I started 52 Ways to Wellbeing on January 6th 2018. Nearly three years later, embarrassingly, I’m only at #51, after posting #50 more than a year ago! Did you think I’d run out of ideas? Far from it. I just ran out of time and had to prioritise. I’m not going to blame COVID, either, unlike certain people I could mention, such as the emergency garage door repairman who gave “that COVID situation” as why he wouldn’t come out when my garage door jammed wide open, leaving our bikes and wine stocks open to random passers-by. (It’s fixed and locked now, before you head over this way…) 2020 has been some year but it hasn’t all been about COVID. I’ve had crazy workloads, including creating online Teaching Materials, Exam Attack published and three other books to write, a house full of baby plus three extra adults for the last six months and a massive building project to live through. Still living through it, as you would know if you saw the plaster dust in my hair.
At first, I recorded the Ways to Wellbeing as a podcast but I found that too time-consuming so after a few episodes I moved it to blogposts. (Put “52 Ways” in the search box and you’ll find them all.) Eventually, I have reached #51 and have decided to challenge myself and make #52 a video post. I will try to bring that to you before Christmas. I might well cry at the end of it, which could be worth watching. And I’ll also post a list of every single Way to Wellbeing. Use them to make sure 2021 can’t get the better of you!
#50 – Have something to look forward to
This is pretty apt now, isn’t it? It seems hard to have anything to look forward to. Every time we try, it’s pulled away. It feels as if we can’t plan anything. In the UK, we’ve just been told that after lockdown “ends” (really?) on Dec 2nd, life is going to involve a range of variations on the boring theme of lockdown. We’re all still trying to get our heads round it. “How do we obey the rules and still stay sane?” is the question for many.
I live in the rural corner of a county so the places we go to for food (no shop nearby) are in various counties. We have to work out what Tier we’re in at any one moment. I’m in Northants (T2), but I have to buy my food in Lincolnshire (T3), Rutland (T2) and Leicestershire (T3). We can’t see our recently-married (by the skin of their teeth) daughter and son-in-law at Christmas because we’ve said they (in London) must see his parents (Surrey) because they had to miss the wedding (COVID positive test – arghhh) and we feel they need to create the bubble with them, not us. And so it goes on. Many other plans we can’t make, things we can’t look forward to. And we are infinitely luckier than very many.
So, how can we have things to look forward to? How can my advice be anything other than wishy-washy wishful thinking?
There are two things we need to do. And this applies to any situation, any time you’re feeling down, dark, anxious and can’t see the light.
Build an optimistic mindset
This is the one that might seem most wishy-washy and wishful. All very well to say, you’re probably saying, as you roll your eyes at me. Some people are just more optimistic, right? How can I make myself feel optimistic if I’m not that way by nature?
No, my belief is that optimism is mostly a mindset, not a personality trait. That’s not to say it’s easy to change but mindsets are changed by the repeated exposure to a contrary idea. So, if you’re usually of a pessimistic mindset, challenge that way of thinking by repeating and living some contrary ideas. Tell yourself, often, and in writing if necessary:
- “Things can turn out well”
- “Things often do turn out well – think of that time when…”
- “Humans are immensely resourceful – there will be a vaccine, it will work well, I will get it”
- “Things always feel worse at the time and then we get through and light appears in the distance – that’s what will happen”
- “I am not in control of that future so my job is first to have hope and secondly to focus on what I can control”
I’ll come to that now!
2. Plan actual things to look forward to
This is definitely not wishy-washy: it’s practical, active, strategic. This is really healthy behaviour that will help lift your mood and make you better able to face tough times, when you can’t see much light ahead. It’s about thinking what you can do, not what you can’t. Simple actions that you can build into your day, week, month.
Advent calendars are a great model: they promise a daily reward, marking the step-by-step progress of the month. You don’t have to be someone who celebrates Christmas to take this approach. Why not make a chart or picture or row of envelopes or anything representing one space or item for each day up to the end of the year? And in each one, give yourself a little (or big) think to look forward to. Write them down, perhaps on a little card in an envelope and open one each day. I LOVE these on Stamptastic but you could make your own very easily if you wanted.
And, for something even better to look forward to (and be optimistic about!) you could also enter the free competition for a chance to win wonderful prizes AND get your gift-shopping done while supporting small businesses!
Here are some ideas for what to put in your daily Looking Forward calendar – some of them could be physical objects and others just a card with a promise; some are appropriate for all ages, others not:
- Have a bath, give yourself a manicure or a pedicure
- Eat a chocolate
- Make Christmas cards with your family
- Settle in with a box set
- Buy some flowers as a treat
- Play a game with your household – or online if you live alone
- Schedule a Zoom call with someone you haven’t spoken to for ages
- Have a baking session – plan it well, get all the ingredients in; maybe you could bake or make presents for people
- Plan how you’ll redecorate a room
- Take a day off or a half day off work and plan what you’ll do in it
- Go for a long walk and drink hot chocolate and marshmallows when you get back
- Put the Christmas tree up and decorate the house
- Plan a special meal for the whole household – decorate the table with candles and get everyone to dress up
- Have a date night with your partner – no phones allowed
- Plan a treat for someone else – it will make you feel good, too
That’s plenty because you can do any of them several times. The point is to have something to look forward to every day.
I think everyone in your household needs a Looking Forward calendar. Make it this weekend’s project! And show me what you did!
We can get through this. We really can. We need to help each other and some need more help than others. If that’s you, I’m here for you.