Transitioning to 2021 Beyond Resolutions


By: Alex DeWoskin, LCSW

I saw the following quote right before New Year’s:

“Nobody claim 2021 as “your year”.  We’re all going to walk in really slow.  Be good.  Be quiet.  Don’t. Touch. Anything.” 

The quote struck me and I thought long and hard as to why.  This new year transition is different than previous New Year’s.  No new epiphany here, but 2020 was a rough one.  While the year is over technically is over, challenges and triumphs are not.  I’m feeling hopeful and cautious.  It feels appropriate to tip toe lightly into the new year vs jump in with lofty resolutions.  We’ve been through a lot and setting resolutions seems even more overwhelming than normal. The last thing we need to do is stress out even more trying to reach perhaps unattainable resolutions.  So, this year, I’m thinking small, sweet, doable.  I’m thinking self-care.  I want to feel grateful and proud for having survived this past year and the challenges to come.  I’m feeling reflective, realistic, and present focused, where I have the most control.  I believe that a big part of 2021 is going to be focused on healing and transition. This is probably true for a lot of people in Chicago and around the world.

Every year most of us make New Year’s resolutions and often they are the same resolutions we quit the year before. But there is no magic motivation switch that flips on January 1st in normal years, let alone 2021.  New Year’s aspirations tend to be hard to keep. Thus, we are disappointed by these unrealistic expectations and hopes of drastic and instantaneous changes. With all we are dealing with right now, our challenges won’t magically disappear when the countdown to 2021 ends. Changes are going to happen.  But they’re going to happen slowly.  Given the unexpected circumstances of this past year, perhaps it’s a sign to all of us to ease in gently, reframe, find patience, and readjust how we think about goal-setting in January.

We could all use a little more positivity in our lives.  Maybe that positivity is going to come in little, bite-size, yet important, doable goals that are actually achievable. Perhaps keeping the bar lower than normal is a gift we are all entitled to receive this year.  Perhaps, we need to give ourselves more grace and forgiveness and have more self-compassion.  Maybe instead of taking on the New Year, we just focus on one day at a time.  Research shows that people are more likely to pursue their goals during times that feel like new beginnings in their lives. The New Year has always represented that. However, we can also consider smaller beginning like a new day or week or a birthday or anniversary.  This year’s goals list can be easy, good-for-you goals if you choose.

The past year has taught us that things can change unexpectedly due to unforeseen circumstances. Everyone has been misplaced or transformed somehow, whether it’s being a full-time remote work employee or suddenly managing childcare on top of professional duties. The most normal things like how we work, socialize, and greet each other have changed drastically.

The past year has taught us what happens when our plans change or we lack normalcy. Whether due to boredom or necessity, we have been forced to learn new skills. As you think about 2021, choose one or two of these new skills to improve upon.  Or, declare a theme, value, or a word as your focus for the year ahead. While resolutions of past years might have been more focused on what you want to change, maybe this year’s resolution might be to strengthen your ability to change. For example, we have learned that when we go through tough times, we can trust that everything will work out OK.  This past year has taught us we can find new ways to reach any goal, we can let go of expectations, and we can find appreciation in simpler things.

One of the key reasons many people don’t reach their resolutions is because they don’t take the time to consider what really matters to THEM.  They focus on comparisons or the “shoulds”.  Creating a list of things that make YOU happy and things that bum YOU out might be a good place to start this year. Write down anything from the previous year that felt burdensome or distressing, including ideas, ways of thinking, habits, beliefs about yourself, or views about the world. It’s important to reflect on what we lived through and accomplished. We should take pride in this.

And, even grieve if we need to. It is too easy to forget, minimize, or overlook the good things when you are feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and down. If you’re not someone who enjoys writing, the thought of journaling may feel stressful.  You can use a multitude of ways to get your thoughts out.

Make a list or use the notes section of your phone.  The most important thing is to get the thoughts outside of you vs have them swimming around chaotically in your head. If you’re not sure what to write about, consider coming at it by writing what you’re grateful for; pros and cons; or a self-care to-do list. Then reflect on what is important to you, what’s working and not working.  This sets the opportunity to reframe and set new approaches.

Yep, this is all part of mindfulness. You only need to take a few minutes to sit in mindfulness. Give yourself three minutes to sit quietly and focus on your thoughts and breath.  This, in and of itself, is a great New Year’s goal.  The goal here is to create a practice not perfection.  The benefit of taking a “pause” to recognize what has and has not worked, the strides you’ve have taken and the goals you’ve met, is that it gives insight into our success and builds confidence and feelings of empowerment. With this information, we can create continued goals that we know we can achieve.

Resolutions are always focused on the future.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to better your future self (we always should be growing).  But the secret formula to a fulfilling life is feeling whole in where you are right now.  Maybe resolutions this year should reflect on internal measurements to achieve self-affirmation.

For example, body intelligence (or listening to how your body feels) and using that feeling to guide your actions or inactions. Whatever activity you think is crucial for wellness does not have to be another box to check off the to-do list. The purpose is to care for yourself, calm stress levels, increase self-love, and achieve balance. If any activity is not doing that for you, either change it up or give it up. Self-care is meant to make your life more fulfilling, not more stressful.  The purpose of life is to be happy, not to be perfect.

2020 surprisingly brought some good changes, too.  We can take those changes into the New Year.  We learned to depend on each other, to support each other, and some of us learned we needed to become more aware or evolved. In 2021, one thing that’s important to me is compassion, not as an afterthought, but as a priority. The world would drastically change if we were curious about other perspectives more than wanting to share our opinions.  Self-compassion is important too.