After everything that happened in 2020, goal setting seems like a big question. Resolutions are inherently uncomfortable and require determination, and most of us have had enough of the former and not much of the latter. The response to the annual tradition could include a collective moan and wink and require censorship.
The question is, is it okay to take this year off?
“It’s always okay,” says Dr. Inna Khazan, clinical psychologist and lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Why do we decide?
Resolutions are used to force us out of our comfort zones, but they are not required. Some people hold onto and benefit from them; others have a different relationship to resolutions: they make them with no intention of keeping them and repeat this cycle year after year.
Khazan says the result can be almost like doing less than nothing. “It provokes shame and guilt,” she says. “Not only do you not benefit from yourself, you also harm yourself.”
No need. Resolutions should be based on two things: what you want to do and what you are can to do. You need to look at yourself, your schedule and your resources, and assess how full your plate is, and as Khazan says for many people in 2020, “The plate is full.”
In addition, a person’s life could already involve personal and professional loss, adds Dr. David H. Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Resolutions are just not on the priority list.
But Rosemary says before you completely reject the idea, think about some of the challenges that have come up: Kobe Bryant dies in January, then COVID-19, home school, race riots and protests, forest fires, “murder hornets”, the election . It’s been a full year. “Think about how resilient we were,” he says. It can change the way you think about it and make picking up a solution less weighty.
Or your conclusion could still be, “No, I have nothing.”
“That is perfectly valid. It’s not healthy to try too hard and you can lose it,” he says.
But doing that also means not feeling guilty about what you are doing should to do. It’s one of the eternal traps as we hold ourselves to impossible standards and are our own worst critics, say khazan and rosemary. One solution they offer is to imagine a friend setting up the same scenario: feeling drained, needing a break, not wanting to have another task at this moment.
When you hear these words, your response is likely to be compassion and something like, “Of course, take a pass. You deserve it. “Then try to tell yourself this. Repeat if necessary.
However, Rosemary says that while resolutions are not mandatory, the answer may not be to skip them altogether, just make an tweak. One is to put everything off until spring. “Give yourself a season to relax,” he says.
There is also a new perspective. Every solution is about improving your life in some way. Here’s one: Just be kinder to yourself. If you have been able to let go of the guilt or shame about your previous resolutions for the year, guess what? You have already done it. It is dissolution without dissolution, says Khazan.
But rosemary suggests a few more ideas. Take a vacation or just take the occasional afternoon off to restore your energies and keep other things on your mind instead of worrying. Write down one accomplishment per day to see more positives than negatives, or just enjoy a piece of food a day to enjoy yourself.
These “resolutions” have advantages. You don’t need a lot of time. You don’t need any equipment or membership. They can always be carried out, regardless of shutdowns or restrictions. And “You create a better relationship with yourself that helps us relate to others and the world,” says Rosemary.
And he has another. When someone gives you a compliment or a gift, say, “Thank you,” and that’s all. You’re not saying “stop it” or “you shouldn’t have it,” the natural inclination that doesn’t acknowledge us and rejects what the other person has just shared. “Saying thank you means accepting that, maybe, just maybe, you deserve attention and worth,” he says. “It also creates more connections. What is wrong with that?”