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So It's a New Year. Now What?

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So here we are at the end of 2021. Yes, it’s that time of year when we’re hit with those “best of the year” and “worst of the year” lists. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were doing your own year-end review, thinking about what happened and what didn’t happen, what you accomplished and what you didn’t accomplish.

I just have to ask: How do you think you did? 

This may be a sensitive topic, at least it has been for a lot of the people who pass through my office. Here’s what I heard from clients that I’ll call Deb and Carlos.

Deb came in with a pretty bleak attitude about 2021. “The new year just reminds me of what I haven’t accomplished yet. I look back over 2021 and I feel like I let myself down. What do I have to show for 2021?”

Carlos decided that 2021 was a bust and predicted more of the same for 2022. “I didn’t get anything I wanted in 2021. And I have to ask myself what I have to look forward to in 2022. After all, my problems aren’t magically going to disappear, right?”  

Take a Look at Your Perspective. Shift as Needed 

And then, I will ask that question one more time, but change the emphasis. How do you THINK you did? I’m emphasizing the word “think” because that’s where you can get yourself in trouble when you’re doing your annual review. Here’s what I mean:

Who’s doing the judging here? As you evaluate the past year, whose voice are you hearing in your head? Is it a realistic, encouraging voice? A voice of compassion? Or a voice that can only point out what’s missing and what could have been better? Or one that flat out screams what a loser you are?  It might be time to fire that mean little Simon Cowell in your head and see if Oprah can fill in.  

Don’t give in to all or nothing thinking. It’s easy to fall into that, “if I get what I wanted, I didn’t get anything, if I didn’t accomplish this, then I didn’t do anything” trap. Okay, so 2021 isn’t looking like you had expected it to look. But take a step back and ask yourself: “What’s good in my life?” I suspect that there was more to the year than you are giving yourself credit for. Make a list. Look at the cup as half full, not half empty.   

If you are comparing yourself to others, you are only going to come up short. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone else. Instead, accept that each of us in our own individual path in life, we have strengths, weaknesses, joys, challenges. Let go of the woulda-coulda-shouldas and accept where YOU are at this moment in time. You’re doing the best you can. And that’s a lot!

Focus on the bigger picture. Life is an ongoing process of growing, developing, learning, caring and being cared for. An ebb and flow. Life may seem to go better – fewer challenges, more successes – some years, and not so great other years. But the point is that your life isn’t about only one year, but the years that you have lived, and the years that you have ahead of you. So don’t lose your perspective.    

Give in to the possibility of change. And while you’re looking at the bigger picture, ask yourself: Is 2022 a year for new directions? The only thing we can really count on is that things change. You’ve already seen it in your own life, with the changes that your health challenges have introduced. The more flexible you can be – ready, willing, and able to shift your priorities, and change your routine – makes it easier to live with uncertainty. Open yourself up to the unexpected.

Remind yourself that you are a work in progress.  Stop beating yourself up for what you didn’t do. Allow yourself to be human. That means not always being perfect. Making a few mistakes, a few misjudgments. Pushing too hard, or being a little lazy. Being flat-footed once in awhile and stepping on somebody’s toes. It’s all about doing the best you can on this journey of life. Look at what you learned from your mistakes.  Choose to attempt to do even better in 2022.

Set some realistic priorities for 2022.  Decide where you are going to focus your efforts for 2022. What you want to make happen in your life, and what you can do this coming year – not necessarily to do it all – but to move another step in a positive direction.

Make “taking better care of myself” the top priority.  Think about what you need to do to strengthen your foundation. More attention to your physical well-being with an exercise plan? Learning how to cope better with stress? Picking up a new hobby? Spending more time with friends and family? Building a stronger support network? Assess your strengths, and where you need to add more muscle, and commit to doing what you need to do to get bulked up.  

Celebrate 2021 by celebrating yourself! You’ve made it through another year. And a global pandemic no less! Life is good. And 2022 is a year of even more opportunity for personal growth.

Happy New Year! Make 2022 the best year yet… at least until 2023!

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. His website is JustGotDiagnosed.com.

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