Across the entire world we have lived through a difficult and unprecedented year where we have all faced the unprecedented challenges which the Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted on our lives and livelihoods. There has been worldwide social upheaval with economic hardships which have impacted on our own lives and the lives of others. Our social and work activities have been constrained while many of us have been restricted to our homes during the worst waves of the pandemic. A growing number of us have contracted the virus and many families have been touched by the deaths of loved ones. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down.
As we begin this new year we are heartened by the news that vaccinations against the virus have started in many countries so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back on 2020 we might also see that there were some positives about the lifestyle changes imposed by the pandemic. Many of us developed a greater understanding of the importance of friends and family. We began to look out for each other as we had a new realisation of the importance of health and wellbeing. Being more confined to our homes meant we did not have to contend with the stress of the daily commute. Many of us had more time to evaluate our lifestyles and we focused more on “we” rather than “I”. As we became more community focused we may have developed a better understanding of the importance of gratitude in our daily lives. We had more time for family, friends and colleagues.
In our new remote work environments we needed to show more empathy for others as we adjusted to new work practices. We have had to quickly upskill to adjust to new communication tools and sharing platforms: we have learnt to trust and delegate: we have learnt to listen with open minds and accept feedback. Many in leadership and management roles have realised the importance of regular, supportive communication with work colleagues as well as the benefits of positive affirmation to those they manage.
The start of the new year is also a time we look back on our 2020 goals and achievements. The upheaval in lifestyles and work practices would likely have adversely affected our personal and career goals so the new year is a time to reflect on what is realistically achievable in a world trying to cope with the most widespread pandemic in a hundred years.
I am a great believer in keeping life simple, by having and maintaining good habits. Getting up early each day gives time for some focused work or personal reflections before we become distracted by an awakening world. It is important to start our days with a positive mental attitude, and I have learnt from others that by reflecting on what is good in our lives we can greatly improve our moods and how we see our world. I have learnt that if we write down the three things each day that we are grateful for then our focus is more likely to be on the good things in life. At this stage in my own life I am grateful for good health, family, relationships and freedom to live as I wish.
A good new year resolution is to commit to living in the present moment. Many of us are so focused on big goals all of the time that our predominant focus is on the day, week and month ahead and we forget about the here and now. I remember travelling some years ago by car into the city. It was a beautiful summer’s morning, traffic was light and the weekend was approaching. I knew that I had no reason to be stressed but I was. I began to wonder why I had a sense of fear and doom. I had to get to the bottom of this and when I researched I began to understand that I was seldom actually living in the present moment. I lived my life according to “to do” lists with outcomes and timeframes. I had goals to achieve by the end of the week or month. I was always focused on the future and I was always on a war footing as I challenged myself to achieve more and more. I had no time for the present because there was always things to do tomorrow, next week or month.
I knew then that I had to re-train my mind and re-focus my attitude. I had to learn to block out work and life worries several times each day so that I could focus on where I was and what I was doing in the present time. I had to learn to be nice to myself and to appreciate all the small things around me that were absolutely free- sunshine, someone’s pleasant smile or a nice cup of coffee with no laptop open on my desk or phone to my ear. I took time out, maybe 15 minutes three times each day, when I focused on the present moment through a positive lens.
The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness – Abraham Maslow.
They say that it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks! But I did just that through increased self-awareness and by observing other “old dogs”. I recall one person I knew who had huge work responsibilities but always had time to chat to others and enquire about their wellbeing. He was always good-humoured and engaging. He had time for people because he remained in the present: he was not always pre-occupied with the burden of work pressures and goal realisation. He was fully alive to others because he lived in the present moment.
Yet we also need to focus on our professional or personal goals and we do need to know the “why” for each goal. Goals need to be realistic and achievable and we should realise that we need to take small steps as we try to attain our goals. We are told that we need to have a compelling vision if we are to make our dreams work. We need to have a strategy or stepped actions which bring us closer to achieving our goals. We need to set time aside to view and review our progress but then we need to get back into the present moment . The start of the year is a good time for re-assessing our goals and reviewing our achievements.
At one stage in my own career I was inclined to view everything as equally important. Then I concluded that when everything was important, nothing was important. I limited myself to achieving two or three goals in the year which I had a real desire to achieve. By limiting myself to a few goals I was able to concentrate my efforts on them. I knew that determination and consistency were vitally important if I was to be successful. I learned many years ago that talent alone is no match for hard work, consistency and determination. I also learned that if we are not growing, we are dying so I am always seeking to grow and learn.
Happiness is a state of mind, so it is important that we are not consumed by our life or career goals. To do so is to always be focused on the future with no time to enjoy the present. Life is a balancing act and if we we are off-balance we become somewhat dysfunctional. Life has taught me that I need time out for myself to enjoy my life as it is now. For too many years I was too pre-occupied with unfulfilled future goals and how to achieve them.
I have missed out on much enjoyment and fulfilment because I had not noticed the many small things all around me that were good for my wellbeing. Better late than never, so I have learned to arrest my previous behaviour to now stop, look and listen to what is wonderful all around me. Yes, I work at my books, blogs and articles: I prepare for and fully engage in my zoom meetings. But I make sure that I take time out to value family, friends and the beauty of the world around me. No more feelings of doom! The present moment is to be enjoyed as the future is to be valued.
Each new year provides an opportunity for renewal and growth. While we plan for the future we must enjoy the present. I must go now and practice what I preach!
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly – Buddha.