What to Do Instead of Making New Year’s Resolutions

Everyone hates 2020 and rightfully so. There is no way to justify the tragedy and loss experienced this year or to ignore the hardships many have faced. However, there are ways to find beauty in what has happened. A new president was elected, there has been a decrease in air pollution around the world due to restricted travel, and we’ve seen acts of empathy in unprecedented ways. So let’s look toward this new year with positivity.

New Year’s resolutions hardly work because we place too much pressure on achieving narrow — often extreme — goals. Instead, try adopting these simple techniques, in order to enter 2021 with an open mind. As a certified serial optimist, I have compiled a list of self-tested ways to live a happier life.

I would be oversimplifying this discussion by promoting the idea that looking on the bright side is as streamlined as it sounds. Though I believe that maintaining a positive mentality is universally achievable, I am not oblivious to the fact it may be harder for some people than others. I am not here to tell you to “cheer up” or say, “take a deep breath!” These obvious suggestions are often weaponized against individuals with depression to minimize their experience, which can be counterproductive to the coping process. Instead, what I offer are a few practical pieces of advice I’ve accumulated over my time studying mental health and optimism that you can use to improve your life.


Replace Limiting Beliefs

“What you believe is what you make true.” You’ve likely been told some variation of this phrase before, whether it be in the form of “dream it and you can achieve it” or something more on the nose like “believe in yourself!” Though corny, these quotes carry life-changing wisdom. We unintentionally place mental roadblocks in our own way by carrying and validating “limiting beliefs” about ourselves.

A limiting belief is a false narrative we perpetuate, such as “I’m not smart enough to get into this school,” or “ no one will ever be romantically interested in me.” Neither of these claims have any factual basis — they are self-constructed insecurities. Titling such beliefs as fact tricks our minds into acting as if they are true. The reality is, nothing is out of reach.

Creating limiting beliefs is a habit that we perform without a second thought. It’s natural to put ourselves in boxes because they make us feel secure, but the consequence of this behavior is hindrance, and therefore unfulfillment. In my journey to eliminate negative thought patterns, I realized I held too many to try and reverse them all individually. Instead, I focused on counteracting each as it became relevant. Every time I felt inclined to tell a friend “OMG I’m so stupid!” in response to earning a low test grade, I consciously reinterpreted what this grade truly demonstrated. It did not solidify I was stupid — it merely meant I had room to grow.

After adopting this technique, I noticed that successes came easier. In my freshman and sophomore years, it felt like I could drown in school work at any second. Then came junior year, alongside the realization I was capable of effortlessly balancing school, work, and a personal life. What is notoriously expected to be the hardest year of high school ended up unfolding as the simplest yet. It is in these moments, when given the opportunity to decide the way you view yourself, that you have the option to dismantle limiting beliefs and change your reality.


Disconnect to Reconnect

Some people may scoff at the following statement, but I will declare it unapologetically: Taking time off social media can be really, really scary. I discovered this the hard way, after deleting TikTok from my phone. It felt like a part of me was missing when I went to the bathroom and couldn’t mindlessly sift through hours of addictive content. For about a day I was sure my detox couldn’t last until I woke up and forgot the app even existed.

So I moved on to Facebook, then Pinterest, then Instagram.

I began to argue with myself, thinking that I needed to keep these apps on my phone. “What if anyone needed to reach me for a school project or to ask for notes? What would they do if I wasn’t readily accessible?” Ultimately, this justification was an unfounded excuse for not wanting to part ways with apps that brought me nothing but a fear of missing out, a bad sleep schedule, and unhappiness.

While social media has plenty of redeeming qualities, it is valuable to recognize the ways in which it can be subliminally detrimental to mental health. Taking time away from these platforms revealed to me how much time and energy I had previously invested in keeping up with the lives of other people, rather than my own. I would compare the things I was doing and wearing to friends I hadn’t spoken to in years, convincing myself that they were happier, that they were prettier. Cleansing myself of social media allowed me to focus on cementing what was important to me: I replaced time online with time in nature, taking walks every night to watch the sunset, doing yoga in fields, moving my body. Every day I’d play a new album from start to finish looking for unique songs to fill up a playlist. After an embarrassingly long time, I’d pick up a book that wasn’t school-related and learn something new (check out “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene for the basics of quantum physics, and much, much more.) Meditation is another great way to refocus this time, but it’s something a lot of people find they have trouble with. I’ve found that it grounds me in reality and gives me space to reflect.

Write Your Reality

We all go through periods where nothing seems to go right. When faced with challenges, we can either curse the world and the cards we were dealt or actively look to change them. So, I began writing down the things I wished I had, things that would make my reality better.

The point of this exercise is to affirm to yourself that the reality you desire is possible. It’s the same principle as “what we believe is what we make true.” If we don’t believe we are capable of obtaining our goals, then there is no way we will. It’s important to have faith that everything works out in divine timing. When doubt creeps in, flip every negative into a positive. Instead of convincing yourself that your dream is taking too long to manifest, consider that the longer it takes, the more rewarding it will be when it comes

Set clear goals that you hope to achieve by the end of 2021. Then write them down as if they are a part of your present reality as if you already have everything you desire. Make sure that each of your goals includes as many specifics as possible, so they are exactly as you intend them to manifest. For example, if one of your goals is to have a 3.5 GPA, you could write “I have a 3.5 GPA.” If one of your goals is to buy a new computer, you could write “I have an efficient laptop.” Note that these objectives don’t have to be physical or quantifiable. You may intend to expand your social circle, and therefore could write “I have an abundance of meaningful friendships.” Nothing is out of reach.

A key factor of this process, however, is to not dwell or stress over the outcome of your wishes. Oftentimes we want something so badly we end up pushing it away. Create your goals and write them into existence, affirm they will become your reality without placing pressure on them. Then, hang the list somewhere visible in your bedroom where you’ll glance at it daily. I also keep the list in my phone notes and in a journal, where I am constantly rewriting and rereading it. If you are extremely committed to manifestation, I recommend getting creative with the ways you display your goals, in order to portray them as realistically as possible. For the past two years, I’ve created a fake report card where I draw the grades I intend to earn in each of my classes and on each of my exams, as well as fake college acceptance letters that I stick to the back of my door. I’ve also written fake checks to myself addressed from “the Universe” with quantities of money I plan to save. Countless well-known, successful figures have admitted to practicing this technique to create the lifestyles they have since attained.


Find your Joy

There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is largely dependent on external circumstances, while joy is an entirely internal creation. For example, happiness may come from tasting your favorite food or enjoying a fun day with friends. It is short-lived if not momentary, and though vivid, often sporadic. Uninterrupted happiness is unrealistic. The initial emotional response of happiness will fade as the experience that triggered it does. Joy, on the other hand, can exist even in life’s toughest moments. It is an enduring feeling of contentment that lives within oneself. Maintaining joy means that even when you’re anxious or upset about something, you’re able to recognize that the feeling will pass and that the world still spins despite this temporary setback.

Joy does not come from achieving measurable success, nor is it tied to your physical situation. It is the product of having a lust for life, of being excited about the possibilities each day brings. Once you make the conscious decision to pursue joy, it follows. All it takes is choosing to make the most of each day. I believe that everything can be looked at from a positive perspective, and I remind myself of this principle in those times when life doesn’t go right.

Feeling every nuance of emotion is what makes you human, and going through tough times builds character and wisdom. Living your life with joy makes every day a good day, even if objectively it isn’t, because you are able to see the inherent value of being alive. Try to go to sleep each night looking back on your day with fondness. Focus on the small, good things that happened, and get excited about tomorrow’s possibilities.

Focus on What You Have

Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is likely the most valuable suggestion I can provide. It is the foundation for living a positive life. There is always something to be grateful for. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of life and feel like there is nothing to be thankful about, when in reality, the world’s spinning is valuable in itself. The sun rises and sets every day. Grass is soft and bright and home to ladybugs and earthworms and caterpillars. You’ve met all sorts of people in your life who have left you with fond memories. Each of these things has meaning. They are what keep us alive. Being cognizant of these inherent beauties makes life worth living.

Every morning I write a list of things I’m grateful for. On some occasions the list is long and filled with achievements, and on others it is simple: family, flowers, and my favorite overalls. There is nothing too small to be grateful for. I reference my lists whenever I feel stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts. They remind me that there is always something to look forward to, that all hope is never lost. They keep me grounded and humble.

I recommend making these lists as often as you can, but to not look at them as a chore. Adding another task to your to-do list will only lead you to resent completing it. Instead, make these lists when it feels right for you, when you are in a particularly vivid mood, either to enhance a happy feeling or escape a bad one. I like to write my gratitude in a journal, that way it lives in a safe space. However, a slip of paper or the notes app of your phone works just as well. Focusing on your gratitude is all that matters.

Give Your Dream the Time and Space to Grow

Don’t get down on yourself if you slip up in the process of adopting any of these techniques. They won’t become a part of your routine overnight. Though not difficult to do, it takes steady practice to change your mindset. Your ability to do so all depends on your interest in what I call “living with intention.” Have faith that you are deserving of a fulfilled life, and don’t feel guilty about prioritizing your joy. There is no need to worry about whether or not following these steps is creating a noticeable change in your life. Overthinking is counterproductive to maintaining a healthy mindset. Trust that you are evolving in divine timing and that you are capable of living the life you desire. Go into the new year with unquestionable confidence that this will be the best year of your life, and watch how it unfolds before you.