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How to Make Resolutions for an Unpredictable Year

Looking back at the goals I made around this time in 2020, it seems laughable to think I could have achieved them. Who was this person who thought 2020 would be the year of travel and going out with friends more? While that hopeful version of me would be disappointed in how the year turned out, and while my checklist remains mostly unchecked, I don’t consider this year a waste. I have my health, I have my family, and I have a new perspective on what's important to me, and what I think is most precious.

This internal growth was intentional. When it became clear in early April that the virus wouldn’t disappear soon and on its own, and that our lives would no longer look like what we’d come to know as our lives, quickly the internet rhetoric became that of, “Who are you going to be when you come out of quarantine?” And mostly, this was in reference to fitness, appearance or productivity. Knowing I would quickly burn out if I adopted that frame of mind, I instead decided to spend my time working towards new, smaller goals. With everything changed, I focused on who I was in that moment, and how the habits I had were either serving or sabotaging me, my mental health, my physical health and my relationships.

Looking back, I’m glad I took the time to sit with myself and make adjustments to my lifestyle over this year. And with next year offering more uncertainty, I’m shifting my resolution once again to maintain the practices I put in place in April. In the end, it’s about being intentional. Goals that feel vague and arbitrary are less likely to be met in any year, let alone a challenging, unpredictable one. To set yourself for success despite the changing world, focus on the choices you can make every day. When you don’t know what the future holds, at least you’ll have flexible, daily rituals, and each day is a new opportunity to make a choice that takes you closer to your future goals. So with that in mind, here are three key things to do when making resolutions for an unpredictable year.

Look within

Instead of looking outward at the unpredictable world or imagining some version of yourself you think would make everything better, look at who you are now. Be caring, but critical. What do your days look like, really? What are your habits? Do they serve you? What are your life goals? Are you working towards them?

A good place to start is journaling. Tracking your daily routine and your feelings helps you take an outside look at the life you're living, not the one you think you're living. Be really specific. What do you do? What do you eat? How much do you sleep? Then track your feelings, your moods, and see how they all correlate. 

The first step to making resolutions is asking how you want to feel on a daily basis, then you can make choices each day that will take you to that place. Even in an unpredictable year, goals that center around your frame of mind will always be relevant.

As the world changes, you can adapt with the holistic idea of your new self in mind and continue to practice the habits that align with that person, even if the specific habits change. This way, you focus on what will take you to your goals in the moment, instead of feeling pressured to stick to the things you decided upon months before in a completely different context.

For example, if you resolve to achieve the ever-ubiquitous goals of losing weight or going to the gym, you should first ask yourself why. If the answer is something like to make others like you more or to fit a vague idea of yourself, maybe reconsider. Your goals should be for you, and it’s also harder to motivate yourself to reach them if they’re not.

However, if you’re making that goal because you want to feel more energetic, keeping this internal motivation in your mind will give you more incentive because it’s more personal and specific.

Start small

Tracking incremental changes means making incremental goals. Setting smaller, more achievable goals means you’re more likely to be motivated, since the goals are something that feel more within your reach. Plus, checking off more, smaller boxes on a checklist gives off a satisfying feeling of reward that encourages you to keep going. 

Small goals are also easier to pivot as circumstances do. It can be hard to know what can be attainable within a longer time frame. By making a shorter window for a smaller task, we can be flexible with our goals, depending on each new challenge or progression in our lives.

Instead of resolving to lose weight, shift the focus. To achieve the goal of being more active, incorporate some intentional daily movement into your routine. This is less intimidating than an unspecified lofty goal, so you’re more likely to get started.

As you explore what kind of movement or exercise feels good, build around that instead of assuming a one-size fits all solution. Gyms aren’t for everyone, so figure out what works for you. As circumstances might change, like gyms or studios closing, you can pivot on your own time without feeling like you’re betraying your goals.

Take the time to figure out what works by starting small, you deserve to put that care and attention into your habits. 

Focus on the process

When most people make resolutions, they create static goals. Usually, this entails a vague hope of a milestone they want to reach, but no plan for putting it in place. While static goal setting is problematic in a ‘normal’ year (only 8% of people stick to their resolutions), in a year as unpredictable as this one and the next, it becomes easy to make excuses to not reach your goals.

You can convince yourself that because circumstances changed, you couldn’t meet your goals. However, you’re only cheating yourself. You wouldn’t have made those goals if you didn’t want to achieve them, so put yourself in a mindset that will encourage you to keep them.

Focus on processes instead of on reaching arbitrary milestones. While there’s nothing wrong with setting a specific, challenging goal, too often we see that as the default. Ask yourself why you want to reach that specific milestone. If the number or target milestone is meaningless, you’re more likely not to reach it.

Making resolutions around your processes on the other hand will force you to be more intentional and careful about what you’re doing and why. By focusing on habits, routines and systems of growth instead of static goals, you allow yourself to grow at a manageable pace and are more likely to stick to your resolution.

The key here is making small daily choices and seeing where they get you, instead of focusing on an end goal and hoping to somehow get there. Meet yourself where you are and change your lifestyle, rather than projecting towards a vague, unspecific life you think you should be living.

By focusing on the day by day, you can make incremental progress each day without feeling overwhelmed. Instead of saying you’re going to read 20 books, say you’re going to read a few pages every night. Incorporate habits you can build on, that you’ll keep even after the year is over. You’ll probably find yourself surpassing your original goals, or at least getting a better sense of what’s realistic.

Langa is a freelance writer from NYC. She is a recent graduate of Scripps college in California who remains loyal to the East Coast.
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