This year’s resolution or goal setting is going to be unlike previous years. Clinical psychologist Michelle Nortje weighs in with advice for how to go about it.
Setting yearly goals can be a helpful way of creating a sense of movement and hope. After a year of uncertainty and confusion, goal-setting may be even more important to offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, last year’s experiences of loss, change and isolation have also perhaps offered a new perspective on priorities and dreams for the future. 2020 has already disrupted our habits and routines, so now is a great time to find new effective ways of approaching our lives and families.
Here are a few ideas to spark your inspiration and creativity for 2021:
- Take time to reflect
First, take time to reflect on the year that has passed, before determining your new path or perspective for the year ahead. It is important that each person’s goals are specific to their personality, context, limits, experiences and abilities.
These are only a few examples of important questions to ask yourself as you begin your reflection. In brackets I have included ways to ask these questions in a child-friendly way to help guide smaller children to reflect on themselves.
- What obstacles have you overcome in the past year? (How did you manage to get it right when you did … ?)
- What strengths have you learned that you possess? (When you were able to go back to swimming lessons even when you were a bit scared, what helped you to do that?)
- What behaviours would you like to change or learn to make the next year more meaningful or fulfilling? (A thing you could do that would make your heart super happy is … ?)
- What are you doing that is already working/helping? (What things do you do that make life really good/happy/fun right now?)
- What thoughts go through your mind that actually make it more difficult to achieve your goals? (Do you ever have some yucky thoughts that make things hard, like thinking something is too hard for you?)
- New priorities
The theme of priorities has been common in many of my daily conversations this year with both clients and colleagues. In the face of loss and disruption, goals for 2021 may look a bit different to those set in previous years. Some helpful goals that have come up in these conversations include:
- Spend more time with loved ones
- Look after my health
- Spend more time in nature
- Focus on self-care
- Learn something new
- Don’t put things off
- Engage in creative pursuits
- A coping toolkit
As much as 2020 may have put a spotlight on problem-solving, life is never really devoid of obstacles. Learning our most productive ways of coping with difficulties can help to limit the stress that comes with any new obstacles that come up.
Create a list of items for your “coping toolkit” to refer back to when life throws you a curveball. These are a few examples of what you may want to include: picnics with the family, hiking, colouring-in books, to-do lists, monthly budgets, phoning a friend.
To make this activity child-appropriate you can ask children to draw pictures or find magazine images of things that help them manage with difficult feelings or experiences. For teens, they may want to fill a box with items that symbolise their coping tools (for example, a ball of Prestik may represent the family ‘sticking together’ when life gets tough).
- Focus on health
COVID-19 has forced a focus on health and well-being. This can be reframed as a helpful benefit. Holistic well-being can make it easier to manage stressors, rather than trying to face life’s complications while also feeling depleted and easily overwhelmed.
The pillars of a healthy body and mind include balanced nutrition, adequate sleep and moderate exercise. Maintaining stability in these areas can make life stressors easier to tolerate.
- Make SMART goals
SMART goals are goals that are Simple – Manageable – Achievable – Realistic – Time-limited. By sticking to these guidelines, goals can be broken down into more attainable steps. Setting overly ambitious or unrealistic goals can create a sense of demotivation and disappointment.
For example, your child may have a goal of improving their maths mark. Helping them to set smaller SMART steps to get there may include: remembering to ask questions in class if they don’t understand, checking if they have done all their homework each day, trying a more difficult sum to push themselves, getting feedback from their teacher regularly to know where they might need extra assistance.
- Work as a team
Try to set a few goals for the family as a whole and as each member of the family individually. Having a family meeting every now and then to assess progress can help with motivation and encouragement. Trying to achieve a goal alone can be extra difficult!
- The memory jar
A lovely way to keep motivation for the year going, is to create a memory jar or box. You can choose to decorate a single jar for the whole family, or a smaller jar for each member of the family.
Each time you experience something that affirms your own or the family’s new outlook on life, add something to the jar to help you remember it (ticket stubs, a photograph from a family get-together, a leaf from a hike, a candle from a celebration).
Noticing how full the jar is or, being able to reflect on significant memories as you pop them in the jar together, helps to boost feelings of gratitude, connectedness, motivation and hope.
I love the cliché: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I found it really weird to not create a massive vision board at the beginning of the year, because how do you create goals with such uncertainty? So, I set small goals that are quicker to achieve, make me feel victorious and I can work those goals up to be bigger and bigger as we go along. It’s better to have some hope and something to work towards, than no hope at all.