Friday 24 January 2020

How to reset your mind for 2020

Acceptance, and not change, is the key element in charting a path to a happier you in the coming year, writes Allison Keating

The challenge is not to change, but to accept
The challenge is not to change, but to accept
Allison Keating says it's important to challenge yourself

Allison Keating

In order to move forward, it can be helpful to reflect on the past 12 months, a kind of bespoke Reeling In The Years filled with all of the tears, fears and emotional highlights. Try to remember your highs and lows to help clarify the impact they had and decide how you want to tackle this year. Get a pen and paper and start by getting all of this out of your head and on to a page.

I genuinely love the endless possibilities that come with a new year. Yes, we may feel pressured to do a full 360º on everything that was celebrated to the max in December, but it majorly misses the point. I challenge you not to change, but to accept.

If your top intentions are the same ones you've had for the last decade, you need to be honest with yourself and realise your brain will fight you hard against making those changes, and it will be really helpful to realise you won't magically become a carrot-grazing gym bunny who goes to bed at 10pm every night just because a new year chimed in.

So let's drop that fallacy as it will work against you, especially when the wheels come off at some stage. There's zero blame in that, as good intentions always end badly when you don't understand how your brain or limited willpower works.

Allison Keating says it's important to challenge yourself
Allison Keating says it's important to challenge yourself

Pen and paper to the ready

1. Write out your top memories, experiences, achievements and moments of 2019.

2. Now ask why were these picked?

3. What made them special?

4. Who was there?

5. What did it take to get there? Be honest, remember what it took to get there.

6. What were the most challenging, difficult, upsetting, hurtful, disappointing memories of 2019? Bring the three 'W's in and ask 'why' it was so difficult, 'what' specifically upset or disappointed you and 'who' was there?

Sit back and look at the 'good' and 'bad' list. I'm going to hazard a guess that the bad list is longer. As you begin to set intentions to bring more success into 2020, be mindful of the reality that success rarely comes without many tough and uncomfortable bumps in the road. Never mind the 'L' driver - in life, you have to pick up many 'F's along the way... and then some. A really productive collaboration would be to team the 'Learner' mentality alongside our perceived 'Failure(s)'. The harsh truth is that you grow and adapt much more through the setbacks, disappointments and failures as you see, very painfully, what doesn't work. Adaptation as a survival instinct will help you thrive as you consciously step into a growth mindset.

A growth mindset will set you up to deal with the inevitable setbacks across all your roles in life. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you go into 2020 with a glossy, blessed mentality, it won't be long until you are cursing it when things like life don't go to plan.

Bringing this full circle back to acceptance, this is what will set your life on a trajectory that perhaps it has never been on before. Imagine accepting who you are, as you are right now. Pause and write that down.

Put the stick down that you beat yourself with. Success is an inside job. You have to start by taming the internal critic. Setting the intention to have a better relationship with yourself first and foremost is the baseline for cultivating more long-term satisfaction and meaning in your life.

Happiness is fleeting. I recommend noting when you feel happy, joyful and content and to luxuriate in its glow. Practise noticing when it is there and to accept that, like sadness or feeling negative, these feelings and thoughts will also pass depending on the circumstances.

Success is not the absence of pain, fear or anxiety. It is such a private concept that only you can define what it means to you. Here are some strategies to help you identify what success means to you:

1. Define your own success

What does success look like to you? It can be helpful to break this down in categories. In my book The Secret Lives Of Adults, I liken it to a Russian doll and use specific questions to explore all the separate, yet integrated, parts of your life. You pick which roles apply to you from knowing yourself to who and how you are within your relationships, family, and friends, at work etc. It can be helpful to explore the gap between your public and private self, this holds a lot of information about how congruent or frustrated your life may feel.

Use frustration as a driver to increase your desire to make changes that will improve the quality of your life.

Identify your stressors or repeated patterns that you want to respond differently to. What was the top fight you had last year? How would you like to change that this year? What needs to be done differently?

Success for someone could be to become friendlier to themselves, to hear when they lack compassion as they experience life's tribulations. To simply be how they would be to a real friend and then try that for themselves. Changing your internal dialogue is a game changer. This might not be the success we are told to chase, but much like happiness, if you are always chasing the next fix or someone else's idea of success, ultimately you may feel like a failure in comparison. Reframing and clearly identifying what success means to you allows you to block out external noise.

Connect to what you value - you may want more time or peace of mind. You may desire to change your stress levels. Connecting back to what stirs your soul will nourish you more than you might be aware of. The value of success is not things, it is in people you connect with and you are included in this.

2. Put a plan together

If you were coming up with a new concept at work, it is very plausible you would whiteboard ideas and yet you may scoff at a vision board for yourself. Your brain needs to see what it is pursuing. With the categories applicable to you, pick the suitable headings such as 'me', 'my relationship' 'my parents' 'siblings' ''me as a parent' 'friends' 'work' and sub-headings such as 'time' 'money' 'sex and intimacy', 'nature time', 'nurture time', 'learning goals', 'hopes & dreams', a 'less of' column and 'more of' column, and one area just for 'boundaries' to set a clear framework of how you are going to treat yourself and how you would like to be treated.

3. Nurture your wellbeing

With all the talk on self-care, do you really do it? Be honest, do you, in a consistent way like brushing your teeth, do something or anything for yourself? The concept of self-care as bubble baths and hours meditating needs a refresh for time-starved adults. Think and write out what nourishes you. This could be HIIT exercise for one and going for a walk for another. It can also be sitting down with a coffee and a magazine. Not everything in life needs to be purpose and goal driven. Having a break means tuning into what that means for you.

What nurtures you? Write that list and add nurture time to your calendar. If you want to make changes this year, you have to put a value on bringing this to fruition.

If you had an appointment or a meeting at work, you put it in your diary as it is important and you recognise that there are consequences if you don't show up. Showing up for yourself is the only way to bring new ways of doing things into your everyday.

4. Broaden your universe

Comfort zones are a serious misnomer. A great article to read by Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan called 'What happy people do differently' shows us that by taking risks in life, it keeps everything fresh, challenging and alive. It is in these moments where we don't know how the date will go, or to go for that job you've coveted for years that leaves you feeling energised and excited.

The anxiety of not knowing opens up people's worlds. As adults, don't close the door or make yourself or your world small. Fight the fear and lack of confidence that comes with being the novice again. Give yourself permission to try, fall off and get back on again. People are thinking about you less than you think.

Embrace change, embrace not knowing, certainty is the death of many a dream. There is no certainty in life, so live not just a little, but a lot. Go into town and meet your friends, try that new business idea on the side, explore, be curious and spontaneous, or at least plan for your spontaneous time out!

5. Take account and be accountable

Now that you know what you want out of 2020 and yourself, the big question remains: how are you going to keep on track? Easy, see this sign in your head: 'expect delays'. The amount of time will be specific to what is going on in your life. You can't be on track all of the time. When you make plans, it's too easy to forget the constant distractions and 'interruptions to normal programming' that will occur.

When the setbacks happen, breathe, recognise the frustration you feel and accept you may need to come back to this tomorrow or next week. Setbacks are only a problem when you don't come back to it. So add time in for sickness, yours, theirs, deadlines, curve balls, procrastination, bad mental health days/weeks and being human. Build compassion time into your calendar - sometimes you just won't be in the mood. Write in your diary when you will come back, sometimes a rest is even better than a break.

An accountability buddy is useful, but do not use it as an excuse. You can do this, you will do this, you will have days were you won't do it and that is fine. Look to the basics: what do you need at that time? It could be more sleep, good food and a mental health duvet day. It's incredible how much more can be achieved when we do less. Let 2020 be the year where you swap quantity for quality.

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