Optimistically Realistic about 2021

by Joanna Farnsworth

This time last year I wrote about my optimistically realistic intentions for 2020, so you may wonder how did that go in what has been one of the most challenging years many of us will have ever lived through? Looking back now I wonder if we should have seen this coming but looking forward I am loathed to say that the worst may be yet to come before things get better.

The most important thing is that we made it this far albeit struggling, lonely, exhausted and habituated; some of us have endured the most devastating loss yet somehow kept going in these darkest of times.

2020 may not have lived up to expectation but accepting it for all it has taught us, taking a moment to acknowledge our strength in the face of adversity, I will look too to 2021 realistically optimistically.

“I am determined, tenacious and know that I will stick resolutely to dry January as I do every year. I know that I will always struggle with a strict diet and exercise regime so am best not to bother. I know that I will start out enthusiastically on my course, I will likely become disillusioned and doubt myself part way through but will re-engage and finish strong.”

Looking back on my intentions I smile, I know myself all too well, one of the blessings that come with age, for so many years I did not know myself, being a passenger in life racing along in the same direction as everyone else. This rollercoaster year of on off and little in-between has made many of us re-evaluate ourselves, adapt, make change and therein forgetting any intention would have been entirely understandable so how realistic were my intentions?

Intention 1. Dry …January … February… March … December   

“Quit Drinking

I will complete January dry, after a season of indulgence it is important for me to reset my drinking habits back to occasionally rather than regularly, it demands commitment and will power in particular in social situations. I focus on the benefits to my health and my bank balance, I will enjoy the feeling of being more alert and energised, having better sleep and hopefully even a little weight loss. I know that I will need to avoid some social situations, not only because it is difficult to say no but because sometimes that first glass is always a great way to alleviate the anxiety of being in a busy, noisy, unfamiliar social space”

In Twixtmas and lockdown it is never too early for a tipple, I can’t imagine the alcohol consumption that I would have achieved were it not for dry January. It went so well that it rolled into dry February and on to the remaining months of 2020. I transitioned from regularity to sobriety with relative ease, the highlight  being the realisation that I could enjoy a pretty decent night out with colleagues and enjoy their company without a glass of fizz in my hand. My tenacity took me into February and beyond, being realistically optimistic certainly paid off when it came to laying off the booze. I will admit that I have noticed only a slight betterment financially, disappointingly zero weight loss and as expected better sleep and mornings too but most surprisingly (not that I have had much choice in lockdown) I have not needed to avoid any social situation. In fact I have enjoyed them as much if not more than I had before. The biggest myth of all was the need for a drink to settle my anxiety in social situations, I feel calm, in control, completely at ease in company and the best bit is that I never have to worry about getting home. In years gone by I would have felt awkward having to explain my sobriety but not once have I had to explain my choices that are respected even admired in my circles.

Intention 2. More Exercise…

“There is little less appealing than pounding the streets in the cold and wet and the idea of joining the expensive and overcrowded gym is less so. I know that as another year passes as does the fortune of doing so little to stay fit and a habit that I need to ease myself into, this is where having a reason for exercising more is so important. As I write this I remember that I have signed up to the 10k mind walk in April, not only is this a really important fundraising cause but an opportunity to improve my fitness. So I will endeavour to double my usual effort of 5k steps a day by the end of January and set myself small achievable goals that I can increase as I step into spring.”       

Like I say I know myself too well to know that this would be a difficult achievement, I would rather throw myself into a 12 hour straight session at the desk than attempt anything physical. No surprises that the 10k was cancelled and exercise floundered but ironically there is nothing more likely to get the nation moving than closing the gyms and making us stay at home. Suddenly exercising seemed more attractive as it became just a little bit illegal, the dog has never been walked so much. I found new routes and wonderful woodlands right on my doorstep that I had not known existed. I stepped into and beyond the spring, summer only to fall back into my old sloth’s habits back at the desk as the workload doubled almost overnight. I managed to hang onto my weekly yoga practice online, just, I have found it difficult to transition from work to mat and focus. Whilst for the foreseeable it looks like exercise continues to be restricted, I am more inclined to adhere to strictly staying on the sofa during these winter months. Realistically even partial achievement of the exercise goal was a big deal for me, those walks kept me positive, giving me the optimism that I can keep the intention going and achieve even more, at least when the days are drier, warmer and a little longer.

Intention 3. Eat better….

“Well let’s be honest it’s not going to be that difficult to eat less than I have been during the festivities although an enforced strict diet is not going to be realistically achievable either, but, eating better will make me feel better.”

Like everything else this year eating better has been hit and miss, who would have thought that we would all turn to baking in the darkest hour and flour would only be available on the black market? In a country where there has never been a risk of food shortage the shelves ran empty of all perishables and then pasta, in an inspired move the nation resorted to growing and baking its own. For the first time in years I returned to the greenhouse and vegetable beds which at peak production provided salads and strawberries, I discovered the local greengrocer even subscribing to fresh deliveries and cooking. Like the exercise the call of the job distracted me from good habits and I slowly slipped back into old habits of eating on the go, skipping meals, overeating and reliance on prepared meals. Eating better made me feel better but like all things it has to be maintained. I am going to take forward gratitude for what we have, adapting to using seasonal produce, I have already cleared the veg beds for next spring’s salad’s and strawberry crops.  

Intention 4. Learn something new

“Age is no barrier to learning, I have enrolled onto an MSc in January and whilst the intensity and study hours on top of my full time work is daunting I have made a plan to fit in 20 study hours a week… I have chosen a subject that I am passionate about and will have to be strict about my schedule”

Nearly half way through this whistle stop learning experience and have wondered what am I doing? I knew that it would be intense and demanding and had the benefit of a schedule to adhere to, for every hour spent in lectures another five are required for reading. The material and pace is demanding, commanding an in depth understanding of neuroscience and psychobiology in a matter of weeks is intense. Like all things undertaken in challenging circumstances I have had to adapt, initially to the lecture theatre environ of hundreds of students all with different backgrounds and experience to entirely remote learning. I was delighted to fall into a cohort of like minded women, a lawyer, analyst and healthcare professional all looking to broaden their knowledge and prospects. We continue to form a study group and take comfort from one another sharing similar struggles and doubts. I loved the experience of the lecture theatre, the library and the routine of switching roles from Surveyor to Student in an afternoon and back again to make up the hours. Taking on a masters is a challenge in itself let alone during a pandemic when the entire world has shifted and all boundaries between work, home and study have become blurred. Anyone studying at the moment will know how hard this is, I seem to be doubling my effort for half the result but have learned so much already and will continue to do so.   

All things considered it is an achievement to have stuck by my intentions, none of us could have imagined the course this year has taken us, the loss of our freedom of financial security and so sadly the loss of loved ones but we have never lost hope that things will be better. So take this time to look back, the path ahead will not be easy but we have already come so far. We do not know what the future holds and so my intention for the year ahead is to hold onto everything I have with gratitude remaining realistically optimistic that things will seem a lot brighter soon.

 Intentions for 2021 ….

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