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How to Make New Year's Resolutions for an Uncertain 2021

Healthy Lifestyle

Published: Dec. 28, 2020


As 2020 comes to an end, it’s time to consider what next year will bring. But maybe that statement ties you up in knots because of everything that’s happened this year. 

The year started with great promise. Many of us made resolutions and were excited about what was to come. I even wrote about making realistic New Year’s resolutions last year. But by mid-March, everything had changed – and even those realistic goals no longer seemed like possibilities. 

There’s no doubt that our lives are different, but have they changed so much that there’s no reason to look forward to the future? Please take a moment to think about that. If you find yourself thinking in those terms, let me encourage you to reach out to someone in your support network – a family member, a friend or even a mental health professional. Finding hope for the future is always possible. 

So how does one set goals and resolutions for 2021 when we still face so much uncertainty? Flexibility and focusing on what you can control are great places to start.


Being Flexible and SMART

If we learned anything from 2020, it was that flexibility is key to moving forward. For example, you might have had a big event planned for this year, like a wedding. Rather than postpone, you had an intimate ceremony and are planning on having a larger celebration when it’s safer. Instead of focusing on what you couldn’t do, you focused on what was possible and looked for the positive. We saw that flexibility happening all year long, with drive-by graduation celebrations, virtual baby showers and summer RV trips. 

But sometimes what we hoped was possible became difficult and impossible. That doesn’t mean you should look back at this year and your unattained goals with regret. Regret comes from choosing to not do something we wanted to do. How much of what couldn’t be done this year was a result of choice? Trips were canceled. Weddings did have to be postponed. Family gatherings were limited. These situations were out of the control of the planners. The result may have been sadness, but it shouldn’t be regret. 

Looking back on these situations can help you see more clearly the things that are actually in your control. Focusing on what you can control can help you set more realistic goals. Do your best to make sure the results depend on you. Try the SMART method when setting goals:

Specific: What do you want to accomplish? Who needs to be included? When do you want to do this? Why is this a goal?

Measureable: How can you measure progress and know if you’ve successfully met your goal?

Attainable: Do you have the skills required to achieve the goal? If not, can you obtain them? What is the motivation for this goal? Is the amount of effort required on par with what the goal will achieve?

Relevant: Why are you setting this goal now? Does it align with your overall objectives?

Time bound: What’s the deadline, and is it realistic?


There Are Always Choices

Maybe you never set New Year’s resolutions, or you see no reason to set goals for 2021. Perhaps what you’ve taken from 2020 is that nothing is certain and making plans is futile. But if you’re thinking this way, let me encourage you to shift your focus to the here and now. 

Goals don’t have to be set for months from now. You might want to look no further than tomorrow. Think about what motivates you to keep going. How does that fit into your day? Maybe you’re working remotely and struggling to separate work from your personal life. Your resolution could be to set a boundary that helps you make that separation, keeping in mind the SMART method to help achieve it. 

Fear of the future is what keeps many of us from looking ahead. This fear has only increased over the past year. However, it’s possible to not be paralyzed by fear. Be realistic and focus on what you can control. Even in what looks to be a hopeless situation, there are always choices. Let others help you if you can’t see those choices. 


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Terry Coleman

About the Author:

Terry Coleman, MA, LIPC, is Clinical Services Manager at Best Care EAP. In his role, he oversees a staff of eight behavioral health counselors who provide short-term counseling to employees of contracted companies. His mission is to provide the highest quality care to those who seek our help. 

See More Articles by Terry Coleman