As everyone wraps up 2017 with their annual photo collages and tributes, we are all forced to do a little bit of reflection. The posts have been going one of two ways: I have some friends who are blissfully posting their joys, real world be damned, and some friends who are angrily posting political content trying to remind us to feel guilty this holiday season.
Permission to be selfish on New Year’s Eve granted. I’m not a debby-downer. I’m glad some of my friends were able to achieve so much and have so many positive memories of the year!
But I’m not one to ignore the elephant in the room— we all know this annual circle around the sun kind of sucked.
If I’m being honest, I’m not going to be joining my friends in posting a glowing end of the year wrap up; I don’t look back at 2017 wanting to cherish those memories. I do, however, want to remember the lessons.
After realizing this year that I was struggling with acute depression, my therapist recommended a book to me: Upward Spiral, by Dr. Alex Korb.
It has since become my most recommended read, and not just for those struggling with a hard time. The book opened my eyes to the fact that being a human is hard, and that the brain needs a lot of help to stay healthy. We don’t talk about that enough — I knew I needed to keep my brain sharp, and I’ve heard about self-care and the power of positivity, but I never realized how easy it is for life to throw the brain out of whack. It made me feel better to know I wasn’t so alone.
“Upward Spiral” if full of some great ideas and content, but my favorite by far is the way Korb speaks about optimism. What do you think of when you hear that word? For me, I always associated it with the blissfully ignorant belief that, even when everything is going wrong, things are going to turn up daisies in the end.
I was quite wrong about that.
You see, the brain is physically wired to react more strongly to negativity. Have you ever noticed that someone’s comment about how much they love your shoes is easily forgotten by lunch, but one piece of negative feedback can stick with you for years? Research shows that, in order to be happy in life, your brain actually requires three positive comments to balance out one negative. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty hard thing for one person to accomplish every day, especially in this year of The Conservative Empire Strikes Back. (half kidding)
So what do we do about this “negative bias”? You fight it with this funny thing called optimism. Now like I said, I’m a positive person, but I thought the whole “glass half full” thing was the kind of naive psycho-babble you put on a wooden sign in your kitchen.
On the other hand, the science doesn’t lie. Studies show that you can actually strengthen the optimism circuits in your brain, not by lying to yourself or pretending, but by imagining the possibility of positive future events . You don’t need to believe everything is going to work out, just that it’s possible something good lies ahead.
Korb put it best:
“With optimism, you don’t even have to believe good things will happen; you just have to believe that they could happen or that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. In that case, optimism is being grateful for your resilience.”
Ever since reading that line, I have become obsessed with a word I now understand. I am an optimist, because I have faith in my own resilience. This year has shown me that I can be at my lowest low, and still wake up and say “Okay, so what do I do now?” It’s brought me on a totally unexpected journey, but an overwhelming positive one to say the least.
I think we all need a little more of that hope in the upcoming annum. Things haven’t been perfect this year. In fact, many times they’ve been downright terrible. But the solution isn’t to stay down — it’s to fight back. I’m taking everything I saw, and felt and heard in this challenging year and channeling it into myself in 2018, what I am dubbing the Year of Resilience.™
On New Year’s Eve, we always look back at the highlights — but what were your low points? And what did the low points help you learn?
In 2017, I became single for the first time in 6 years, so in 2018, I’m falling in love with myself.
In 2017, I lived paycheck to paycheck, so now in 2018, I’m going to be CEO of my own company.
In 2017, I learned it was possible to live out of a suitcase and in 2018, I’m touring the world as a rent-free, digital nomad.
In 2017, I left behind everything and everyone I knew, and in 2018, I’m leaving again with a family I love that’s twice the size.
On paper, the past 365 days weren’t great for me, or for the world. But it taught me my favorite lesson of life so far: the only one who can change your situation is you.
It’s on me.
It’s on all of us.
Let’s have a little more faith in ourselves this year….I can’t wait to see what we find out.