By: Sandra L. Churchill
Many of us are so tapped out by the energy-sapping likes of quarantines and Covid restrictions, that New Year’s resolutions seemed like one more demand on an already strained schedule. It’s not necessarily that we are doing “too much” when we examine our days, but for many of us as parents, hybrid or remote education, sometimes-cumbersome work-from-home dynamics, and endless demoralizing pandemic numbers have felt like an all-encompassing storm cloud casting a gloomy pall on our outlook before we rise to greet the day.
Alas! What are we to do? Simply resign ourselves to surrender the New Year, snowy-white landscape of blank-page possibilities for 2021? Never! The Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) challenges listeners to a “21 for ‘21” list of goals, as she did with “20 for ’20” last year. Now the goals can be small—(wear the color red more, try a new vegetable each week, or call a friend once a week) or bigger ones (clean a basement, lose 20 pounds, or launch a side-line business).
I had some fun with this list—and of course, once I started, it was hard not to channel a Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” spirit of unquenchable ambition. Yikes! So I settled on a wacky collection of big and small goals, including learning how to make Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, visiting all the grave sites of my husband’s and my grandparents, finishing the first draft of a long-time novel-in-progress, and going kayaking at least a dozen times in the coming year. Other goals, include creating five new paintings to teach (in my Covid-adapted gig as an online art teacher), a commitment to get serious about daily flossing, and a promise to do my fitness walks at least five times a week.
My 15 year-old set out to read 25 books, learn to play 10 classical pieces on the piano, and “get good at chess.” My middle daughter is all about “habit stacking” and has a much more deliberate and cautious roll-out of goals, where she masters a new habit for a month (e.g. drinking 64 oz. of water daily, gratitude journaling, or healthy meal prep) before she tacks on a new one. This strategy has proven successful for her, and we are trying to learn from her practice and follow suit with our own habit and goal regimen.
So what if your goals are not “have-to” or “should-do” lists but “love-to” or “hope-to” quests into joy, learning and adventure? What if this is the year to master a new craft, jump on the giraffe or panda cam at the online San Diego zoo, watch free symphonies online, or delve into your favorite fiction?
Covid has already cut our social lives and forced us into social distancing for close to a year now. Our family has tried to adapt by holding outdoor campfires, Zoom-calling game nights with Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit, and Code Names, participating in online trivia nights led by our libraries and bookstores, and tackling cooking like it’s a competition. My son bought an electric guitar and has treated quarantine like a musical sabbatical, and I am so grateful for Michaels’ online craft classes which teach everything from painting and cake decorating to fancy script-lettering and the world of resin design. The new hobby of kayaking gave us freedom and safety where social distancing reigned, and provided the peace and comfort of nature amid difficult times. Even book clubs and Bible studies offered some social connection online, as a means to foster and maintain community and combat isolation.
While it’s too cold to soak up the sun, vacation somewhere glorious, or start our summer gardens, goal setting can help us dream and get excited for a project, a hobby or an upcoming accomplishment. So, in the mindset of Gretchen Rubin, what 2021 goals would make you happier in the coming year?