Last year was hard. That’s probably the understatement of the century, quite literally. With minimal socialising, restricted travel and very few opportunities for things like internships and work experience, it’s easy to think that 2021 HAS to be the year to get back on it and make up for everything we’ve missed. But this mindset isn’t actually very helpful.
It’s alright to have high expectations for the year ahead, but it may not be the best way to look at things. I’m definitely not saying we should all lose hope and settle in for another 11 months of misery, but I’d much rather look forward to some small improvements than most-likely-unattainable things like European road-trips, festivals and packed clubs. Similarly, I think it’s crucial that we don’t expect excellence from ourselves in every aspect of life this year.
Around New Years, I think many of us sat down and had a sudden crisis that we had to ‘make the most’ of 2021. In the typical narrative, that tends to mean optimal productivity, hard work, crazy diets and wild adventures. Whilst there are still so many opportunities for personal development and impressive achievements even in this difficult time, they’ll be harder to reach if we expect them of ourselves no-matter-what.
Pressure can be an amazing force for good – whether it’s time pressure to complete an essay before a deadline, physical pressure to reach a fitness milestone, or healthy peer pressure where you and your friends challenge each other to reach a goal. However, it can also be crippling when expectations are too high, and even impair us from doing anything at all. That is exactly the kind of thing we need to be avoiding in a time like this.
If we generate a romanticised plan of 2021 which ends up in the sunshine with a perfect beach body, dancing with a cocktail in hand and no mask on with a first-class degree under our belts, we’re going to be sorely disappointed. Aim for the small victories. Obviously, don’t let the pandemic limit your goals – stick to that workout plan if you want to, spend every day studying if you want to, do a load of online internships if you want to – but we can’t feel obliged to be our absolute best selves when the people and things which help us do so are so far away.
I’ve heard so many people saying they want to come out of lockdown having become some sort of ideal version of themselves by the end, somehow morphing into a 10/10 in every area of life. To begin with I was guilty of this too, but it’s important to remember that we’re in this mess because the world is falling apart, and although it’s slowly starting to come back together again, we can’t expect ourselves to change so dramatically when so many aspects of our lives are still so limited.
I’ve found lockdown really difficult motivation-wise. I’m about to start the last semester of my degree, but I’m getting out of bed later than ever and I’m working slower than usual. However, I’m choosing not to be angry with myself about it, because I know it’ll just put me off things even more. I make sure I get things done, but I’ve decided that I deserve to treat myself every so often, just as a reward for getting through this difficult time. That’s the approach I’ve been recommending to friends when they come to me with similar issues, and I truly think it’s the best way to get by, for now.
Some days, it’s even an achievement to get out of bed, especially if you’re living in difficult circumstances and your mental health is suffering. Don’t beat yourself up if that’s you – a positive mental attitude is hard enough to maintain at the best of times, so if you’re struggling right now, please don’t blame yourself and instead seek help, whether from the university or external sources.
I guess what I’m trying to say is go easy on yourself. Self-care is key, and self-pressure is not. As much as you can, stay happy as well as safe.