Psychologists on how to have a better outlook in 2020

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Every time a year comes to an end, a flurry of memes appear in the trenches of social media. Most have a central theme: ‘This year was hard. It’s over. Now, here’s your chance.’ The only issue with this mentality is that it doesn’t set the stage for success or provide the roadmap you need to actually make a change. After all, if you feel defeated every December 31, it could be that your attitude needs an adjustment more than anything else. As psychotherapist and author Tina B. Tessina, PhD, explains, generally speaking, positive happy people have an easier time in life, and they bounce back from problems faster. And even if you aren’t a naturally optimistic person, there are strategies you can exercise to improve your outlook. Here, some recommended by experts:

Write down and visualize your goals.

When you’re tossing and turning at night, and can’t find a comfortable position, it’s not your body that’s to blame, but your brain. Chances are you would sleep more soundly if you turned on a light and scribbled down the to-do list that’s keeping you awake. In a similar vein, if you never put your goals to pen-and-paper, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to visualize them. To create more motivation behind your aspirations, Dr. Tessina suggests listing out your goals and then pausing to manifest what it would feel like to achieve them. “This practice will alert your brain to notice things and events that are related to your goal. You will automatically be more aware of certain events, opportunities, and people who can be helpful,” she explains. “You’ll also be more clear about what you want, and this will sneak into your conversation and your general attitude, where others can pick up on it.”

Give yourself credit. 

For some, it’s much easier to focus on the shortcomings rather than the successes of their year. Sure, you made some mistakes. Maybe you even fell a little short on some of your goals. But you also had some peaks and experiences that warrant a celebration. As psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. explains, make time to recognize the progress you have made, no matter how big, small or medium-sized it may be. “People too often only notice what is negative in their lives or negative about themselves and can take for granted or diminish what they have achieved,” she continues. “So, give yourself credit where it is due and positively reinforce the healthy new ways you are thinking, feeling, and behaving. By doing this, you are motivating yourself to have more confidence and commitment to working towards and completing your goals.”

Ask for what you want. 

As you think of the year (or decade!) ahead, do you see yourself getting a raise? A promotion? Both? Maybe a job switch, or perhaps a jump to a completely different industry. If any of these are in the cards for you, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to ask for it. As Dr. Tessina explains, all too often, people forget that asking for what they want is the first step in getting there. If you know you are worthy of more zeros on your paycheck, schedule a candid, professional conversation with your manager to address what needs to happen to make this a reality. If you are ready to jump ship, ask for coffee with a mentor or a leader in your field, so pick their brains on making the transformation. “If you make requests confidently as if you expect to get a ‘yes,’ it ups the odds that you’ll get one,” she adds.

Accept help and compliments, with thanks. 

Even if you are the top of your field with a laundry list of accolades, you may struggle with accepting praise. And regardless if you have a team of experienced, talented employees, you may still battle delegating tasks you can do yourself. To be an effective leader with a bright perspective, learning to accept help and complements is essential. After all, no one can do everything alone, and the more you welcome aid, the happier you will feel in your day-to-day, Dr. Tessina explains. “Don’t worry about whether you deserve the compliment. If someone says something nice, and you think you don’t deserve it, you’re effectively calling that person a liar, which is not charming at all,” she continues. “Gratitude for kindness begets more kindness. Nothing works better than a pleasant ‘thank you so much’ to make the kind person feel appreciated, and wanting to give you more.”

Invest in yourself.

You probably stow away cash in a retirement account. You also remember everyone’s birthday — and never forget to send a card. You’re the first to volunteer to help out with a social event at the office and always available when your friend needs an emergency vent session. But what about you? Dr. Thomas says it’s essential for professionals to carve out time (and finances) to invest in themselves. This means different things for everyone but these should be aspects of your routine that nurture and replenish you physically, cognitively and emotionally. “Exercise, meditation, and mindfulness are good for your body and help to deescalate feelings. Also, eating in a healthy way, drinking an adequate amount of water, sleeping enough, and having some down-time away from responsibilities and stress is essential in helping recharge your system,” she recommends. 

To improve your brainpower (and thus, mood), she suggests crossword puzzles, new classes or even reading for knowledge. On an emotional level, build your tribe: people who will be by your side, no matter what. 

Change your vocabulary.

Right now, you have a dialogue running in your mind — with or without your permission. And though you probably don’t care to admit it, the words you use to speak to yourself are likely far less friendly than the ones you pick when chatting with a friend. Dr. Tessina says many people use self-defeating and negative language to talk to themselves. You may think it’s only brain chatter but it’s more powerful than you think. “Your thoughts

affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits. Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones that are synonymous with feelings,” Dr. Tessina says. 

To shift your perspective in 2020, begin by monitoring your self-talk. If your messages are constantly negative, changing them will lift your energy levels and strengthen your sense of self and purpose. “Your brain tends to repeat familiar things over and over, going again and again over established neuronal pathways,” Dr. Tessina explains. “Repeating a mantra, an affirmation or a choice over and over creates new pathways, which eventually become automatic. The new thoughts will run through your head as the old thoughts did, or like a popular song you’ve heard over and over.”