How to create a highlight reel from a tough year

Lockdowns and Covid-19 anxiety make 2021 a year many wish to forget. But here’s how to think positive and reframe it to be grateful for what went well.

If you think there’s nothing to be thankful for this past year, think again – it’s likely you’re forgetting some special moments.

Experts say bad memories are easier to recall, so it takes effort to think about the positive ones.

Here’s how to focus on what was good about 2021.

Take time to reflect

As we’re busy living in the moment, we don’t always take time to reflect on what was.

Yet psychologist Patrea O’Donoghue says reflection helps us gain perspective.

To be able to reflect, however, you need to be in the right headspace.

“Research has shown it’s much harder to recollect good events when we are stuck in a negative mood or mindset,” Patrea says.

“If we want to specifically focus on what’s gone well in a particularly challenging year, it can help to get ourselves into a more positive mood.”

She suggests scrolling through Instagram to look at your happy snaps, chatting with a friend or going for a walk in nature – any relaxing activity that will put you in a good frame of mind to reflect.

According to Headspace, writing in a journal is a great way to get everything you have to be grateful for down on paper.

Think about lessons learned

“Another way to think of positives in a challenging time is in terms of lessons learned,” Patrea says.

“Those lessons learned might not be what we were seeking, but they can be most powerful in tough times.

“Perhaps you learned the importance of being patient and flexible, to see things from a different point of view, to slow down, or to reconnect with friends or family.

“Thinking about how you responded to the challenges you were faced with can help you become aware of any growth and progress you’ve made.”

Lean into self-compassion

Many of us spent 2020 planning for greater things the following year.

Who isn’t regretting saying that 2021 would be “much better” than the year before?

Maybe you hoped that postponed trip would eventuate in 2021, that you could be reunited with family or return to business as usual.

The pandemic has proven that there are events out of our control, and this isn’t always easy to accept.

This loss of control over our lives and fear of the unknown has had negative mental health impacts for many people.

By understanding this impact, you can show yourself greater self-compassion, according to Patrea as it’s likely that the reason some – if not all – of your goals weren’t met this year was due to external circumstances.

“[And] no amount of visualisation, positive thinking or willpower can overcome certain external forces,” Patrea says.

Recalibrate your goals

“Another approach is to recalibrate the goals for a different timeframe or to focus on doing what you can do,” Patrea suggests.

“For example, if you’d planned to travel to Europe this year, make the plan for within the next two years.”

Wellbeing Coach and Mindfulness teacher Dee Brennan says it’s worth reminding yourself that goals can always be revisited.

“They are not gone; we just have to wait a little longer,” she says.

Look for the small wins

There’s no doubt that some things did work out for you this year, even if they were small wins.

“It might be more doable to find the positives in the present day, rather than the pandemic – such as less travel, more sleep, and more time to focus on your wellbeing or side hustle,” Dee says.

You don’t have to wear rose-tinted glasses to see that some good did come from the year.

It just takes looking beyond the surface.

Written by Samantha Allemann.