New Year’s Resolutions after COVID

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

2020 has been quite a year! Starting in March, the world shut down. Initially we thought it was for a couple of weeks, and then, slowly, the year closed down around us. We learned new phrases like “social distancing”, parents started homeschooling, we began wearing masks, physical contact was discouraged, and people formed small safe “family pods” to not spread the virus. The 24 hour news cycle fueled our anxiety as we saw a pandemic politicized, and we just finished a very different holiday season without extended family.

So in light of the challenges of 2020 it becomes important to rethink our New Year's resolutions. Some of our traditional resolutions somehow seem less important and even shallow since, on some level, 2020 has changed us. In considering the impact of 2020 and our hopes for 2021, consider the following suggestions:

Clarity is what’s truly important! Think about what you missed most in 2020: for many of us it was people! We missed gathering with extended family, seeing friends and going out to dinner, and we missed parties and social gatherings. In reflecting on what we missed, perhaps we are also clarifying what’s important: Relationships!

  1. Focus this year on reconnecting with people who are important.
  2. Focus on Relationship Renewal with partners, children and family (check our website for resources to help).
  3. Focus on reaching out to those who are in need. Many are left hurt, lonely, and without resources by this pandemic. (Support food banks, City Mission, and Habitat for Humanity, to mention a few.)

Put energy into that which has meaning! The late theologian Paul Tillich, said faith is that which you are ultimately concerned about. Richard Rohr, in his book, Falling Upward, states that too much of the first half of life is about the acquisition of goals and accomplishments. The second half of life, however, can be focused on meaning, and that which is of ultimate concern. David Brooks makes much the same point in his book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a moral life. They both speak to transformational moments (perhaps like 2020) that can refocus us. So:

  1. Avoid being tranquilized by the trivial (Kierkegaard) - we have all binge watched enough Netflix this last year…
  2. Listen to your life. Tune into that which has ultimate value for you, and invest more time there. This requires quietness, meditation or prayer as a way of listening and turning out the noise of social media to find a depth of spirituality that you can live into.

Practice Kindness! This year has had its share of ugliness and anger. From one of the worst presidential debates in history, to horrible partisan politics, to the politicization of masks. We have observed name calling, scapegoating, distorting facts… It’s been ugly to say the least. In contrast, watch the new hit TV series Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis from SNL). While the show looks like a comedy focused on an American football coach attempting to coach an English Premier League soccer team, it’s genius is his ability to find and bring out the best in everyone, including some of the most difficult people. What a remarkable contrast to what we have observed! So:

  1. Practice random acts of kindness;
  2. Practice smiling;
  3. Try to focus on the best in everyone;
  4. Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic, said, “when God speaks it’s always compassion.”

Gratitude. In the midst of a very difficult year, many good things have happened. Step back and observe the positives, and continue to focus on that.

  1. As we begin a new year, try to observe something to be grateful for every day.
  2. Keep a “gratitude journal" if it helps keep you focused on the good.
  3. Avoid the problem talk conversation of “ain’t it awful”, it simply spirals down our mood.

So take some time to rethink new year's resolutions since most of the typical ones last for about two weeks. Instead focus on a different way of being in the world!