By Sarah Wall

If there’s one holiday this year that people all over the world must be eagerly anticipating, it’s New Year’s Eve. After 2020 grounded our plans, isolated us from friends and family, and threw a wrench in the global economy, everyone seems to be thinking, “Surely next year will be better than this!”

But before we impatiently close the book on 2020, it might be wise to reflect on a few lessons learned this past year. As many of us take a little downtime this week to reflect and compose New Year’s resolutions, how can 2020 be a guidepost to resolutions kept and achieved?

Lesson 1: Be Flexible

Last New Year’s, a woman at my church wrote three resolutions in her journal: Be more social, travel to places she’d never been, and save a larger portion of her income. Needless to say, the pandemic had other ideas. It was an uncomfortable lesson, but 2020 taught us that being adaptable, flexible, and patient with yourself is foundational when it comes to your goals. Whether your goal is saving money, quitting a bad habit, or physical fitness, focus on progress, not on perfection, and leave a little room for what you can’t foresee.

Lesson 2: Set Attainable “Baby Goals”

Think about your goals in small, quantifiable increments. Create habits you can build on with goals like “do three push-ups every day” or “put 2% of my paycheck in a savings account.” Then, think about how you want to increase them. When should three push-ups become 10 push-ups, then a 30-minute workout? When should saving 2% of your income become 7%, then opening a retirement account? “Baby goals” build a habit, and habits get you across the finish line of your resolutions.

Lesson 3: Think Big Picture

Thinking about the big picture matters too. What specifically does “physical fitness” or “saving money” mean to you? Is it a $20,000 down payment towards a new home or running a half-marathon by November? 2020 proved that sometimes our New Year’s resolutions couldn’t be achieved on a one-year timeline. But in three or five years, where would you like to have ended up? Thinking about the big picture will inspire you to stick with your resolutions, especially when your short-term motivation runs dry.

Lesson 4: Celebrate

As you set your “baby goals,” also decide your “milestone moments.” If you’re setting aside 2% of your income, perhaps your milestone is when your savings account hits $1,000. If you’re focused on physical fitness, maybe it’s a milestone when you can run two miles without walking. Whatever you decide is a personal milestone for you. Celebrate when you achieve it. Whether it’s a soak in the bathtub, sharing your favorite meal with a friend, or even a note of encouragement to yourself, rewarding yourself engrains the habit and makes it easier to stick with. (Besides, after 2020, we all deserve a little more celebration.)

Lesson 5: Consider a Different Kind of Resolution

It’s natural for our New Year’s resolutions to focus on ourselves: after all, they’re about our own goals. But 2020 brought into a clear view of our interdependence: we need each other. In many ways, 2020 drove us apart, so perhaps we can resolve 2021 to bring us together. Think about committing to offering a compliment to one person every day, calling a long-distance friend once a week, or only posting uplifting comments on social media. Little resolutions don’t take much effort, but they can make a big difference.

By pausing to reflect on 2020 and what’s to come in 2021, we can put the challenges we experienced to good use. Maybe this year, we’ll be a little more flexible when things shift unexpectedly. Maybe we’ll savor time with our families and friends a little bit more. Perhaps we’ll have a deeper appreciation for things we once took for granted: overseas travel, eating indoors at favorite restaurants, going to a concert or a football game. Whatever your New Year’s resolutions are this year, take a moment to savor the little things awaiting you in 2021. That will make attaining your “baby goals” that much sweeter.

A very Happy New Year to you – onward to brighter days ahead.

Sarah Wall is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. For questions or comments email [email protected].