How to Frame Up a Year You Want to Disappear

And prepare well for the next one.

Are you over this year?

Can’t wait to call time on it, ready for a “sort of” fresh start?

Fair call. After a year that served up a global pandemic — and made life scary, isolating, uncertain, traumatic, exhausting or just plain weird — a lot of us just want 2020 to be over.

But we all have years that go belly up, when bad or even tragic things happen, when stress bubbles into the danger zone; years that we want to put behind us.

Obviously, it’s not as easy as just “wiping the slate clean” — a new year can’t erase the past — but it can be helpful to frame up your year in a way that arms you for whatever’s coming next.

How to Frame Up a Year You Want to Disappear

When we’ve been through a difficult time, it tends to snake its way through all aspects of our lives. We can’t sleep, we become emotional, we ruminate, we hash things over and over. We get stuck.

So far, so normal. Very few people are able to rise immediately above all of life’s “crap”, never take things personally, never tip into a pit of despair, never worry about anything.

But the difficulty with going through tough times is that they can flip the switch into habitual pessimism — making us negative, with a tendency to dismiss all that’s good in our lives.

Here’s a more balanced way to do it.

How to Frame Your Year (Even When You Want It to Disappear)

1. What went great?

Okay, maybe if you’ve had a tough one it’s a stretch to come up with something great. If that’s the case, just aim for good. In any year good things happen, alongside — or in spite of — the bad things. It’s just harder to see them from a state of distress or overwhelm. Or when a global pandemic has ground your life to a seeming halt.

Ask yourself: What was the highlight of my year? Try to go beyond work into the personal zone. Did you meet someone new? Did you go somewhere unlikely? Learn a new skill? Do something different — even if it was forced upon you? If you did something you’ve never done before — even if you didn’t want to — go to the top of the class.

2. How did I impress myself?

What did I do well at work or personally? Who was I kind to? Did I show courage? Generosity of spirit? Optimism? Ability to cope with change or distress? What did I achieve in spite of the odds? How did I develop myself? What did I get better at?

People struggle to answer these questions if they’ve had a rough year because all that went wrong (or all they think they did wrong) reflects back at them in neon lights and they can’t see past them. You will have done something impressive this year. It’s your mission to go search for it.

3. What could I do more of?

Consider your answer to the last question. Think back through your year, and past the difficulties, to: what was enjoyable? Fun? Exciting? Helpful to others? Something that made a positive change to your life? What made you Feel Good (or calm or optimistic or — dare I say it — happy? Spend some time identifying these things because they are the best clue as to what you need to more of or increase your focus on. You’d be surprised how little effort people put into this, when it’s the easiest way of building more goodies into your life.

4. What do I want to eliminate?

Obviously we can’t control all the bad things that happen to us. Sometimes, it’s just circumstances, external factors or even other people’s screw-ups. But not always. There are always things we can control — and things we can do better. What’s holding you back? What’s limiting your life? What could you achieve if you got on top of whatever-it-is? What do you want to eliminate — or at least reduce? Hint: just pick one thing. You will 10x your chance of freeing yourself from it..

5. How can I go about this?

Bundle up your answers to the above questions. They’ll tell you what you want — and don’t want. What (and maybe who) you want in your life — and what (and who) you don’t. Write down your answers then make a plan for doing them. Obviously, the plan is the key. Once you know what your goal is, you can identify the small steps you need to take to move towards it — and then make a habit of those things. Habitual action will take you much further than a bunch of lofty resolutions you’ll probably have broken within a month.

In any life, tough times come and go. The circumstances of a difficult year may beat you down but they don’t need to define you. But how you handle it will.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list here if you’re interested in practical psychology for everyday life.

Written by

Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life.

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