If the past 12 months are any indication, 2024 is going to be a year. The world is on fire—literally and metaphorically—and a super-polarizing election looms, which is like catnip for anxiety. There’s AI (friend or foe?) and inflation (up or down?) and that weird thing on your neck you’ve been meaning to get checked out, and you’re going to want a tool kit that’ll help you anticipate, understand, and overcome adversity and anxiety. Luckily, we have four tools that help you not only cope but thrive.
1. Rugged Flexibility
Election drama, fed by social media, can fuel nostalgia for the “good ol’ days,” back when the world was calm and stable. Except that’s only wishful thinking, says performance coach and author Brad Stulberg in Master of Change. “Things are never as static as we pretend they are,” he says. “We’re always in a cycle of order-disorder-reorder.” To actually cope with the churn, Stulberg recommends what he calls rugged flexibility. The ruggedness is about holding on to what’s essential to you; knowing what your core values are. The flexibility comes from letting the rest go. The approach, he says, will help you adapt, evolve, and grow so you’re not constantly feeling unstable. A nonpolitical example: An injured runner understands that while running can’t happen right now, what’s important to him—movement—still can. So he could transition to, for example, rowing or lifting.
How to use it:
Think of change as a constant, Stulberg says. Ask yourself where you want to be rugged and where you can be flexible. “This helps you view change and disorder as something you’re in conversation with,” he says, not as something that’s happening to you that you need to white-knuckle through.
2. Supercommunicator Skills
The polarization and digitization of everything has left us isolated—so much so that the U. S. surgeon general has declared a loneliness epidemic, which is profoundly crummy for our physical and mental health. Building true connections with others is not only satisfying but lifesaving. For his new book, Supercommunicators, Charles Duhigg analyzed people who were naturals at creating deep, meaningful bonds. He found that anyone can do this.
How to use it:
First, supercommunicators listen and ask a lot of questions—“nearly 10 to 20 times as many as the normal person,” says Duhigg. Next, they figure out what kind of conversation they’re having. Is it emotional? Practical? Social? One way to think about it is to consider whether the other person wants to be helped, hugged, or heard. You might even ask them, “Do you want me to solve the problem or do you want to vent?” Cool fact: When you’re both having the same kind of conversation, your body actually responds to this connection physically—with dilated pupils and slower, in-sync breathing—and a deep subconscious bond takes place. In layman’s terms, that means you just don’t feel as alone.
3. Preventive Neurology
Staying ahead of ChatGPT. Figuring out what’s real and what’s not. Remembering which platform that message came in on. Your mind needs to be sharp for that, and an emerging field of brain health is like the doomsday prepper of the mind. It moves brain care from just treating neurological problems such as dementia to preventing them before they occur. “[Neurologists] used to have a saying—‘Diagnose and adios,’ ” explains Natalia Rost, M.D., a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Rost and other advocates of preventive neurology are calling for people to recognize that care for your brain needs to start early. That means helping keep your brain healthy by exercising and eating well. It’s also important to get brain issues diagnosed: Research has discovered that among people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), only 8 percent of cases are detected and diagnosed. Granted, it’s a little tricky, because there’s no slam-dunk test for MCI. But neurologists can help figure out as early as possible if your brain fog, faltering memory, headaches, or behavioral changes can be treated. And early is when treatments may be most effective.
How to use it:
Talk to a doctor about how to take care of your brain now. Mention any worries about your physical, mental, or social well-being. “Those are three components that are critically affected by the state of your brain health and vice versa,” says Dr. Rost. Tidying up lifestyle choices now may change your risk of problems like dementia later. Neurologists rarely factor into our usual rotating cast of health-care providers, but Dr. Rost and colleagues want to change that. They’re even trying to get “well-brain visits” covered by insurance. Until then, consult a doc—and make it soon—with concerns about memory, stroke risk, or headaches.
When life inevitably feels like Too Much this year, resist the urge to micro-quit. “Micro-quitting is a subtle opting out of our goals,” says Vanessa Foerster, a mental-endurance coach in Denver. With micro-quitting, you might knock a set off a planned workout because, you tell yourself, It doesn’t really matter, or skip the optional coffee with the CEO because I wouldn’t really know what to say, anyway. We micro-quit, Foerster says, “to avoid discomfort and, more specifically, to avoid failure.” These “opt-outs,” as Foerster calls them, are sneaky, since they don’t hold the stigma of walking away entirely. But they are just as insidious: “Micro-quitting can affect us on a daily basis, because how you do one thing is how you do everything. So if you start this habit of holding yourself back or cutting yourself short or sabotaging yourself in any way, it will show up in different aspects of your life,” she says.
How to use it:
Sometimes simply having a word to describe a circumstance can unlock change. “The awareness of micro-quitting is the first step,” says Foerster, “because it shows you that you have a choice.” After that, she suggests another miniature act: micro-committing. These are small choices that we make in favor of who we want to be, she says. If what you’ve chosen doesn’t work, look at it as an opportunity for growth.
Joshua David Stein has written for publications including _The New York Times, Fatherly, Esquire, and The Guardian.