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As we step into the new year, it is our chance to start afresh for the upcoming road filled with opportunities and uncertainties.
2021 was an emotional rollercoaster — with the constant changes of safe-distancing rules and our lifestyles, as well as the appearance of the new Omicron variant just as it started to seem as if we had turned the corner with Covid-19.
With all that going on, combined with our personal challenges, it’s easy to forget about the importance of focusing on oneselves.
So as we draw the first stroke on the blank canvas of 2022, here are five ways we can better ourselves in the coming year:
Compassion to oneself
According to research, self-compassion gives you a number of benefits, including being more motivated, self-assured and confident.
I’m sure you have heard of this quote before, “Before learning to love others, you must first learn to love yourself”.
This is not to be mixed up with narcissistic, self-centered love; I’m talking about a love that embraces yourself for who you are and searches deep to identify the skills and values that truly define you.
Remind yourself that you are a loving, kind individual who is, above all, deserving of living your best life.
Just like Jonathan Tiong, who has spinal muscular atrophy. The NUS valedictorian shared how he grew up learning that he was unlike other children, who could play and run around while he was confined to a wheelchair.
He has come to terms with living with his disability and resolves that in whatever he does, he seeks to spread kindness to those around him, and to be treated like any other person — appreciated for who he is, instead of what he has.
When you reach this point of understanding and loving yourself, it is easier to give to others around you. Take Uncle Cheu for example. The vegetable seller of 50 years has been giving out free produce to residents in his Choa Chu Kang neighbourhood for years. When people thank him, the quiet man usually brushes it off as just a small deed and not worth the recognition.
Spreading love and kindness has become so instinctive for Uncle Cheu that he doesn’t even realise how big an impact he has on others. So, in 2022, focus on embracing yourself first and then that love will spill over to others naturally.
Have a sense of empathy
Being empathetic allows you to better comprehend other people’s emotions and bond with them. You learn to respect others — whether it is their opinions, or simply their personal space.
To feel empathy, picture what it would be like to see the world through the eyes of another person, to think and feel as they do.
Empathy entails more than simply comprehending and perceiving the emotions of another. The old adage of “walking a mile in another person’s shoes” applies here — it is “feeling” the sores on their feet, the tiredness in their legs and the sweat on their brow.
To learn empathy, get to know people with varied perspectives on life and culture. The more diverse people we meet, the more open minded we tend to be.
You could also read their stories: About the hardships that delivery riders face or the ordeals of a hawker centre cleaner. We have told stories of how a toilet cleaner uncle would get scolded over a 10-cent entry fee, or how a volunteer who now works with migrant workers does so because of the kindness he received from Singaporeans when he first moved here from Iran.
These stories, and more, are a way of experiencing other people’s lives and getting a deeper understanding of their world and how we can make it better.
That makes it easier for us to clear our trays after eating, treating our delivery riders with respect, or our healthcare workers with more kindness — that’s what it means to be empathetic.
Don’t be too down on yourself
Self-criticism is a good way of improving yourself. But be careful from being overly harsh, as that could cause you to develop a negative mental attitude towards yourself.
Although it is good to check ourselves occasionally, sometimes, your inner monologue can either be a stepping stone or a roadblock to achieving your objectives.
Your self-talk will sap your mental power if you regularly make negative predictions like “I won’t be able to do it” or “I’m definitely going to mess it up”.
There will definitely be days where you feel down or overwhelmed by negative vibes. How do we tahan those times?
Sometimes, it is okay to be down rather than forcing a false aura of positivity. You are not alone, everybody faces dark periods in their lives. But don’t let it consume you.
Our thoughts have an impact on how we feel and act. So use that as a tool to rebound better and stronger and be the best version of ourselves.
Being able to forgive others is not easy.
When someone you love breaks your trust, when we are victims of a crime, or when we have been bullied, abused or ill-treated, the emotional pain can be just as excruciating as the physical hurt.
Anyone who has experienced such pain knows how difficult it can be to deal with the inner anguish. However, as long as we hold on to our hurt, we end up being the ones who are constantly affected emotionally.
People say “forgive and forget” but I disagree — we should forgive but not forget. Forgiveness allows you to move forward, but forgetting will doom you to be susceptible to the same mistake again.
Forgiving someone is a complex issue. Forgiving does not necessarily mean justifying the action of the other party. Neither does it mean that you acknowledge that you somehow deserved whatever happened to you. You can forgive someone without blaming yourself.
Forgiveness is setting down an emotional burden that you have been carrying.
Take Dave Parkash’s story for example. Last year, a video went viral after he and his girlfriend were accosted by a middle-aged Chinese man for being an interracial couple.
But instead of arguing with the racist man, Dave reasoned with him and was able to forgive him (in a sense) despite his aggressiveness. He understood that shaming or cussing the man out would not change him for the better and in fact, would add fuel to his racist attitude.
By all means engage people with antisocial views because we should not back down from bullies. But we should also be able to walk away from these kinds of people as we should not bear the emotional burden of dealing with such toxicity.
Have an attitude of gratitude
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Generally, we express our gratitude by thanking someone who has helped us or given us a gift. Yet, saying ‘thank you” isn’t just giving a polite response to a kindness received, there are also benefits from having an attitude of gratitude.
According to research, there is a vital link between thankfulness and physical well-being. Gratitude is excellent for your heart, promotes sleep, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress.
Experts have also found that practising gratitude can help to reduce toxic emotions like frustration and regret. In short, there is a psychological benefit when we exhibit gratefulness.
Having a sense of gratitude does not only apply to things that are given to you but also for the things that you already have. We tend to focus more on the things that we want, sometimes to the point where we forget about being grateful with what we have.
Sometimes, all we need to do is to appreciate what —or who we have — before we lose them.
Some people experienced firsthand the importance of not taking what they have for granted, like a young redditor named Jules, who shared his cancer journey during his national service.
The lessons he learned, and the encouragement he received from netizens for sharing his story, is a wholesome reminder of the importance of having gratitude for what we have as we will never know what lies ahead of us.