It was a new year’s celebration like no other. Quiet, subdued, but united. Never before has a population been so in concert on New Year’s Eve, universally desperate to leave behind a year of tragedy, hardship, sadness and loss.
It is indeed the end of 2020, a year that none of us will miss. It’s also the beginning of the end for the Coronavirus pandemic, with miracle-vaccines due to free us in a few short months. But 2020 has left most of us scarred with tragedy, loss and pain. We carry the scars of war, they mark hard lessons learned. Yes, 2021 marks an ending, but if we reflect on our scars, and take heed of the lessons we learned in 2020, then in spite of everything, could this year end could become our most positive beginning?
The start of a new year is always a time to reflect on the last, whilst setting new goals or resolutions for the next, but after the dramatic and unexpected reset that 2020 offered, it’s more important than ever to draw from the positive change we encountered. Instead of writing off the year as our worst ever and being glad to close the door on it once and for all, let’s first collect some of the positive changes we brought into our lives to ensure we don’t simply go back to our old normal, but instead emerge from the flames with new strength, ambition, compassion, patience, vigour, resilience, kindness and love.
I invite you to share some of my positive learnings from 2020, and I hope that you recognise these and many more, to help us all stride into 2021 with the determination to make it our best year ever, rather than just drift in, hoping the year will be better than the last…
Turn it off and on again:
I’ve always felt that creativity was a personal strength, but never has it been challenged so much. I have had to reinvent my business, create new ones and totally change my working landscape. Sometimes change is so dramatic that adapting just isn’t enough, and the only way to cope is to recreate and reinvent. We have always been told that the only constant is change, and we must adapt or die. 2020 showed me that adapting isn’t always enough, and sometimes you have to be brave enough to go for a total reset; turn it off and on again. This is a very liberating change management strategy, especially when the changes around you seem to be unfathomable. Just like a computer or any piece of complex tech, a hard reboot clears away accumulated routines and processes that are no longer necessary, in order to free up processing power. In the same way, we can clear away what we think we know, or what we have always done in order to see the future with no pre-conceptions. This is true creativity, and it frees us to recreate or reinvent.
Don’t lose the new time:
All of us have more time than we had in 2019, with no office to go to, no meetings to attend, no travel, and in most cases, less actual work to do. Rather than diving into emails first thing, I now start my day with coffee, breakfast and I read the news online. I take care of any urgent business tasks and pressing deadlines, then I take a break for some exercise, a home workout, a morning jog or cycle. Even with these new activities in my morning, I am still ahead of where I would have been in 2019. Using new time is a learned skill, as the easiest thing to do is to make what we have last all day. That’s because when we sat at a desk in our office every day, we had no choice but to make our work last all day. Try not to fall into this trap, remove the guilt and use spare time to make your day more variable and fulfilling, it will in turn make you more productive and creative.
Apply your new skills:
Did you use the extra time from 2020 to learn or take on something new? If you did, make sure to keep this in your life, or even better, build on it. New skills, challenges and activities are vital for personal growth and renewed happiness. I learned how to do a handstand, and I started open-water swimming, which I have kept up even into winter. The handstand helped me build stronger shoulders and posture, and the swimming, which has now become very-cold open-water swimming, is now regenerating my ageing brain cells as a result of cold-water shock theory.
Reach out to people you care about:
Most of us have always kept our weekdays for work and our weekends for everything else, but 2020 was different. Many of us were forced into isolation due to lockdown or tiers, separating us from colleagues, friends and family. With the benefit of more time, and a more flexible daily routine, we were able to reach out to people in different ways and at different times. Video calls via Zoom or FaceTime have become second nature and are a great way to stay in touch with our networks. I have found that not only do these tools make it easier to stay in touch more frequently, but they make the world a smaller place. I have friends all over the world, and during 2020 although I haven’t seen them in person, I have chatted with them and ‘seen’ them more than ever. The events industry was as creative as ever during the summer, organising socially distanced afternoon picnics, which I will make sure return in 2021. Combining some exercise with social interaction, some friends and I have been meeting weekly for ‘bikes and beers’, cycling to various locations in London offering take-away drinks. This is also something I intend to take into 2021.
Health and wellness:
For those who know me well, the closure of gyms and indoor pools was almost as hard for me to handle as the impact on my business. Determined not to turn into a house-bound couch potato I quickly gathered all the weights and fitness gadgets I had accumulated over the years and built a mini-gym on my terrace for the summer. After adding some extra weights and a bench, I was all set for home workouts. YouTube is littered with free online workouts, and I became an avid follower of some of the most inspiring online trainers in the world.
In additional to my workouts, and my handstand training, I set a goal to gain a six-pack during 2020 lockdown – no mean feat for a man in his 50s.
Goal setting and exercise combined have dual benefits; exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. It also increases electrical activity in the emotional processing areas of the brain, particularly the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex. (Dr Brendan Stubbs)
Goals focus your mind and body on self-improvement, with the wonderful satisfaction of progress and success along the way.
These are just some of the things I learned and collected from 2020, and I’m not going to lose them.
I finished off this article on Monday 4th January, just before the UK was placed back into full lockdown. Although this will be distressing for us all, it is perhaps one last chance to apply some of these or some new lessons and life improvements. Let’s look at this final lockdown as a final chance to extract some benefits that will make our lives richer in the future, as the work returns to normal, hopefully in a few short months.
As we yearn for the world to become safer and more normal, let’s make sure these terrible times brings some long-term benefits to our lives and to those around us. 2020 truly can make us better, stronger and happier.
Learn from your lessons and hang on tight, a new beginning is just around the corner.