New Year’s Resolutions and Healthy Goal Setting


As 2020 is coming to an end (finally…), it is an opportunity to reflect on this year and what you’ve achieved. 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, so just making it to here is a huge accomplishment. Although COVID-19 is still around and will be following us into the new year, the start of 2021 will allow us to look towards the future and ask ourselves how we would like to change and improve.

New Year’s resolutions don’t have the best reputation; they are hard to stick to, challenging (sometimes impossible) to achieve, and easy to ignore. This article is not trying to encourage you to set New Year’s resolutions, but rather to take the new year as a chance to reflect on the past and look forward to the future.

How do I reflect on 2020?

Reflecting on 2020 is a healthy way to bring the year to a close, but it can be emotional and confusing if our year hasn’t been kind to us. Here are a few mindful ways to look back, without getting stuck in the past:

  1. Write down the good things that have happened to you. Regardless of how big or small these things are, this will give you an opportunity to think about what made you happy.
  2. Reflect on the unpleasant things – but without judgment. Reflect on your past year but try do it with no judgment or moral take.
  3. Write about your feelings. Consider writing about how you felt about the things that you’ve done or that have happened to you throughout the year. Being aware of your feelings and writing them down will allow you to let them out rather than suppress them before starting the new year.
  4. Forgive people and yourself. If you want to make a phone call or write a text to someone to apologize or let them know how you felt about something, then please go ahead. However, simply taking the time to reflect mindfully and letting go of the stress and anger, can be enough. Leave the bitterness in 2020 and turn a new page.
  5. Prepare for the new year…

How can I set goals for 2021?

Changing habits and behaviours can be challenging, no matter how small. Two of the biggest issues with goal setting include identifying reasonable goals and specifying characteristics. SMART goals is one of the most well-regarded and consistent methods used today, hence why they are important to consider when preparing for the new year!

Specific. Being specific with goal setting forces you to consider the method of achievement, not just the outcome. Create your goal as an instruction, for example: rather than saying “I want to exercise more”, create a statement goal, such as: “I want to increase my weekly physical activity by walking for 30 minutes after dinner four times per week”.

Measurable. Add a quantifiable or measurable criterion to your goal. This will allow you to measure your progress as you are working towards your goal. Tracking progress can involve taking notes of progress on your calendar, downloading a tracking app, and so on.

Attainable. Your goals need to be realistic and attainable. If your goal is too large, break it down into smaller ones. Your goals should be ambitious, but not impossible. The process of achieving your goal should be clear, for example, make sure to clarify if you have the time, supplies or right location, before starting out.

Relevant. Each step of attaining the goal should make sense to you and have personal importance or relevance. You are unlikely to work on a goal that you don’t care about. Also, make sure that you are working to improve yourself, you should be doing it for yourself and no one else!

Time Bound. Clarify your goal timeframe – make sure it is realistic but not too far into the future! Evaluate your progress throughout, and if you realize that you need to adjust your goal then do so.

How can I be happier in 2021?

A new study, from experts on the study of human motivation and personality at the University of Rochester, has tackled the question: how can humans be happier in the new year? The study looked at over 10,000 survey responses, from individuals with differing levels of specific and global intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations, from three different countries.

The study found that when looking at the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness), these are best satisfied by helping others. The researchers found that individuals experience deeper satisfaction when their goals are focused on giving to others, rather than self-orientated.

“If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that really makes you happy, think about the ways in which you can contribute to the world,” says Richard Ryan, author of the study. “All three of these basic needs are fulfilled. The research shows it’s not just good for the world but also really good for you.”

“Think of how you can help. There’s a lot of distress out there: If we can set goals that aim to help others, those kinds of goals will, in turn, also add to our own well-being.”

Advice for 2021

This year has been a really tough one… Throughout 2021, it is important to remember that working towards new goals will inevitably involve setbacks, lapses and failures. Hence, it is important to be kind to yourself and to others. If a setback occurs, try to understand why it happened and what you can learn from it, but then keep going!

Brain-Based would like to wish you all a happy New Year 2021! We believe that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. We would love to hear some of your 2020 reflections or 2021 goals in the comments.

Study source: Bradshaw, E. L., Sahdra, B. K., Ciarrochi, J., Parker, P. D., Martos, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2020). A configural approach to aspirations: The social breadth of aspiration profiles predicts well-being over and above the intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations that comprise the profiles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Accessible at:

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

3 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions and Healthy Goal Setting

  1. Very timely. Thanks. I’ll make sure to have few, realistic and SMART resolutions. Wishing you all a great 2021. Keep these great articles coming!

  2. Such great tips Sophie! A 2021 goal I’ll be carrying on is to be more people-focussed, and that quote you put from Richard Ryan really hit the nail on the head! Great article!

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