Why 2021 should be the year to bring back New Year’s resolutions

A year, one pandemic, many jigsaw puzzles, and several lockdowns later and I’m less sure that resolutions are the problem. I think that resolutions, like wishes on coins or doodles in notebooks, can be a wonderful indicator of where we would like to go and what we would like to do next.

They can be the compass point and the yellow bricks that make the road. They can be great, glowing neon arrows towards what could, just possibly, make our lives fuller and more our own. But they can also be yet another way to measure ourselves incorrectly, to tell ourselves that we’re too big, too small, too slow, too stupid, too lazy, too much, too little, and on and on and on.

They can trick us into buying clothes in a size we haven’t been since our bodies were still growing and they can encourage us to overhaul perfectly wonderful parts of ourselves in the pursuit of what is often inevitably a superficial and short-term change.

At the beginning of 2020 I believed I was done with New Year’s resolutions for good. I had made my mind up and there was no changing it. 2020 was the year I was going to travel more, try new things, and push myself, but I wasn’t going to attach rules or structure or timelines. In 2020 I was going to really, really live and I couldn’t wait to start.

I don’t know all of the answers and I don’t expect you to, either.

It’s January, again, and I know that many of us are feeling wary about the next twelve months. Going out or seeing loved ones is suddenly a calculation in proximity and droplet transmission, and notions of things being back to normal before 2022 seem more and more farfetched. Meeting new people is all but out of the question and the things we’re free to do get smaller as the list of cases gets longer.

There is plenty to be grateful for, and innumerable ways to pull together, to send love out in new directions and learn resilience and tolerance and the power of community. But things are also incredibly, overwhelmingly hard and strange and sh*t and we don’t lose ground by being honest about that. So how about this year we give ourselves a break? How about we don’t ask how we can be the very best and instead ask ourselves what would happen if we gave up a bit of control, and accepted that this year will be challenging, that it will not look like any other year we’ve known before it?

How about we make a simple commitment to check in with ourselves at the end of each month, letting 2021 unfold as it will and just deciding to make more of an effort to have our own backs and to make small adjustments where necessary with a view to gradually making things better for ourselves and the people around us? Because more important than knowing what we’ll restrict or subtract is knowing what we’ll do when things get tricky. What will we say to ourselves when it feels like the muck is rising fast and the land we were grasping for pulls back? How will we tend to ourselves when we’re hurting? How will we grieve when it is time to grieve and how will we seek out joy when joy is desperately needed? How will we hold those responsible to account?

How will we spend the time and how will we make up the distances? How will we be kinder, forever, to ourselves about what we couldn’t control? I don’t know all of the answers and I don’t expect you to, either. But I know now that I have the time to think and learn and decide. There’s no clock ticking down. There is each day as it happens and there is no more than that.

It can be a wonderful thing to set a goal and work towards it, to turn a curiosity about exercise into real miles run, or to actually see a long-imagined figure in your savings account, but please don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan or happen as expected. I hope we all try new things often this year. I hope we see the gift in being bad at something and learning to be better. I hope we see that punishing or scolding ourselves is the antithesis of forward movement and that we empty our victories when we bully ourselves across some imagined finish line.

I hope we decide that we deserve to be stepping cautiously and curiously and experimentally into this new year, knowing what areas need work but not being willing to hurt ourselves in the pursuit of quick and temporary changes. I hope we see that we’re good just as we are, unfinished, unpolished, fragile, hopeful, hurt, and already worthy of celebration. I hope you hope so, too.

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