Updated: Jan 11, 2021
“Then... now... what difficulties here, for the mind. (Pause.) To have been always what I am—and so changed from what I was.”
Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days
It may not sound like it at first, but this is about hope. Really!
Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I woke up this morning in this brand-new year and found I looked just the way I did last year. And that pretty much nails the dilemma we face as the new year faces us. New beginnings? Or same ol’ same ol’? Hope? Or dread that our hopes will be dashed?
2020 was the year of the pandemic. But 2021 starts out with the pandemic worse than ever here in Los Angeles and elsewhere around the world. Last year was a year where we had a President beyond inept in his handling of the crisis. In a willful or mentally ill way, he was working against solutions, as this New York Times piece carefully shows. But how much better were we, frustrated by all the restrictions to the point of carelessness as so many of us were?
We will have a very different President in a few weeks. Definitely something to put in the change column. Many policies will change. But if the Senate doesn’t change, change will be much, much slower and harder than our new President’s supporters would have liked. And the mid-term elections will have a lot to say about things too, as Obama knows well.
Then there are our New Year’s resolutions, with our hopes that a new determination, a new plan, a new something will triumph over the sluggish traitor we know lurks in our old self. This year we have something else to contend with, which is that for many, many of us our whole lives have gone downhill big time. Downhill right into the toilet in many cases. This pandemic—an inconvenience for everybody—is a tornado wrapped in a tsunami for huge numbers of people. There are Covid survivors and hospital workers, to name just a few groups, whose greatest hope is just to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
That means there can be a gigantic speedbump in front of this being “your best year ever.”
So where does hope come from if you’re a realist?
What makes hope hard is our wanting the bad stuff to all go away. What makes hope easy and realistic is when we focus on making things better.
Better is always do-able.
So here are some suggestions that maximize effort-to-reward ratio and likelihood of success. In other words, stuff where you get the biggest bang for your buck and have the best chance of making progress.
If you’re lonely, find a way to help other people. There’s a world of hurt out there and a thousand places that need helpers and volunteers. Put yourself out there. Help others one-on-one even if you feel you need to be given to. You will end up feeling less lonely, guaranteed.
Have a goal? Losing weight, writing a novel, whatever? Do not rely on will power. It’ll betray you every time. Instead, partner up. Whatever you do with someone—even if it’s just a friend you report to weekly or a group you meet with monthly—becomes much easier. Support is key.
Don’t set outcome goals, like pounds per week lost or pages per week written. Set behavioral goals, like weighing yourself every day or not having fattening snacks in the house, or sitting down and writing at a set time no matter how good or bad the writing is. You can control what you do, not how things turn out.
If you want to change, make sure the change is something you care about for yourself that it’s something meaningful and enjoyable for you
Make sure the change you’re aiming at is small enough so you’re pretty much guaranteed to succeed. This is very important. This change stuff: it’s really about self-trust. Who cares whether you change or not! What matters is that you say I’m gonna do this and then you see yourself doing it. That changes your whole relationship with yourself. It’s much better to say, “I’m going to walk around the block once a week” and actually do it than to say, “I’m going to run a mile three days a week” and barely ever do it.
And that’s where the hope really lies. In building that relationship of self-trust with yourself. So for 2021, under-promise and over-deliver. Your 2022 self will thank you.