It's the start of a new year and time when many people begin to reflect upon the previous year. This when there are numerous reflective articles and television shows dedicated to looking back at the prior year, asking us to consider what we've learned, gained, and lost from 2020. Here's a thought: Let's forget 2020 and just move on.

I believe we all can agree, 2020 was one of the worst years in our collective histories, and one we would rather forget. To think of going back in time and remembering what we endured, is asking to self-inflict even more pain than is necessary. Now more than ever, let's just move forward. However, it may be easier said than done. This is when a purposeful strategy can help pull you out of 2020 mentally and into 2021, ready to feel a sense of hope once again.

The Power of the Mind

You are likely familiar with the concept of the mind and its power to influence how you feel and act in response to those feelings. But consider just how powerful the human mind really is. While you are in control of your mind and direct its emotional reactions, it is responsible for ensuring all vital organs and essential bodily functions operate, unless of course there has been some form of physical impairment. This is quite an impressive responsibility for the mind to coordinate on its own and without your direct input. The mind is also capable of learning, as evidenced by your ability to complete new tasks, and acquire new knowledge and skills.

What also makes the mind powerful is its ability to receive and transmit thoughts. We are always thinking, even during a state of meditation when some form of thought still exists. Those thoughts may consist of anything from assessing the details of a current project, interacting with our environment, to thinking about anything random which comes to mind. The mind is receiving and processing information from all the senses, determining what is important and needs further attention, while discarding any information deemed to be irrelevant. What typically determines relevancy is a matter of context and how useful or needed the information may be. If information is useful, it is stored in working and long-term memory for current and future use. What all of this means is the mind is always at work, with thoughts ever present.  

Engaging 2021: Full Steam Ahead

When you understand the mind is powerful, and it is always producing thoughts, you become aware of the possibility to think about the past. This is especially true at a time of the year when we are all reminded of what has happened in 2020, and we are asked to think about it as a point of reflection and learning. To ensure you are future focused and thinking in a productive manner, the following strategies can assist you. You may find one or all them helpful, any time you find yourself trapped in a cycle of repeating thoughts of the painful past, or need to address any unpleasant type of thought.

Strategy One: Creating Lessons Learned

One of the most likely thoughts you will find yourself thinking about at this time of year, and likely be prompted to think about, is something related to the past. While there are many happy memories to be found in the past, there are memories which can disrupt your thought process and remind you of mistakes made, regrets, and other negative events. When you find yourself feeling uncomfortable because of thoughts about something in which you feel you have made a wrong decision, let yourself down, or any "should have" type of scenario, this is the time to pivot your thinking.

You do this by deciding not to fight the thought but instead, create a lesson learned from it. This will help you spend less time thinking about specific incidents, especially when those negative thoughts want to replay on an endless loop. Take the thought from the past and face it head-on. What can you learn from it? Be honest about it so you are able to address and resolve it. By resolving it I do not mean you will necessarily find answers to it; however, you'll stop the thoughts from holding power as you'll have something productive now associated with each one.

Strategy Two: Turn Thoughts into Goals

When you find yourself thinking about anything unproductive, which is disrupting your day, making a change depends upon what your frame of reference is and what you want to accomplish. Some of the most unproductive thoughts which can disrupt your day and state of mind are those involving thoughts of failure, or anything in which you felt you were not successful and did not achieve what you had hoped to do. Those particular thoughts, if left unchecked, can create feelings of frustration, disappointment, resentment, and more. It can create a cycle of negativity which disrupts your life.

Any time you find yourself thinking something of this nature, you can do more than pivot this thought, you can turn it into a goal. For example, if you believe you were not successful in some aspect of your career, narrow it down into a specific statement about what it is you can improve to create success in the future. Then you will be able to develop a goal with measurable objectives and an action plan for its completion. Perhaps you'll need to learn a new skill, acquire new knowledge, make a new plan, develop new strategies, or any other related possibilities. The point is turning thoughts which can weigh heavily on your mind into a productive exercise, for the purpose of transforming how you think.

Strategy Three: Finding Hope from a Place of Fear

There is a third type of negative thought which may arise any time you reflect upon the past, face an unknown situation or circumstance, or feel out of control. This is a fear-based thought, which can have a physiological effect on you as well, depending upon the circumstances of the event involved.

What I would like to address is a fearful thought which arises as a result of self-reflection or thinking about the past. A feeling of fear, and even panic or anxiety, can arise when thinking about events in the past. This is especially true now for those who are struggling with circumstances and only think about past decisions made. No matter how many times someone tells you not to be afraid, fear can remain ever present in your mind.

How then do you find hope when everything you are thinking about produces feelings of fear? You cannot switch from fear to hope like you turn a light switch on and off. It must be a conscious effort made, a decision to gradually release the fear. In order to do this, you must have a belief system in place to support a change. Try the following steps.

First ask yourself: What is the basis of my fear?

This will allow you to peek behind the curtain, so to speak. You will take the mystery out of the fear-based emotion.

Once you have addressed what the fear is, you can then ask yourself: Is this fear based upon reality?

Perhaps you are afraid you cannot pay the rent this month and this is all you can think about. You've decided this is based upon reality.

The next step is to ask yourself: How can I switch from feeling fear to feeling productive?

One of the most effective methods for stopping the cycle of negativity, regarding feelings of fear, is to find out its cause and then turn it into something productive. What is the fear based upon and what can you do to become productive? What you are actually doing is giving yourself a renewed sense of hope as you are finding a way to resolve the reason for the fear itself. Out of fear, hope can shine.

Make Happiness a Priority

I want for this new year to be a year of renewal for our country, and more importantly, I want the start of the new year to represent hope. The best way forward now is to think ahead, of possibilities before us. If you find yourself reflecting on the past, focus on memories of friends and family who brought you happiness and love. This helps to establish a positive frame of mind. Should you find yourself feeling negative thoughts, keep in mind the strategies suggested and remember, the mind has a transformative force that can be used to help bring about significant changes in your life.

While you await changes in society and medicine, you can already begin changes in your attitude and disposition. You have source of well-being and resilience already inside of you, and it is managed by the most powerful form of energy available to you, your mind. It is time to control, alt, and delete 2020. Make a pledge to yourself to move forward into 2021, beginning with the power of your mind, and make the start of this year the best you can, however you can. When you make happiness a priority, and direct your mind to maintain it, you are certain to be ready for the new year.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. Presently Dr. J is a Core Faculty member for one of the premiere online universities, helping to fulfill his life's mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others.

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.

Dr. J offers the following transformative resources:

• Brand New: Mindset Tune-Up Inspirational Card Deck. Start your morning or transform your day with words of encouragement. Any time of the day, pick a card from the deck. You will feel uplifted and inspired, and the words will provide you with a sense of mental renewal. You can also keep a card out during the day to remind yourself to stay focused on your best qualities and strengths. These are more than affirmations; these cards are personal self-empowerment statements.

Dr. J also offers:

• Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs

• Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out of Distance Learning

• Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Adjunct Faculty Who Teach Business

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