Less dieting, more therapy in 2021.

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A Guide to The Best Resolution Ideas
Credit: Matthias Clamer/Getty Images

2020 has been… a year, which makes getting a fresh start in 2021 feel super appealing. For some people, that might mean making a New Year’s resolution that helps them get the year started on the right foot. Thing is, traditional New Year’s resolutions usually fail. Turns out, our brains are just not into making swift, abrupt changes to our habits.

So instead of going for the typical diet, exercise, or financial overhaul-style resolution, why not try something a little different this year? We’ve got a bunch of suggestions for you below, but here’s how to evaluate any potential resolution you come up with, according to Kate Morton, a registered dietitian and founder of Funk It Wellness.

When creating resolutions, Morton recommends asking yourself questions like:

  • How do you want to feel? Will this resolution get you closer to that?
  • What energy do you want to create? Will this resolution give you that type of energy?
  • Are you operating from a place of restriction, or abundance? Does this resolution involve taking away things you like?
  • Would you recommend this resolution to your younger sister or best friend?
  • How will this resolution impact you five, 10, or 15 years from now?

With that, here’s what experts recommend considering for your 2021 New Year’s resolution.

1. Commit to only doing exercise you actually like.

In January, gyms are usually packed, and home workout equipment flies off the shelves. But usually, by February, things are back to normal. Something similar happened during the pandemic: “Many people who were isolated at home went out and bought equipment that they never used because it did not fulfill them or bring them enjoyment,” says Elisha Contner Wilkins, MS, LMFT, CEDS-S, Executive Director of Veritas Collaborative.

There are a few reasons this happens. One is ramping up too quickly. But there’s another big factor. “When it comes to exercise (or movement or activity as I prefer to call it), it’s equally important that we find a way to move our bodies that we not only look forward to, but that brings us joy,” Wilkins says. “Many associate movement with going to a gym and sweating versus choosing something that brings a smile to their face.” So this year, consider focusing on whatever type of movement feels fun.

2. Hide your “self” view on Zoom.

Post-quarantine, plastic surgeons observed a spike in requests for their services. That likely has something to do with the fact that we’re all getting intimately familiar with how our faces look on-screen thanks to hours and hours of video calls.

There’s nothing wrong with getting cosmetic treatments if you want them. But if seeing your face on a screen eight hours a day has left you feeling self-conscious or hyper-aware of how you look and you feel uncomfortable about it, adjust your video conferencing settings so that you no longer see yourself during video calls. (If you’re not sure how, Google to the rescue!) “This more closely mimics in-person interactions, reduces critical self-focus, and allows you to be more present,” notes Jessica Borelli, an associate professor of Psychological Science at the University of California, Irvine School of Social Ecology.

3. Examine your relationship with alcohol.

Or marijuana. Or whatever else you might use to self-medicate (that’s not prescribed by your doctor). Dry January is a popular New Year’s resolution. This and other methods of examining your relationship with substances can clarify a whole heck of a lot about your life.

“One of the best, most eye-opening takeaways from my first Dry January was how I was spending my time and with whom,” explains Hilary Sheinbaum, author of THE DRY CHALLENGE: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month. “If I opted to stay home from a boozy get-together or a night out on the town, I realized how less frequently I was seeing certain individuals.” Ultimately, it was a great realization for Sheinbaum because it allowed her to figure out more fulfilling ways to occupy her weekends and recreational time, and bond with people who shared interests with her outside of imbibing.

Even if you don’t want to commit to a full Dry January, there are a lot of other ways to put this resolution into practice. “I would very much suggest taking the initiative to plan the social calendar for your friend group and come up with ideas that don't require a bottle of wine or cocktails,” Sheinbaum says.

Another option: Provided it’s safe and you’re currently dating, try going on a sober date. “Personally, I find them to be more creative and interactive,” Sheinbaum says. “Instead of heading to the same bar or ordering your go-to drink time after time, you can bond over socially distanced/COVID-safe hikes, ice skating, bowling, museum tours, or whatever it is that the two of you both enjoy. Ultimately, if the relationship evolves past the first few dates, you're eventually going to be spending time with this person sober. Why not save time and get to know them without a buzz from the start?”

4. Curate your social media feeds.

Make this the year you say goodbye to social media clutter. “I tell my clients to think about their social media feeds as carefully as they would think about the art they hang in their home,” says Robyn Pashby, Ph.D., co-founder of The Healthy Change School. “While we could all use less time on social media, the truth is we are bound to spend a lot of time scrolling.”

So consider giving your feeds a cleansing of sorts. “Purge anything that entices you to shop impulsively, diet or restrict, or anyone whose messages make you feel less-than,” Pashby suggests. “Use it as your own personal affirmation space and watch how much better you feel.” Oh, and this might be the year to stop social media stalking your ex. Just sayin’.

5. Be more intentional about cooking, sourcing, and/or eating your food.

“Instead of embarking on a super restrictive diet for 2021, what if you dug a bit deeper this time and focused on changing your relationship to food?” asks Natalie Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Diet culture encourages us to focus on calories, macronutrients, detoxes, and “off-limits” foods, which at best leaves you in a scarcity mindset, and at worst sets you up for a shame spiral as soon as you “cheat” on the diet that was never realistic to begin with, Moore points out.

Instead, she recommends focusing on being more mindful about one or all of the following areas: how you cook your food, how you source it, and how you eat it. Importantly, you don’t have to tackle all of these at once.

This might sound a little nebulous, but it’s easier to put into practice than it might seem. “First off, sourcing, cooking, and eating your food can engage all five senses as well as a sixth one most people don’t know about, interoception, which is your perception of internal body sensations, such as hunger, satiety, or feeling overly full,” Moore explains. Using your senses while grocery shopping could be as simple as choosing your produce based on what smells, looks, or feels best to you. And you might be more intentional about cooking by really tapping into your senses of smell and taste as you season your food.

“Interestingly enough, when you bring an embodied awareness to the sourcing, cooking, and eating, you’re likely to end up eating food that is fresh, fragrant, and nutrient-dense,” Moore says. So you may end up improving your eating habits without a restrictive diet or approach. You may also improve your digestion and how you feel about yourself before, during, and after your meals, according to Moore. “When you source, cook, and eat in a mindful way, you can expect to improve not only your physical health but your mental health, as well. And healthy and happy people usually look great to boot.”

6. Tackle your email inbox. 

No need to get to inbox zero if that’s not your thing. But most people have gone through some foundational shifts since the pandemic began. “The person you were back in March, more than likely, is not the person you are now,” says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., FCAP, an integrative physician.

Her argument: Now is a great time to evaluate what’s serving you and what isn’t, and your email inbox is a great place to start, especially if you have thousands of unread emails. If your email is loaded with advertisements for stores you no longer shop at, newsletters and notifications you don’t read, or follow up emails from webinars, seminars, or courses you’ll never take—use that unsubscribe function. “The reason I highly suggest this is for your own mental well-being,” Bhanote says. “The overwhelm of seeing the little mail icon on your phone and the number of unread emails can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Place value on your time, energy, and overall well-being and continue that trend well into the new year.”

7. Implement the “topless” test. 

“Make space for the people you really care about by implementing the ‘topless test’,” suggests Naomi Torres-Mackie, Ph.D., Head of Research at The Mental Health Coalition. What is the topless test, you ask? Only spend time (online or safely in-person) with friends you would take your top off in front of. (If you wouldn’t take your top off in front of anyone, you switch up the test to something that makes more sense for you. “For example, it could be people would you feel comfortable talking to with your mouth full of food, calling when you need to cry, or another benchmark that tells you this is someone you trust and feel good around,” Torres-Mackie says.)

“This might sound silly but can make a big difference. Right now, a lot of us are fatigued with trying to figure out who we want to spend time with,” Torres-Mackie notes. Instead of getting caught up in who you are “supposed” to catch up with, give yourself permission to say no and make space for those you truly care about. “Deciding when to do that can be hard, so this provides a quick framework to simplify things,” she adds.

8. Rearrange, declutter, or redecorate your space.

Maybe you don’t feel like doing a bunch of inner work this year. That’s totally fine — you can also focus on your outer experience. “Our space and environment directly impact how we feel,” says Lenore Kantor, empowerment & leadership coach of Growth Warrior. So take some time to look at your physical space and whether it reflects where you want to be and what you want to achieve now, Kantor recommends.

For instance, how does being in your WFH office feel?  Is it supporting your productivity and growth? If you want a new relationship and more love, how is your bedroom set up? “Our experiences can often mirror where we are in our lives. If you’re feeling bogged down, now may be a perfect opportunity to declutter and clear out old things that are no longer serving you.” And by the way, this resolution isn’t necessarily about buying new stuff. Sure, you could add some new pieces if that’s what you want to do that — but it’s not required.

9. Buy clothes that fit now.

If your body has changed recently, it can be frustrating to realize that some of your old favorites no longer fit right. Unless there’s serious sentimental value, now could be a great time to shed items that no longer work for your body as it is today, says Peg Sadie, a psychotherapist and resilience coach. Hanging on to constant reminders of unmet goals (or times when your habits were less healthy than they are now, for instance, for those in recovery from eating disorders) can take a toll on your psyche. “Donating them can help silence your inner critic and make space for clothes you actually feel and look great in, making it a win-win,” Sadie adds.

10. Start therapy.

After this year, there couldn’t be a better time to begin therapy. “There are always things to talk about, especially as we reflect on 2020 and the major shifts that have occurred," Sarah Levine-Miles, a licensed clinical social worker who works with MotherFigure. "Taking an hour out of the week to reflect and discuss how you are doing with a professional who can help guide you and shift your perspective is invaluable."

No one can take care of your mental health but you, so why not commit to that? The bottom line, according to Levine-Miles: “You don’t need to be in crisis to be in therapy, and you deserve to have an emotional outlet.”