them!