It’s the time of year when we generally start reflecting on our past New Year’s resolutions, thinking about whether we achieved them, and evaluating and setting goals for the coming year. We’ve all had “good” years when we’ve achieved everything we planned, reached milestones, and had plenty to boast about on social media come December. Likewise, we also all know the feeling of being a little bit let down come New Year’s Eve when we feel like we haven’t quite measured up to the goals we set for ourselves.
This year, it’s safe to say that everyone experienced some things not going the way they had planned. For some, unexpected changes may have had positive outcomes. Perhaps you took advantage of the real estate market and bought property sooner than you thought you’d be able to or took to the road and used remote work as an opportunity to do some socially distant travel. For others, the pandemic may have interfered with reaching goals at every turn whether they were laid off, moved somewhere new only to have everything shut down, or the collective trauma of 2020 was simply too much for them to do anything other than survive.
In a year when so much didn’t go according to plan and so much is still uncertain for the coming year, evaluating and setting new goals may feel impossible. According to Amanda Stemen, MS, LCSW, psychotherapist and owner of FUNdaMENTAL Growth in Los Angeles, here are the best ways to evaluate your goals and look forward to the coming year.
Assess your previous goals
While 2020 was a crazy year that threw so much off track, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should approach evaluating our goals any differently this year than we normally would. According to Stemen, “we look at what we accomplished, celebrate our victories, and analyze how we were able to reach those goals so we can continue to implement strategies that work for us and build upon our accomplishments in the future.” Additionally, “we should also look at what we weren’t able to accomplish and what got in the way,” Stemen says.
If there are things that you weren’t able to accomplish, assess that but don’t beat yourself up. Stemen encourages us to “look at both what we had control over and what we didn’t have control over that contributed to us not accomplishing our resolutions.”
While advising us to take ownership and responsibility for those things that we did have control over, Stemen also acknowledges the impact of Covid-19 stating that, “given the pandemic, there may be more that we didn’t have control over this year than usual.” This may be frustrating, but she further encourages us to “accept what we can’t control, learn what we can from those perceived roadblocks, and adjust our goals if necessary. That may mean putting some goals on hold if we truly can’t move forward due to circumstances out of our control or shifting them some to account for the changing environment.”
Determine goals that align with your values
This year has put a lot of things in perspective for many people and even shifted our understanding of the world to a degree. A global event of this magnitude may have even changed some of your goals that you previously prioritized. Stemen sheds light on this acknowledging that “we may realize that certain goals simply aren’t important to us anymore and then we have to create new resolutions or goals that are more in line with what is now important to us.”
“This year many of us may have reevaluated our values and while it’s always important to take our values into consideration when setting goals, it’s likely to be even more important this year,” she says.
How to cope with unmet expectations
In a year when we’ve faced cancelled weddings, travel bans, entire industries shut down, depleted savings accounts, mass layoffs, and a constant threat to our health and safety, many of us are dealing with unmet expectations and all of the disappointment associated with that. Stemen acknowledges that this can be extremely difficult to deal with and provides strategies for mindfully managing our emotional response.
“We have to be fully aware and feel what we’re feeling, recognize that our thoughts are simply thoughts and may or may not be true or helpful, and experience exactly what’s going on around us in order to heal from disappointment and regain the motivation to create new goals or continue forward with our unmet ones,” she says.
Additionally, she emphasizes that this includes all of the difficult or negative feelings stating that we should “feel the uncomfortable physical sensations in the body rather than distract. Challenging or allowing unhelpful thoughts to simply pass through gets us out of our heads and empowers us to think more thoughts that will promote forward movement rather than keep us stuck.”
In order to process these feelings Stemen encourages activities including meditation, breathing exercises, working out, getting outside, and being creative. “Anything that gets us out of our heads and away from self-defeating thoughts will allow us to heal from the disappointment and see a new path forward,” she says.
Finally, she reminds us that we are not alone and that it’s important to seek support “whether it’s from loved ones and/or a professional that can validate your experience and support you in moving forward.