There has probably already been an inundation of articles written about the earth-shattering and bewildering year that was 2020, and to add anything novel or noteworthy to the discourse would be a monumental task. Whilst it was undoubtedly a tumultuous year filled with more headlines than we could absorb and truly terrible stories of grief and despair, for some it was the year that defined them. For me, it was the catalyst for a radical and eye-opening shift in my perspective and attitude towards, well, everything. Personally, 2020 was one of the best years of my life marked by immense personal development and intellectual growth. The success of 2020 was by no means financial or employment-related for me, and i’m currently still working in a 9-5 job that certainly isn’t my passion, but I’m proud to say I conquered 2020 and will carry these new-found skills with me into 2021. Here’s how I did it.
- I was very lucky
It would be disingenuous to omit a crucial reason as to why my year was so great, and put simply it was because of sheer luck. Whilst many people throughout the world underwent relentless and severe lockdowns due to the pandemic (lockdowns which are still ongoing as I write this), I was comparatively extremely lucky. It’s true that our city was placed into a relatively strict lockdown for several weeks, and my hours at work were halved as a consequence. We were working from home and only permitted to leave the house for essential reasons, including grocery shopping and one hour of exercise. However, I was still allowed to exercise at the beach every day, have a friend over for games nights, and I lived in a lovely home with housemates whose company I enjoyed.
Others were not as fortunate. I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been for those living in Italy, or the UK, or Brazil, during the height of the pandemic and witnessing firsthand the panic and devastation brought about by this insidious virus. Many people could only leave the house to buy essential items or for medical emergencies, and even if they were allowed to exercise, did not have the space near their house to do so or were too fearful to leave their house. Not to mention the healthcare professionals who risked their health and sometimes even their lives to fight this pandemic every day, who’s exposure to the virus was inevitable and thrust upon them with expectation of knowledge on how to resolve it all.
For these people, 2020 wasn’t the year of self-development, of bubbly humorous zoom meetings, and dumbbell-only home workouts. I can recognise the insensitivity of boasting about making the most of a year marked by death, isolation and pure chaos. I understand the fortunate position I was in throughout the year, despite becoming tearful and scared when I was only working two days a week and thought I was going to lose my job. So, yes, a key feature of my 2020 was just how lucky I was, and I am grateful for the opportunities I was afforded unlike so many others.
2. I exercised a lot and nourished my body with nutritious foods
I’ve been going to the gym for several years, played tennis for as long as I can remember and have been a sporty person all my life. Never have I engaged in so much intentional and fulfilling exercise as I have in the year 2020. When my hours were reduced at work and I was unsure about how I was going to fill my days, I was certain that I did not want to spend another year scrolling on my phone, idolising the lives presented to me on a screen and ignoring my own.
So, I purchased a six week work out program, made a fitness instagram account to track my progress and started running every week. I found that the more I exercised, the more I wanted to keep exercising. I realised how much I enjoyed moving my body every day and how elated and accomplished I felt afterwards. I became “addicted” to exercise, and not in a debilitating and an obsessive way, but rather in a “i’ve found my passion and source of fulfilment” way. I kept repeating to myself a quote “if you can, you must” to motivate me to continue exercising, in lieu of all of the people that weren’t able to and my future self who won’t have the physical capabilities anymore one day. Whilst this quote was a driver for me, probably the most important source of motivation for me was how it made be feel – intrinsic motivation. After experiencing mental health problems and general bouts of dissatisfaction and lethargy in the past, I became determined to do anything I could to enhance my happiness and contentment towards life. Running, doing weights at the gym, or completing a workout at home had such a positive impact on my mental state and happiness that I continue to be motivated by this feeling.
Alongside this increase in exercise was an understanding of the need to fuel my body appropriately. I understood the basics of macronutrients and the importance of protein intake, but rather than focussing heavily on these I adopted an intuitive eating approach. Instead of following a strict plan outlined by a nutritionist or a fitness professional, I started paying attention to my body and how I felt mentally and physically after I ate certain foods. Previously, I suffered from stomach related issues constantly. My mental health was aways tenuous, and could change at the drop of the hat. I won’t go into detail about the link between nutrition and mental health here, but when I began to eat “healthier” options, or foods that didn’t make me feel sluggish, I noticed how much better I felt overall. I experienced significant increases in energy levels, my mood was consistently good, and I felt I was getting the most out of my days because I wasn’t hindered by how I felt or by my sore stomach.
3. I began divulging in self-help podcasts and books
To be completely candid with you, I used to think people who engaged in meditation practices or who talked about self-development were a bunch of narcissistic weirdos. I arrogantly observed how they would talk about “woo woo” things like “affirmations” and “self-awareness”, and all they seemed to be doing was harp on about their bloody breathing. Oh how misguided I was. I’ve always loved reading books, but this year I made a random decision to start listening to podcasts about meditation, health and fitness, and psychology.
In hindsight, my decision to do this didn’t seem significant at the time, but it has had such a profound impact on me. Listening to people from diverse backgrounds and with various interests discuss engrossing and thought-provoking topics as I was walking to the sun slowly rising remains an essential part of my day. Rather than rolling out of bed with 10 minutes to get ready for work, rushing around frantically and gulping down a piece of fruit for breakfast, I take my time in the morning. I might listen to Dan Harris interview a guest about the benefits of meditation for over-coming social anxiety, or hear a fitness trainer break down the importance of protein in a diet for building muscle. Whatever the topic may be, ultimately I feel as though I am moving closer towards honing in on my key passions in life – something I have been incredibly uncertain about for the preceding years. I’ve learnt a lot about myself simply by listening to other people open up about their personal experiences about mental health, self-esteem, and psychology in general. The more I learn about myself, the greater understanding I have of what I need to work on to be a better person – to be the best version of myself. For example, I never realised how much my inner anxieties play in my life, particularly in social situations. By engaging in self-reflection and gaining deeper insight into the workings of my mind, I am able to understand WHY and WHEN i’m experiencing anxiety, and how to overcome it. I previously failed to even recognise the role that anxiety plays in my life, and just brushed it aside as “nervousness” or completely ignored the feelings altogether and masked it with alcohol.
It’s crazy to think that listening to podcasts has allowed me to understand myself in a way that I never would have. I feel like I am a better person because of it. I’m more acutely aware of my downfalls and psychological biases that I previously didn’t even know existed, and I feel empowered to overcome my flaws as opposed to letting them dictate my life. It was also through listening to these podcasts which provided me with motivation to read more self-help books. As I alluded to above, I used to immediately dismiss the authors of these novels as a bunch of hyper-positive, cult-like wankers. Now I view the majority of them as insightful and often enlightened people who are merely trying to make their lives, and our world, a more fulfilling and wholesome place. I found it’s so much better to adopt a positive mindset instead of being unnecessarily critical, as it provides the impetus for growth, development and optimal happiness.
4. I started waking up early and developed a self-care routine
At the start of 2020, I was arguably depressed. I did not receive any formal diagnoses, having never mustering up the volition to see a psychologist. However, given my background in psychological studies at university, I was aware of the diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of depression, and believe I probably would have met that criteria. It was at this point in my life where I was sleeping in as late as I could, scrolling on my phone aimlessly, and putting absolutely zero thought into what food and beverages I consumed. Basically, I had no direction and felt as though I didn’t have any passions or meaning in my life (working in a law firm will do that to ya…). I realised SOMETHING had to change as soon as possible. I began waking up earlier and earlier. Eventually, I was awake before the sun had risen. This was a big deal for me because I previously had placed myself in a seemingly impenetrable mental “box”, whereby I was certain I was not a morning person and any attempts to change this unwavering fact about me was futile. I proved myself wrong and I’m so glad I did. There were days in 2020 where I woke up before my alarm, and I’d almost leap out of bed in excitement for the impending day. I developed a routine of preparing myself a coffee, slipping into my comfiest tracksuit pants, and walking around the streets with thoughtful and wise voices playing in my ears.
After my walk, I started to implement what so many of the people had said to do on their podcasts – I started a journalling and mediation routine. I began to write what I was grateful for, or just random thoughts that were bubbling around in my brain that I needed to get off my chest. Whilst i’m still in the early stages of learning about meditation and I haven’t employed a consistent regimen into my daily routine, I still have noticed the benefits of taking a moment and truly pausing, to focus on my breathing and let my chaotic thoughts come and go. What I like about mediation is that there’s an abundance of scientific research to support the claims made about the benefits of meditation on the mind and body. This is important for me because whilst it’s always good to have a little bit of “faith” in a particular cause, overall I probably wouldn’t believe in the efficacy of meditation if it wasn’t evidence-based. Moreover, to take several minutes out of your day to pause and focus on your breathing is not a particularly onerous task to incorporate in your daily routine, and it’s certainly something I am focussing on in 2021 to enhance my year and overall mental wellbeing.
5. My perspective and attitude changed
In amongst the unpredictability and turbulence of 2020, I experienced a complete shift in my mindset towards myself and life in general. I began to understand the importance of “seizing the day” and making the most of the present, because moments and experience were as impermanent as ever. I appreciated things that I previously had taken for granted, the freedoms, privilege and capabilities I had that allowed me to live like this. My default mindset had always been to focus on the negativity around me and within, of what I’m lacking and how my life could be so much better. A forceful arrogance towards the present always existed within me, as if this moment would always be usurped and outshone by other better future experiences which ultimately never arrived. I began to learn that this moment right now, is what I should be focussing on. I may never be in a position of privilege like this ever again, to be able to move my body like this, work in a job and earn money to afford to live in a beautiful house. To live five minutes from the ocean, a place that is startlingly beautiful in it’s simplicity. The small yet reliable group of friends I have, the flawed, but hilarious, and ultimately kind family I have – these are the important things in life to focus on. Not material goods, the balance in your bank account or the amount of likes you get on a social media post.
Whilst this may all appear incredibly obvious to most people, to me these realisations were profound. I still slip back into old habits, and there are moments when I forget how lucky I am. But I will continue to keep growing as a person, and to focus on the truly important facets of life, to express gratitude wherever possible, and to simply live in the present moment. I know I will have any even better 2021 if I continue on this particular path.