It's a new year and it's more of the same | Third Space

It's a new year and it's more of the same

How we can prepare ourselves for a down sized 2021.
Mon 8 Feb 2021

More of the same

I was talking to a friend who is high up in State Government. She is telling the business community 2021 will be: “More of the same”. At first I thought I would be ok with another year like 2020. But then a much-anticipated holiday fell through - my friend couldn’t leave her dad in respite care (he has dementia) because of a sudden lock down. I confess I had a mini-meltdown. It had been a long year.

When more of the same becomes a problem

A work colleague was telling me that in life we need both predictability and disruption. We like the fact the sun comes up every morning, and that on occasion we get to sleep in. Too much of either predictability or negative disruption in our lives after awhile does our heads in. For me, 2020 was a year of too much negative COVID-related disruption. Now 2021 could be a year of too much COVID-related predictability. It’s the uncertainty that’s predictable – it’s what we now live with. I find that uncertainty at times exhausting and dare I say it…boring.

By boring I don’t mean not having enough to do. Boredom is

“commonly experienced as an irritable restlessness… The mood is highly correlated to feeling trapped – in a dead-end job, a community we don’t connect to or even just a crappy conversation…boredom’s “itch” is how our brain alerts us to the fact that we have lost the sense, even temporarily, or being the protagonist in our own life”.

A “protagonist” is someone who takes the lead or is the central character in a story. Being the protagonist in our own lives isn’t about writing ourselves in as the hero of own story. It’s more about the agency we feel in our circumstances. (“Agency” is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.) What was at the heart of my holiday mini-meltdown was a loss of agency. Gladys and the State Government had pulled the plug on my holiday and there was nothing I could do about it. Exhausted already, I felt stuck. (Not that I’m resentful of the Government, I think they are doing a great job in trying circumstances).

Preparing for more of the same

Here’s how to regain or maintain some of that agency in the face of COVID uncertainty (and also assist with the dead-end job, a community we don’t connect to or even a pointless conversation):

  1. Plan small treats. That way we will get sparks of joy in a downsized year.
  2. Define who or what matters to us. An American 12-year-old’s letter to her post-pandemic self appeared in the New York Times. She wrote: “Remember – everything is replaceable and unimportant, but people are the only true thing that matter in this modern-day world”.
  3. Stay in the moment. Anxiety comes from casting ourselves in the future. Thinking of what we are thankful for can help to ground us in the present.
  4. Build brain flexibility. Studies show that people who handle uncertainty best are those who are flexible. We can learn to tolerate uncertainty and build brain flexibility by giving things a go that scare us a little (for example giving someone feedback when we’d normally stay quiet).
  5. Build in stress recovery. Research suggests social activities, creative pursuits or even getting out into nature are much better for us than reading, internet browsing or binge-watching Netflix. They give us better psychological detachment from the source of our stress.

What will matter the most

I confess at the end of 2020 I felt bored. It wasn’t just COVID. I had a number of knock-backs in significant areas of my work and personal life over the year. I felt stuck. I don’t think I realised just how important it was to me to feel some kind of momentum in life: that my life was going somewhere.

It’s 2021 now and I’m feeling better. I’ve worked on reclaiming some agency in my life by being clearer on what I do and don’t have control over. And I’ve also more consciously implemented steps 1 – 5 above. January was glorious once I got over the disappointment of my holiday falling through.

What had the biggest impact was a change in my head space.

Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” [John 11:25] and I believe him. This gives my life an in-built momentum even if my life doesn’t always feel like it is going somewhere.

As a follower of Jesus this life is the worst it will ever be. Heaven is the best it will ever be. Being mindful of that does help me to sit with the boring moments: in a job, in a community, in a conversation. By “sit” I don’t mean mindless passivity. Jesus gives me the principle, examples and power for how I am to be in those moments. And I can seek to change things when that is right and good. It’s just freeing to know that in those boring moments, my life is going somewhere in the grand scheme of things.

More of the same

If my friend is right and 2021 is “more of the same” then I’ve got a way forward for managing the exhaustion and the boredom – meaning 2021 has the potential to be a far better year than I was initially expecting it to be.