When you reflect back on this year, you may see a pattern of unknowns. Many events that occurred this year were not predicted and came as a surprise that everyone had to adjust to. There have been a lot of memes and jokes about what to expect next in this chaos of a year. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a T-Rex walking down the street. Anything can happen in 2020.” So what is the lesson here? What are we as individuals, as a country, as a global community, supposed to learn? That is the ultimate goal of 2020: to figure out the lesson and use it to move forward into 2021 a more complete and healthier person.
The “unknown” has been portrayed in books and movies as one of two things: a dark, unpredictable, scary place, or a wonderful and great place that is full of possibilities. What is the difference between the two? The answer is mindset.
Our brains are powerful and will take the direction you give it especially when the direction is laden with emotion. If you see the unknown as scary, dark, and unpredictable, you are telling yourself and your brain that this is not safe. Emotions would most likely include fear and the result might be hesitancy or paralysis.
This is where the “what ifs” come into the picture. “What if I get hurt? What if I don’t know what to do next? What if…What if…What if?” Anxiety plays a role in that it is the result of worries about possible outcomes or conditions. But, if you feel that the unknown is a wonderful place full of possibilities, you may feel excitement or happiness which may result in charging forward into the unknown. This is where you might enter into a new situation energized by what all could happen and the possibility that good things will happen. Mindset matters: what we feel, our brain follows and what we think, our emotions follow. Sometimes we have to tell our brain and body to follow a different path and this is where changing mindset can be helpful.
Changing your mindset can be challenging based on past experiences. For someone with a trauma history, your brain and body have learned that the world is not a safe place and therefore may see more negative possibilities. Shifting mindset to positive possibilities may take more work when trauma is involved and may necessitate working with a professional such as a therapist.
But changing your mindset can start with questioning the negatives, “But what if something good happens today?” This can be a start to seeing all possibilities, not just the negative or scary ones. This is just one example, but it exemplifies that changing your mindset is a process and not a light switch.
So as 2020 is winding down and we reflect back on the year, maybe the lesson for us all is how we can take some baby steps toward a more positive outlook. After all of the negative events this year, let’s stop to smell the roses and see the positives for what they are; let’s shed the negativity and go into 2021 with the excitement of the unknown.
Michelle A. Culver, LMFT