How Setting Goals In 2021 Can Help Deal With Uncertainty

We're in the middle of a pandemic, but setting New Year's goals and making plans might actually be more important than ever.

2021 is here at last, but – in the words of M&S – this isn’t any old New Year. Contrary to what most of us would’ve thought in March 2020, we’re still in the grips of a pandemic that is at a similar, if not worse, point to when we first went into lockdown all those months ago.

Many of us would usually be setting New Year’s resolutions and making plans for the year ahead – but this year looks very different. We can’t organise birthday parties, plan holidays, attend festivals or plan weddings when we don’t even have an end date for this pandemic. Sure, some have hinted at summer – others at the beginning of 2022 – but these are only predictions.

We’re all feeling an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty because the future looks so unclear, says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. But looking positively towards the future is a human need to keep us from depression, she says – so making plans and goals for the year is a good way to keep ourselves in good mental health.

The key is to make plans and set goals on a micro-scale. Don’t be too ambitious to keep from the continuation of disappointment, warns Fuller. “Booking a holiday abroad might only lead to regret, however cheap the prices are at the time of booking,” she says.

Instead, opt for smaller goals you can complete on a daily or weekly basis. Making plans for each day and week can help to impose a structure that takes away some of the uncertainty that the pandemic brings, says Dr Gary Wood, social psychologist and author of The Psychology of Wellbeing.

Have a to-do list on the go that you can work through, suggest Shelby Throman and Kat Reid from wellbeing consultancy Throman Reid. This could be calling a friend once a week, cooking a nice meal every Friday, or planning to spend an hour a day playing with the kids. Even in tier 4, people are allowed to meet a single person for exercise – meet a friend for a walk, bike ride or outdoor swim. Take a homemade coffee, tea or hot chocolate, or buy one en route.

“There is a tendency to hold our breath and decide to wait until all this is over, but for our own mental wellbeing, we actually need to get on and make contact with others and get out of the house,” says Fuller.

You might also want to set longer-term goals and plans – just like a New Year’s resolution. These can give us some much needed get-up-and-go during the cold, dark months and they also give us a sense of meaning, says Dr Gary Wood, especially when they’re linked to our values.

Coach and business mentor Michael Cloonan suggests some of the best goals to set right now will be those that have a positive impact on your physical and psychological health.

“Here is a simple process I use when setting out my goals,” he says. “Write down your ideal goal [and ask] how am I going to stick to this? What support do I have? What gets in my way? How am I going to overcome those obstacles?”

We need to be creative with the goals we set – and gentle with ourselves in the process of setting them. Planning to run a marathon might be ambitious in a pandemic, but prepping for your first ever 10K could be more achievable.

Again, keep all goals realistic to the current situation (yes, that means lockdown-friendly for many of us) and think of ones that will lift your spirits.

“You have to be feeling positive and believe in yourself even at the stage of planning and writing goals,” says Fuller. “But as with any New Year’s resolutions, be kind to yourself.