Commentary | Dec. 2, 2020

A Post-Year Resolution

By Col. Timothy Monroe and Chaplain (Capt.) Jeremy Coenen 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing

Wasn’t the world more predictable before 2020?

Can you remember dining in a restaurant without a worry of capacity, or distance between tables?  If you wanted to shop in a store, would you have even considered bringing a mask?  Not to mention running around and urgently buying toilet paper and other basic necessities.

Now that 2020 is coming to a close, the idea of New Year’s Resolutions is probably on the minds of many people.  But – there is something we’d like you to try before we arrive at the celebrated moment on January 1st, finally tossing aside the year 2020.

While setting resolutions is a fun way to welcome the New Year, it rarely results in sustainable behavior change. What we propose instead, is a twist on the tradition in the form of a ‘Post-Year’s Resolution.’

Immense value can be found in reflecting on what you have learned, or what you have become, given the uncertainty thrust on all of us thanks to the cascading global and domestic events of the past year.

So, how do we reflect on our response to the challenging context of the previous year? Let’s focus on three areas: willingness to engage with problems, knowing how to calm oneself amid anxiousness, and connecting with others.

Engaging with problems

To start, the hallmark of our military is how we engage challenges and problems head-on. People and Airmen who manage stress well tend not to hide from those head-on engagements.  Now, think back to how you and your loved ones, coworkers, and neighbors responded to news of coronavirus spreading across the globe. How did your body and mind respond? How did someone else respond in comparison?

A helpful part of a post-year’s resolution is reflecting to acknowledge one’s ‘triggers.’

Consider this example: You are on edge because your boss is bearing-down on you due to your missed deadlines; then, creating a plan to be timely and ahead of the next suspense solves a multitude of problems. Perhaps the most important motivator is the impact on your day-to-day life and mental health. Therefore, a little self-reflection, and proactive behavior change, can add stability to life when the rest of the world seems out of control.

Willingly engaging with a problem means stepping up, taking responsibility, and doing the best we can with the challenge before us. Said differently, in life, those things we resist, will persist.

What are some areas that you would like to solve, or improve upon?  Start with the easiest.  Take small steps, keep them small and doable, and feel good about what you have accomplished. This approach helps you build momentum and avoid the negativity associated with failing to achieve something large and complex.

It is also essential to have a wingman encouraging and working with you. Never assume that you should go it alone.  You are not different if you struggle; we all struggle.

Conquering problems requires direct engagement, thought, and accountability. 

Keeping calm

Next on our post-year’s resolution approach is knowing how to remain calm amid anxiousness.

It is much harder to be a problem-solver and connect with others if one is a nervous wreck. Anxiety frequently works to breed more anxiety, until we are in such a spin we cannot possibly think straight. 

A tenant of resilience is being able to slow down, breathe, focus, and create moments of calm in the storms of life.  

Frankly, 2020 gave us plenty to be stressed about! A global pandemic, lockdowns, protests, natural disasters and the list goes on.  It was hard to process the constant news stream without becoming tense, angry, and anxious. 

Calming our minds in no way minimizes the situation but helps to better see and hear the issues at hand, by silencing the background noise of alarm and uncertainty. Mini ‘time outs’ do not need to take a lot of time or money. Taking time for prayer, meditation, yoga, or having a ‘happy place’ to escape to in our minds can do wonders. 

For some, anxiety, stress, or anger can cause an adrenaline surge, which forces us to move.

Going for a walk, run, or dancing to music can do wonders to release energy to help clear head-space. 

For others, taking guitar lessons, learning to paint on YouTube, or getting involved in faith-based activities are all ways to broaden our outlook, see the world as bigger than just our issues, and help us to reduce stress. 

Figuring out a way that works for you to minimize stress and become more resilient when those difficult times arise is a lesson to apply in the coming year.

Connecting with others  

Finally, perhaps the worst part of the pandemic has been the disconnection we have felt from other people. As human beings, we are designed for, and dependent on, community. 

Having relationships be limited to brief or distanced encounters over the last few months, and trying to read the emotions of others behind a mask, has made connecting even more of a challenge.

In a society full of text messages, likes, and retweets – it’s vital to try not to fulfill a longing for tangible, personal, relationships by relying on the void of the internet. Social networking and technology are tools, not a lifeline. The care and affirmation we receive from actual friends and family will help us to be resilient in innumerable, and incomparable, ways.

The year 2020 has not been the best of years, and there is no denying that it was more challenging than most years. However, what if instead of singularly focusing on saying goodbye to 2020, we genuinely consider what it has taught us and how we can be better because of its lessons?

As you consider your 2021 New Year’s Resolutions, make a goal to apply your post-year’s reflections. Tackle problems head-on, understand and build a plan for known stressors, and look forward to reconnecting with those people most important to you. Let’s tackle the New Year stronger and together.