We can all agree that the year 2020 was a terrible year for humanity, including a global pandemic, quarantine of 3 months, social distancing, devastating fires and hurricanes, many lives lost, unhealthy air quality, systematic racism, and many more. However, we can begin seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can start shifting gears to think of what the next year would look like and what we wish for ourselves and the world. This is also a great time to reflect on what 2020 was like for us personally, and potentially find some positivity in this year as well. If you feel like you just want this year to be over and consider this year to be “just bad” or maybe “just good”, you, like many other people, engage in black or white thinking.
Every time we judge of an event, a person, or ourselves using only the polarized ends of the spectrum, we are engaging in black or white thinking, which is a type of cognitive distortion. A cognitive distortion is an irrational thought pattern that people use to view the world. It is not an accurate and objective way of thinking. It is more a pessimistic view that people usually adapt in their life, as a defense mechanism, to protect themselves from experiencing negative feelings. If we judge the year 2020 by stating that it was all bad, we would be engaging in black or white thinking, and we would not be accurate. Rather, we should try and think deeply about the past year and find the various shades of gray in between the black and white, or in other words, those middle points on the spectrum.
To avoid black or white thinking and to accurately reflect on our past year try to do the following:
- Write a list of your achievements during this past year. Try to think of the little accomplishments together with the bigger achievements. Maybe you learned to bake a new cake during quarantine, or you were able to watch a full series of your favorite TV show that you did not have time to do before.
- Prepare a thank you list for the past year. Start by writing the word thank you and try to think of all the people in your life and the little things that you are thankful for from the past year. This list can include as little as being thankful to your UPS guy for delivering your online purchase, or as big as acknowledging your loving family and friends for being there for you during this challenging year.
- Think of all your challenges throughout this year and rank them in order from the least to most challenging. What was really hard for you to do this year? What was challenging but not too hard? Was it hard for you to get used to walking around with a mask on? Did you lose a source of income? Did you need to move out of your apartment and go back to live at your parent’s house? Maybe everything remained the same for you personally, but it was simply hard for you to listen to the news?
Lastly, read what you wrote aloud and embrace those middle points of the spectrum. Hopefully, now you can see that this year was not as bad as you thought it was. While acknowledging how difficult it was for you and everyone around you, you can still see some positive points along the way. Hopefully, then you will be able to disengage in black or white thinking and reflect on 2020 in a more accurate and objective way.