To say 2020 was a difficult year is an understatement, and you wouldn’t be alone if you’re thinking “2021 can’t come soon enough.” This past year has presented many of us with challenges unlike anything we have ever faced before, and at times the obstacles we were tasked with overcoming seemed unsurmountable. Yet 2020 also brought out incredible resilience, grit, and perseverance at both the collective and individual level as our communities continue to weather the ongoing storm that has been fixed over our heads for most of the year.
While you may be ready to put 2020 behind you, to make the best out of 2021 it’s worthwhile to take some time as the year comes to an end for reflecting on how you fared over the past year, and how you could be best prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that the new year may bring. To help guide you in your end of year reflections, we’ve put together a few questions to consider and 10 tips for making the best out of 2021. Keep reading to see how to make 2021 better!
How Is Your Bigger Picture Looking?
Before we move on to our ten tips for a better year, we have a few questions you should ask yourself.
When you reflect on your affairs at year’s end, it’s easy to fix your thinking within just the confines of the past year. While this is useful and will be discussed shortly, start by thinking about where you are in your bigger picture. Are you still focused on the bigger goals or priorities that are important to you? Have you possibly drifted from your bigger picture aims, or are you staying on target? Are your days fulfilling, or just draining? It’s important to take stock of where you stand in all areas of your life and maintain a healthy life-work-family balance that fosters a meaningful life.
Consider how well balanced your plate is. If you can’t remember the last time you got out of town for a proper vacation or made time for a spontaneous family visit, that may merit further consideration about how well you are incorporating self-care and family time. Especially in years where we have been focusing more on maintaining a steady flow of income and keeping your family comfortable, it can be all too easy to neglect the other areas of our life that are just as important to our long-term wellbeing.
2020 in Review
With your head firmly wrapped around your bigger picture, you can then shift your reflections onto the past year. As you do, be kind to yourself and considerate of the unique challenges you faced in 2020. It was a difficult year for most, if not all of us, and few of us were able to accomplish what we set out to do at the beginning of the year. If that wasn’t the case for you, that’s all the better! Whatever your accomplishments were in 2020, appreciate what it took for you to get it done and reflect on the lessons that can be drawn from the resilience, adaptability, and grit you employed in the process.
Feel free to be creative about how you make your reflections! It’s a great time to map out visually what you’ve done. Get some large format drawing paper, some different colored markers, and visually write out you’re accomplishments, your challenges, your collaborators, and all the other elements that compose your past year. If you journal, take time to review your past writings, making note of where you could spend more time reflecting and where you’ve grown. If you don’t journal, there’s no time like the present to start!
Ditch the Resolutions, Set New Year Goals
For many of us, New Year’s involves an awkward dance with resolutions that don’t always translate into meaningful change in our lives. Resolutions tend to be lifestyle changes that, while probably good ideas, are often not aligned with our actual personal goals. Often, they are such ambitious aims that we are setting ourselves up to fall short, and then have to deal with the guilt of not doing what we said we’d do. This year, instead of setting resolutions, set your goals for what you want to accomplish in the new year.
These goals could have a purpose similar to a resolution, whether that’s improving your diet, getting into a new exercise routine, or deepening your social network. The difference between goals and resolutions is that with resolutions, you resolve to do something without acknowledging the work required to do so. You can’t simply become a daily runner because it’s a new year. If you set the goal to become a daily runner, that is something you can work towards and be rewarded every step of the year.
Plan for the Unexpected
No plan is foolproof. Life is unpredictable, and events rarely come to pass as we expect. Yet there is no more certain path to failure than one without any plan at all. A good plan accounts for what we can reasonably have control over while acknowledging the variables and unpredictable bumps on the road that may result in a change of trajectory. After all, a change of plans still lends to much more stable footing than abandoning the plan altogether.
In making a plan for the new year, make sure it aligns with your bigger picture goals. Keep your details specific enough to be actionable while flexible enough to incorporate the occasional change of plans. Life is filled with unexpected opportunities. Make a plan that focuses on being in the right position to take advantage of and maximize opportunities when they arise.
10 Tips for Having Your Best 2021
With all that in mind, here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your 2021.
1. See Opportunity in the Challenges You Must Overcome
While for many the last year has been one of the most challenging in recent memory, it’s likely that 2021 will continue to present obstacles for you to overcome. Have heart! For every challenge you face in life you are presented with just as many if not more opportunities for growth, learning, and success in the face of adversity. Making the most of the situation you face is largely a matter of mindset – this means not just thinking positively but thinking opportunistically.
Rather than looking at the obstacles you face going into 2021 as challenges, think of them as opportunities. Look not just at the bright side, but what you can grow there. We all have problems, that’s a part of being human. To be great, then, is to take those problems and make them serve your benefit.
2. Use Your Time Wisely
2020 seemed like it would never end. As many of us have faced extended periods of quarantine, you may have felt like you have too much time on your hands over the past year. Perhaps you feel as though you lost a great deal of time in 2020 due to the limitations many of us have faced socially. Going into 2021, now is a good time to re-evaluate how you spend your time, and how you could be more strategic. As we look forward to a year that offers relief and expansion from the restrictions of 2020, consider how you organize your daily routine, start setting monthly goals, and set aside time to make them happen.
Be strategic, stay focused, and try to trim down on wasted time. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all of your time has to be 100% productive. Just as important as being productive is being happy and fulfilled. As you set aside time to work towards your monthly goals, also be sure to set aside time for self-care, family and friends, your hobbies, and at least a sliver for just being present and mindful. Sometimes it’s perfectly okay, even necessary to do nothing – as long as it’s intentional.
3. No Excuses, No Problems
When we are faced with a difficult challenge, even if we know what can be gained by succeeding, it can be much easier to find one of a myriad of excuses available to justify not taking action. Sometimes these excuses are perfectly valid reasons or sound justifications, but regardless of how well-founded, there is seldom much to be gained from inaction. Let’s be honest – excuses are often much easier to come by than solutions, and doing the hard work is, well, hard! Hard work, however, is usually the work most worth doing, but nothing is going to get accomplished if you allow yourself to be held back by excuses.
There are many ways of overcoming the rather human tendency to come up with excuses. The best place to start is to work on recognizing when you’re making one. The best excuses are the ones that are the most well-reasoned, so it may take time to learn how to catch yourself. Look for the flaws in your excuse, the shortcomings. Pay attention to those gut feelings, the ones that pop up when your thinking of a reason to not take action and gnaw at you subtly, saying “this doesn’t feel right.” Listen to your gut! Your mind may be sharp, but your gut will keep you humbled by the truth.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Uncomfortable
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being comfortable. There are few greater things than cozying up with a blanket, a good book, and a steaming cup of tea. Yet a shared thread in the tapestry of our collective human dramatic comedy is that staying in your comfort zone rarely yields the types of personal, emotional, or professional growth you seek to manifest in your life. To grow, learn, and expand your mind you must step out of your comfort zone. Many of us have experienced a feeling of guilt or a personal frustration that results from staying comfortable for too long. This is your subconscious telling you to get out there!
You must be brave and bold – unafraid to step into the void and face the challenges and mysteries that await you. Make uncomfortable your new comfort zone. You may have a great deal of untapped potential just waiting for the right opportunity, the right moment to come along and launch you into a great new endeavor or learning experience. Yet if you never step outside your comfort zone, you will never find them. We are often at our best when we are challenged, so prepare to go out there and meet those challenges where they are, rather than wait for them to come to you.
5. Self-Care Is Self-Love
So far we’ve talked a lot about challenges – about embracing them, making them into opportunities, and allowing yourself to get out of your comfort zone to face them head-on. Yet not every challenge we face will result in a resounding victory. In fact, it may be a past failure or shortcoming that is still holding you back from taking on new challenges and finding new opportunities for growth. Do you ever find yourself presented with a new opportunity, only to be racked with guilt, shame, or other negative thoughts about yourself and your past shortcomings?
If so, you are not alone, and certainly not without hope. We all have past failures that threaten to haunt us continuously unless we take the time to do the internal work of forgiveness and acceptance of our past transgressions. To do so, make 2021 a year of self-care, which means forgiving yourself for these shortcomings and learning to love yourself, flaws and all. There are lessons to be found in the process that will help you to be your best self-moving forward. Love yourself for who you are, and you will set yourself free to flourish in the new year.
6. Stay Close to the Ones You Love
In 2020 many of our personal connections have been strained by distance and disconnection, which may leave some feeling adrift from their loved ones and community. No matter how sweet the victory, how great the success, what matters most is to have meaningful relationships with your family, friends, and loved ones who can share in the fruits of your labor. All your work, after all, should be in pursuit not of mere material gains, but of a higher and more meaningful quality of life. Without a community with which to share, to care for, and to be taken care of by, such a higher quality of life is unattainable.
As you approach 2021, embrace the opportunity the new year brings to start repairing damaged connections and build new relationships with those you may have drifted apart from over the past year. Make the time to reconnect and forge new, more lasting bonds. Reach out to that friend or co-worker from back in the day, the ones that you may not talk to often but are always there. It’s also a good time for deepening your close connections. Start dropping in for family dinner more often or make time in your weekday workflow to spend an extra half an hour with your partner.
7. Be Open to Criticism
One doesn’t have to like criticism to recognize that it’s a necessary part of life. It’s understandable to not seek out criticism actively, or even to purposefully avoid it. Being criticized can be unpleasant and feeling judged is even worse. If criticism didn’t exist, however, we’d all likely think we’re much better at everything we do, but in truth would assuredly be much worse. To fully unlock your growth potential in 2021, there are two things you should do with criticism.
The first is to focus on the takeaways, the bits of truth or validity that usually underly even the most tactless of critiques. Even if the criticism is not presented to be constructive, allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to consider where there may be valid lessons to learn. The second is to not allow yourself to be burdened by criticism. Take what there is to learn and let the rest break on you as waves do on a rocky shore. You cannot prevent criticism or judgment altogether, but you can prevent it from burdening your life.
8. Prioritize What Brings Happiness
Though we’ve mentioned self-care previously, the pursuit of happiness merits its own discussion. As a critical component of self-care, it’s important to make room in your priorities for the things that make you happy – especially the little ones. We are all subject to feelings of burnout and brain drain when we’ve been working hard in pursuit of our goals and neglect to put aside for even the simplest of pleasures. Yet without a little bit of fun in the mix, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve accomplished – exhaustion sets in eventually, and it becomes more difficult to find the meaning in what we’re doing.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. Many of us pushed our productivity levels in 2020, trying to make the best use of our time despite (or because of) the circumstances. Continue to bring your hustle into 2021, but make sure you spend time focusing on the things that make you happy. This could something as simple as taking more walks or spending more time in the garden. Whatever it is, treat yourself! It doesn’t have to be expensive, although it certainly could be. At times, all we need to be reminded of life’s joy is a nice cup of coffee and a fresh pastry.
9. Set Your Goals, and Stay on Course
Setting practical, flexible goals and a plan of action helps make it easier to balance self-care, growing relationships, household responsibilities, and pursuing your dreams. Set goals that read like visions, reflecting where you want to be in a year. What does the future you look like, one year down the road? Be flexible and opportunistic when you mark your targets – life is filled with surprises, and while many of us tend to think of the unpleasant ones, there are just as many beneficial surprises to be found on your path.
Set goals that are flexible, yet grounded by your vision, so you have a solid target to work towards while staying dynamic and ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way. It will be easier to find time for family, self-care, and other personal priorities when you know where you’re headed, and you are focusing on putting in the work where it counts. Where opportunities come your way, consider how they would either aid or hinder you in accomplishing your goals. Sometimes the right opportunity might take you down an unexpected path. This may be exactly what you need, just make sure it keeps you moving in the right direction.
10. Be Master of Your Own Destiny
At the end of the day, the biggest hurdle any of us face in being our best selves and living our best lives is ourselves. Very little good in life comes without you making it happen. When you want to bring greater prosperity to your life, the burden of doing so falls squarely on your shoulders. After all, when you wake up, you’re the one who has to get out of bed and start your day! Most of the challenges you then encounter as you go about your business require you to face them. It’s up to you to seize the day, take charge of your life, and get to work.
Few of us are graced with endless energy and boundless opportunity. Being tired is utterly, frustratingly human, as is being short on time, and facing a myriad of challenges with solutions that are far less easy to come by than excuses for inaction. Yet the sweetest of victories and most worthwhile of accomplishments lie on the other side of adversity. 2021 is the year for you to take the world by storm and be the master of your own destiny. Let no obstacle be too great for your stride, no challenge unchallenged by the bravery and boldness you will bring to bear on your life.