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Woman looking at the sky.
Woman looking at the sky.

How to Set Goals in a Pandemic Reality

5 Ways to Shift Your Mindset This Year

COVID-19 has dominated recent years. But as a new year kicks off, the reality of the pandemic has not changed. Your life is likely vastly different than it was at the start of 2020. That means your goal-setting should look different, too.

Many people now have an empty social calendar and a commute that involves walking across the house rather than driving to work. It may seem like this would create more free time to accomplish more, but that is not necessarily true. “This mindset doesn’t take into account all of the psychological energy and time we must now devote to processing all that is going on,” states Judith T. Moskowitz, PhD, social psychologist, professor and research director at Northwestern Medicine Osher Center for Integrative Health.

Reframe your perspective on resolutions this year with the following strategies.

  1. Take it day by day.
  2. Instead of setting overarching annual goals, try setting daily goals. “There is no end in sight with big, vague goals. We see more success when we bring goals down to day-to-day level, when people can cross things off of their list and see their progress pay off,” states Dr. Moskowitz.

  3. Give yourself grace.
  4. Name your emotions, and know that it is OK to feel however you are feeling. It is also OK to lower your expectations. “Everyone is dealing with a lot right now — why beat yourself up when you wouldn’t expect a friend to do the things you expect yourself to do?” states Dr. Moskowitz. She believes that talking to yourself as if you are talking to a good friend is the easiest way to acknowledge where you can give yourself a little more grace.

  5. Incorporate positivity.
  6. Research led by Dr. Moskowitz indicates that eight skills can help people increase positivity and better cope with stress. She and her team at Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine study the impact of these skills on increasing positive emotions among caregivers for patients with dementia as well as among patients recently diagnosed with HIV and female patients with metastatic breast cancer.

    Try incorporating one or more of the following eight skills into your daily routine:

    • Notice positive events. Make a list of your top five positive memories from the past year.
    • Savor positive events. Instead of focusing on the moments you missed out on in the past year, can you appreciate any positive moments or outcomes you’ve been able to add back into your life?
    • Express gratitude. Learn how to start a gratitude journal.
    • Practice mindfulness. Start with five minutes of daily meditation, which can have physical and mental health benefits, and allow yourself to be more present.
    • Reframe events. The way you interpret events determines your emotional response. With positive reappraisal, or meaning-based coping, you can learn to reframe events and see things in a different light. What meaning can you find in your experiences? Have you learned anything from this time?
    • Notice personal strengths. Everyone has areas of personal strength, from creativity to honesty, friendliness, intelligence and empathy. If and when you are struggling with stress, try to rely on your strengths to help get you through.
    • Set and work toward attainable goals. Go back to the SMART framework for more specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based goals. Remember to look at how goals can fit into your routine.
    • Engage in acts of kindness. Where can you offer more kindness to yourself and your loved ones?
  7. Focus on the why.
  8. Instead of fixating on what you want to accomplish, think about why you want to accomplish it. If your goal is to lose weight, determine why this goal is important. Is it to improve your heart health? Is your physician encouraging you to make lifestyle changes for better health? How do you think losing weight will improve your overall health and well-being? Focusing on the why can help you to set goals that align with your priorities.

  9. Remember that physical isolation should not be social isolation.
  10. You can still set relationship goals, and you should. With the anticipated health impacts of physical isolation during the pandemic, finding connection is more vital than ever. Make a list of everything that has reinvigorated you and made you feel more connected in recent years. Consider your relationship with people, nature, animals, your own well-being and creative pursuits.