Let me guess: desperate to leave the carcass of 2020 behind, you pinned all your hopes and dreams on 2021 as the Year of Salvation and you’re flummoxed as to why your life hasn’t gotten markedly better in the last month. (Murmurs about doubling up on masks aren’t compatible with the supposed salvation, are they?)
You’re not alone.
Let me guess again: you’ve been on this ride before — this thing called the “New Year” — and you know you tend to get a little zealous out of the gates, all wired from your polar plunge on January 1st, all high on hope. You typed your resolutions into your app of choice with fervor (Peloton 8 days a week! No more truffle fries! Launch the biz!), and then life took over and here you are on February 1st feeling like it’s 2020 Part Two — and we all know that Part Two’s usually suck.
You’re not alone.
We got a little ahead of ourselves. Our expectations about 2021 might have been a little asinine ambitious. We knew it would take time to vaccinate several billion people, for example, and we knew we wouldn’t become the best versions of ourselves overnight (despite our tenacious hope to one day meet that person), but we did indulge in the fantasy of Life Done Right, right?
Life Done Right means something different for each one of us… whether it’s being a supremely time-managed person, losing 19 pounds of ourselves, taking that Intro to HTML5 online course (oh dear God), becoming a zen-like meditator, quitting smoking for the last time, visiting parents when it hopefully won’t infect and kill them, performing random acts of kindness on the regular, and being the kind of person who generally has their shit together (right down to a oxymoronically organized junk drawer).
Our expectations were high — which is a beautiful thing in itself, to have such bold hopes — except many of us forgot that we live in reality and that reality sometimes needs buffering.
The Happiness Equation
Want the secret to a happier life? Inexplicably, it involves math. Here’s a lifetime keeper of a formula for you: happiness equals the difference between our expectations and reality.
If we expect 2021 to deliver something in stark contrast to 2020, we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment (and we might be in a COVID-induced fever).
If we expect our behavior to radically (and sustainably!) change because of the fresh start that January 1st provided, we might be heading for heartburn.
On the other hand, we can recalibrate our expectations (and therefore manage our happiness) at any time. Like, now. We can put 2021 back on the rails before we write it off and pour a stiff drink. Here’s how:
Simplify. Pick one thing to work on and succeed at. Not eight. One thing. “He/she who chases many rabbits catches none” is the old proverb that when we put aside the horror of catching rabbits (because we know the proverb ends badly for bunnies), helpfully reminds us to stop expecting so much out of ourselves. I worked with a dynamo of a woman who wanted to launch her own business and so she dove in with enthusiasm… into a pool of overwhelm. She thought she was dumbing it down to pick just one thing to start with (like identifying her ideal customer profile in intimate detail), but after completing that exercise as her simplified first step, she learned a lot, built confidence, and then chunked the rest of her big, grand goal into bite-size pieces.
Simplify, for real. So I’d be the pot calling the kettle black over here if I gave you a long list of ways to get 2021 back on track, when my point is to do just one thing and manage your expectations accordingly. (I wrote five bullet points, splashed cold water on my face, and just scrapped them in favor of simplicity.) When you’ve proven you can do one thing that gets you towards your goal or dream — like going for a quick walk before dinner once a week, or identifying your ideal customer for your burgeoning business, or taking one module a week in your online course, etc. — then layer on more. If you want to.
I’m not asking you to set your expectations pitifully low, just to eke out a meager happiness win. No, we can’t cheat like that for long — we catch onto ourselves if success means one workout a year on our quest to get fit, for example. Let’s not lose the audacity of hope, though. Let’s keep our dreams and plans and intentions alive, with a more reasonable appreciation for the path towards achievement and happiness. Anything is possible, one rabbit at a time.