The changing of the calendar year is a landmark moment, and never more than this year. It’s the ultimate fresh start, like opening a crisp new notebook. We can’t look forward to 2021 without acknowledging that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, speculating on the coming year may still be a little daunting! However, spending time setting our New Year’s resolutions with intention can still be a powerful act of resistance and hope for the future.
When we encounter milestones like the changing of the calendar year, some of us tend to reflect critically on our own achievements, especially if we have perfectionist tendencies. Right now, though, we need to be kind to ourselves more than ever.
Many people have struggled with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and toxic thought patterns can be magnified by stress. Be your own cheerleader while you’re recollecting the past year and making resolutions for the next one! Celebrate your past victories, and consider what strategies will be successful for your future goals.
Here are a few of our favorite goal-setting strategies to keep in mind:
1. Reflect on how you created wins in 2020
Start by looking back to see what went right for you over the past year. Nothing is too small to acknowledge, and triumphs aren’t always what you did; sometimes they’re how you responded to adversity. Reorganizing your cupboard to save time while cooking is a win. Getting a promotion is a win, but if your career was impacted due to COVID-19 and you managed to stay positive anyway, that’s also a huge win! Use your successes over the past year to strategize for achievable triumphs in 2021.
2. Don't use the same yardstick for success right now
Whether or not you want to cut yourself a break (hi again, perfectionists!), the fact is that things were different in 2020, and may be different for a while yet. People have experienced the impacts of COVID-19 in a vast variety of ways; there are both individual and social ripples we don’t have perspective on just yet. We have all been experiencing ongoing stress in 2020, which can be very hard on your body and mind. Be generous in how you measure your progress.
3. Stop “should-ing” yourself
Everyone has an internal narrative, that little voice that guides and connects us with our innermost thoughts. However, that voice can be critical, prompting you to a habit of “shoulding” yourself. “Shoulding” can look like: “I should lose weight,” or “I should really be journaling more,” or even “I should be on my phone less.”
While our “shoulds” can help us identify areas we’d like to change, they’re usually rooted in self-recrimination or unhealthy comparisons to others and may result in shame and guilt, which are not motivating emotions! Listening to your inner voice’s “shoulding” can be paralyzing and damaging to your self-esteem. Are these messages necessary, or even realistic? What emotion or wish is at the heart of your “should”, and how can you manifest it more positively? Try practicing a mindful response whenever you catch yourself saying “I should…” and instead, ask “why?”
4. Make sure your goals are measurable and definitive
Ruthlessly edit any vagueness out of your resolutions. Instead of starting your list with “learn how to paint,” try adding a tangible goal, like: “create 5 paintings this year.” Or for a habit-based resolution, replace “consume less caffeine,” with “only drink one coffee daily.” This creates a much more concrete and doable plan!
5. Be generous with your wins
When I sit down to start a to-do list, the first item is always “write list” - which I then tick off right away! I list my easy tasks, no matter how small. Checking them off creates accomplishment and momentum, which sustains me while I complete the harder items - sometimes an avoided task suddenly seems doable! Consider adding some short-term or otherwise “easy” goals to your resolutions to help renew both your confidence and your efforts towards your more ambitious objectives.
6. Prioritize your energy
Which areas of your life truly need some adjusting? Consider if this is the right timing for broad, arduous challenges. Strategize for accomplishment by narrowing your goals down to the absolutely necessary areas of improvement to save your energy for crucial, rewarding goals.
7. Honestly evaluate your routine
Your goals can either slot into an existing routine, or you may have to make drastic changes to a routine or habit to achieve them. While completely changing a routine can break through stagnation to help you succeed with those lofty goals, it might not be the most realistic tack to take if you’re feeling low on energy or momentum going into 2021.
Instead, consider how to create micro-habits that can help you achieve your New Year’s resolutions. For example, if you want to be more active but don’t have an existing fitness regimen, starting with a 1-mile jog every day will likely only undermine your efforts! Begin with an accomplishable change, like taking a short walk right after your workday. You can support this goal with the micro-habit of placing all your winter walking gear like shoes, reflective strips, and warm clothing by your front door in the morning, so that when you get home it will be both a visual reminder and a motivation to immediately change and step back out the door.
8. Offer yourself support
Planning for progress is important, but it’s crucial to support your own resiliency first, and consider the timing of how you’re challenging yourself. Aside from offering yourself emotional support, you may find that health-based lifestyle choices can also assist with accomplishing your intentions. Supplementing with natural, adaptogenic formulations to help reinforce your bodily and mental strength and reduce the effects of stress can be a valuable aspect of proactively planning for your success in the new year.