According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, Americans born in 2021 can expect to live for just 76.1 years, the lowest life expectancy since 1996. This is the biggest two-year decline—2.7 years in total—in almost 100 years. The Covid pandemic is the primary cause of this decline. However, an increase in the number of individuals dying from drug overdoses and accidents have also been significant factors.
Life is undoubtedly precious and relatively short. Who could have expected a pandemic to impact us in the way it has and continues to? I have seen countless examples of unforeseen circumstances that change the trajectory of a person or family’s life. In the blink of an eye, our life as we know it can vastly change.
Over the past year, in my practice, I have seen lives change in an instant due to tragedy. A young adult whose best friend suicided, a middle-aged female whose cancer returned and metastasized, the sudden death of a patient’s husband due to a heart attack that left her as a single mother to her young children, teens and young adults’ substance use that have spiraled out of control, the death of a patient’s teen son due to Fentanyl poisoning and the brutal rape of a patient. Sadly, I can go on and on.
While things can drastically change in an instant, we must intentionally and mindfully find a balance between living every day as if it’s our last and having internalized gratitude, perpetually being in the present moment and noticing it all. It remains critical to be in the here and now, and with what is rather than the what ifs.
We hardly recognize that waking each day and taking a breath is a gift and opportunity afforded to us. It’s so easy to take for granted the things we attach to, expect, and are used to. We tend to only notice these things when they’re challenged, belabored, or taken from us.
For this year and going forward, make concerted efforts to live in the moment and notice the beauty and joy that surrounds you.
Take these meaningful steps to make this the best year yet:
- Take pauses throughout your day. Look around your surroundings, do a body scan independently or with a meditation/mindfulness app such as Insight Timer, intently notice how you feel when you’re interacting and reacting to others, etc.
- Reach your potential. Evaluate whether you’re just existing or truly living out your best life. Ask yourself whether you’re living out your values and goals and if there are barriers getting in the way. Explore your thoughts and feelings about those barriers and problem solve.
- Take an inventory of your relationships and continually and proactively work on those that fulfill you. This means putting in focused effort and attention to making yourself vulnerable, expressive, and deeply connected in a way that you may not be used to and/or feel comfortable with.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Good things happen when we stretch ourselves and expand our flexibility. Our fears, inhibitions, rigidity, fixed ideas and opinions stunt our growth and perpetuate the beliefs and narratives we tell ourselves.
- Realize that you don’t have time. We need to deliberately make time for the things that we most care about otherwise the time may never come to make changes, be our authentic selves, etc.
- Notice when you become complacent. We all do this whether we choose to recognize it. It’s what makes us human—we’re all perfectly unperfect. It’s a lot easier and wreaks less havoc if we catch it sooner and can make fundamental and necessary shifts in our actions.
- Always notice what you’ve learned. Notice that this year you lost, won, failed, cried, laughed, loved, and above all learned. There’s something to be learned from every situation. For example, if you get into a disagreement with someone, be sure to leave the situation learning something about yourself, about the other person and about the relationship that you can take into the future.
- Hear more. To build understanding, empathy, and tolerance, don’t only listen but also intently hear others. We typically listen with the intent to respond and defend rather than to hear and lend to our understanding of others. We miss out on our shared values, commonalities and mutual interests which can potentially connect us. We also limit the impatient part of us that needs to be immediately heard, understood, and nurtured from effectively growing.
- Think about whether this really will matter in a few days from now. I always see a quote about evaluating if things will matter in five years from now. It doesn’t have to take that long. Our thoughts and feelings are fleeting. They ebb and flow so quickly and sometimes so intensely and irrationally. Besides not sweating the small stuff, we must consider whether the raise in our cortisol levels and risk to our health is worth the intensity and drama.
- Act from your values rather than your thoughts and feelings to connect to your self-compassion, self-confidence, and being your best self. My book ACE Your Life: Unleash Your Best Self and Live the Life You Want highlights the utility of our values and how it cultivates a meaningful, fulfilling, and empowered life. Our values are unconditional—they’re a guide to action—and remind us of what’s important to us. You’ll have a road map as to what actions you’ll take that fosters the life you want.
You deserve a life that fuels you and one that you’re personally proud of. Don’t live the same year again. Make a change that’s meaningful and enduring. For this year and every year, simply take one more step toward your authentic, wholehearted self. You’re incredible and are about to initiate steps toward the greatest year of your life; you’re proactively making that choice.
Blog as published in Psychology Today.