It’s been one week into 2021 and some of us are already struggling to keep up with our resolutions — among those who made any this year, that is.
Experts say we might have to reframe resolutions this year — focusing less on our physical surroundings and more on introspection.
“We’ve had a lot more time at home,” said Toronto-based happiness researcher Gillian Mandich.
“It gives us an opportunity to really reflect on the things that matter in our life and where we’re giving our time and where that time is warranted.”
Mandich recommends focusing on the feelings behind our goals: for example, if your goal is to eat healthier, think about the “why.” Is it to feel more energized? Stronger? Well-rested?
Having clarity on how we’re feeling is a better compass than concrete resolutions, she adds.
“It’s not the actual number on a scale or the amount of calories that somebody’s consuming,” Mandich said. “It’s really the feeling behind whatever it is.”
Global News recently reported on a survey conducted by Dalhousie University and Angus Reid that found only 30 per cent of Canadians planned on changing their diet and eating healthier in 2021 — a 28 per cent drop compared to last year.
For people trying to stick to their resolutions, Mandich recommends phrasing your goal as something you’re gaining as opposed to something you’re missing out on.
She uses the example of supplementing fruits for sweets: Instead of saying “I’m not going to eat sweets,” say “I am going to eat fruit several times today.”
“So, ‘I get to have this,’ as opposed to ‘I can’t do this’,” Mandich said.
She also recommends making our goals as specific as possible and having a friend act as your “accountability partner.”
“The other happy consequence of that — especially right now — is that research from Harvard University teaches us that the number one predictor of both our long-term health and our happiness is social connection,” she adds.
Acknowledging the difficulty of social connection during a pandemic, Mandich says when we combine feelings of connection with a goal or resolution, we “get two coconuts with one rock.”
Learning lessons from an unprecedented year
Toronto clinical psychologist Maneet Bhatia says though many of us would like to put last year behind us, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings we experienced, the losses we endured and how it impacted us.
“It caused us a range of emotions and that’s important because we’re still living through it,” said Bhatia. “We don’t know what the future holds and I think that’s the frame we’ve got to take into this year.”
He adds that staying grounded and present is more important than ever.
Bhatia says we should be careful as to what purpose our resolutions are serving, keeping in mind there’s a marketing industry behind fitness, weight loss and finance — the top three New Year’s resolutions — or if it’s something you feel you’re only doing to “keep up.”
“Make sure you’re doing things that are, you know, serving your mental health,” Bhatia said. “So before we get upset with ourselves about not reaching the goal, it’s so important to set a healthy goal to begin with, right?”
When setting goals, Bhatia recommends investing in experiences rather than material goods.
Learning a new skill, he adds, will have a better reward than buying a watch.
Having compassion for yourself when things don’t go as planned is also an important takeaway from last year, Bhatia says.
A 2020 survey found the top derailed resolution of the year was travelling, followed closely by exercising and financial improvement.
“Honour your capabilities, your limitations and your own needs,” Bhatia said, adding that the realities of a pandemic can weigh heavily on people.
Think of finances like our health
Financial expert Kelley Keehn says we should still set goals, but give ourselves more flexibility and longer timelines.
If you want to travel, she says, why not start your planning: How much is the flight? Where do you want to stay? What will it cost?
“Then you can start to kind of touch the dream,” Keehn said.
She recommends thinking of our financial goals much like fitness or health.
“And what people need to do is to step on their financial scale,” Keehn said, adding we need to know what our debt is like in order to make those necessary changes.
If you don’t know you’re paying 24 per cent interest on a credit card, she says as an example, how will you know to call your bank for a lower interest rate credit card at 12 per cent?
“Which can make a huge difference.”
Similar to our health, Keehn says we need to count our financial calories.
“The average Canadian spending during COVID on things like booze, weed, subscriptions, bank fees — all that type of stuff — it’s like just about $4,700 a year,” she said.
“So if you could just cut that in half, how much could that go to your emergency savings or paying down some debt?”
If your situation is dire, Keehn recommends reaching out to a non-profit credit counselor.
Just as people shouldn’t self diagnose their health issues, she adds, self-diagnosing finances may not be as effective as getting professional help.
Despite the rough year we’ve had, Keehn remains optimistic.
“I really do think that people should fight the apathy we felt in 2020,” she said.