Was 2020 a writeoff? Not entirely. Here's why we need to celebrate ordinary things
Here’s how to reflect on 2020 in a way that promotes self-kindness
December is a natural time for reflection. Not only is the year winding down but the evenings are long and we are spending more time inside.
It's also a memory-charged season.
That puts us all in our own heads and it invites comparisons — to our past, to our plans, to our imagined futures and to the people around us.
This year, with its intense mix of changes, loss, anxiety and stress as we tried to establish a sense of normality, has the potential to make that comparison even more painful.
But, even with all of those challenges and difficulties, most of us have had a few bright spots in 2020. It could be in the shows you watched, the bread you baked, the help you gave or received. Even if every other part of the year felt awful, it's OK to note the good things — it helps us to keep perspective and to avoid despair.
I'm not suggesting that you bright-side yourself. You don't have to take a sunshiny perspective and pretend the bad things didn't happen.
It's just good for your brain to see that good things happened too.
Noticing the good things that happened in a challenging time doesn't negate the challenges; it just gives you some balance. The reverse is also true. Even if the strange nature of 2020 worked to your advantage in some ways, you don't have to pretend it was perfect — you can still note the things that you didn't like or that you wish were different.
Either way, taking the time to acknowledge the year's events and emotions can help bring some shape to a strange time in all of our lives and keep us from seeing 2020 as a writeoff.
Be kind to yourself
While I always advise being kind to yourself in these sorts of exercises, I especially recommend it during this year, when virtually nothing went as planned.
Even if we didn't personally face any great losses, we know lots of people who did. And, even if our lives weren't greatly affected, the changes in the rhythm of our year left most of us feeling a little unmoored and out of sync.
Acknowledging the impact of those losses, personal or otherwise, and noticing the effect of the differences in this year's rhythm, is the starting point for self-kindness in this process. It is perfectly natural to feel off-kilter right now and it's OK to acknowledge that.
If that off-kilter feeling just means that you don't feel like reflecting right now, you don't have to. If the process of reflection won't serve you, it's perfectly OK to keep doing what's working and walk away from this article guilt-free.
Sidebar: If that off-kilter feeling is overwhelming or all-consuming, please contact a mental health professional. You don't have to live in distress. Here are some places to start: Bridge the Gapp, Canadian Mental Health Association NL, St. John's Women's Centre.
If you feel that reflection is inevitable, or if reflecting on the passing year gives you a feeling of closure, then I invite you to shape the process in a way that feels good to you.
Sidebar: For some people, yearly reflection involves a written journal but you can assemble photos, make a video, draw, make lists or do anything that helps you acknowledge the past year in a satisfying way.
Reflection is not a list of 'accomplishments'
Reflecting on the passing year is about drawing our attention to the things we want to remember, acknowledge or celebrate.
While that might include projects completed or goals reached, that's a very limited way to measure any year but one that included as much stress and upheaval as 2020 has.
Obviously, it's OK to notice and celebrate goals, projects, and accomplishments, but they aren't the sum of anyone's life. The most important moments in our lives, the things we want to reflect on and remember, are often far more intangible.
In fact, you don't have to have "accomplished" anything that you set out to do this year. We were all thrown for a loop, and we all coped in different ways.
The way you got through (and continue to get through) these difficult times is valid and worth acknowledging. Your effort matters, even if the results can't be captured in a list of accomplishments.
It's not exhausting (or exhaustive)
Reflecting on this unusual year can be less about listing things that can be measured by an external source and more about noticing the ordinary, remembering our feelings, and valuing connections.
This doesn't have to be an exhausting (or exhaustive) process. You can choose the categories that appeal to you, and pick how many (or how few) to record for each one.
And, of course, you can choose other questions and categories that help you capture the details that you want to remember, acknowledge and honour.
Here are some questions to get you started:
1. How did you spend your days?
Again, this isn't about creating a list of accomplishments; this is about noticing and acknowledging the ordinary. Perhaps your work life stayed the same or perhaps it changed drastically. Maybe you had to take on new responsibilities, or juggle child care and work at the same time.
Maybe you couldn't work and you watched movies or baked bread or darned socks.
There was no time "wasted," no matter what you did this year. You managed the best you could and did the things that made sense to you at the time. It's worth noticing what they were.
2. What did you enjoy doing this year?
Maybe you came to love working from home. Perhaps you developed a new puzzle hobby. Or perhaps you developed a new routine to mark the weekends. Celebrate any and all sources of fun and joy.
3. What connections did you make?
Changing schedules, people working from home, and the trend in video calls may mean that you were able to connect (or reconnect) with people you haven't been in touch with for a while.
4. What coping skills did you develop?
This isn't about beating yourself up about "too much" TV or "too many" snacks; this is about valuing how you took care of yourself under stress. If you realize that something that helped on the moment didn't help overall, you can change it for the future, but acknowledge that you did what you could in the moment.
5. What did you discover about yourself?
Perhaps you found out that you like mystery novels or that there is such a thing as too much time at home. You can take that knowledge and add more fun into the days ahead.
6. Where did you struggle or get frustrated? Are there any notes or actions you could take to make things easier for yourself in the future?
This isn't about being "better." This about checking in to see if you can save yourself any future stress or hassle.
7. What can you be proud of this year?
Remember, everything counts! Being proud of perfecting your origami stars is totally valid. This is your list; celebrate the ordinary, the extraordinary, the downright weird.
Some ideas for 2021
Once you have done some reflection for 2020, you might want to give a little thought to 2021.
Again, this doesn't have to be about setting goals and making big plans. This can be about the small, the ordinary, and the day-to-day.
Here are some questions to get you started:
How do you want to feel in 2021? How can you shape your systems to foster that feeling? Who do you want to stay connected to? How can you encourage that to happen? How can you be kinder to yourself? What reminders can you put in place to make that happen?
Say goodbye to the very weird year
While the end of the year and the beginning of a new one are fairly arbitrary things, doing a reflection like I describe above can help you to notice the passing of time and give you a sense of closure and change.
I hope that a reflection like this lets you put 2020 in some sort of perspective and helps you to move on with hope and determination.
Please make sure to be kind to yourself throughout the process.