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Getting a Fresh Start in 2021 Will Be Harder Than in Previous Years

Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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New Year’s Day is a common time for people to look back at their lives and to make a commitment to a “New Year, New You” by making some kind of resolution to live some aspect of life differently. But a fresh start in 2021 might be more challenging than in the past.

Changing behavior often requires adjusting the environment and the people we spend time with, but the pandemic, which is likely to be with us for at least the first half of 2021, will make it hard to change those aspects. In addition, inspiration to do new things often requires coming into contact with new people and new ideas — something that the pandemic makes more difficult right now.

There are things people can do despite this pandemic to make sure they accomplish their goals for the new year.

The first is more of us need to reevaluate our time. The anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic have led people to engage in comforting behaviors. Early in the pandemic, that meant eating. Now, many people have settled into routines that involve a lot of distraction, such as binge-watching, doom-scrolling or videogame playing.

Time is precious. We need to ask ourselves: How long are we spending on social media checking posts? How many television shows are we watching?

Chances are that a few hours a day could be reclaimed to do something that will expand our perspective. Extra time at home is also an opportunity to improve a skill, whether it is learning to play an instrument, engaging in artistic pursuits or picking up a hobby. The point is that all of us can do all that and still keep up with our favorite trending television show or novel.

We also need to make sure we foster our relationships with others. During the pandemic, many of our social relationships have become superficial. There aren’t many chances to visit with friends as in the past.

Calling a friend on the phone can also seem unappealing. For one thing, the volume of Zoom meetings can make anyone want to avoid talking when the work day is done. For another, it can be difficult to coordinate schedules with other people — particularly if they are dealing with family care responsibilities.

One thought: Consider going old-school. Make a list of friends. Then, write them each a letter. Fill them in on what you have been doing, what you’re thinking about, and what you remember about them. Not only will you brighten their day when they receive it, you may just find that your own mail deliveries contain something other than bills and junk.

But perhaps the most important thing to do is to disrupt the daily routine. The reason routines are so comforting is that people engage in them without thinking. The time of day and the environment remind us of the next thing to do. Changing that routine requires explicit intervention.

Simple changes are the best. For instance, buy a vegetable you haven’t eaten before and then look for a recipe that includes it. Swap music recommendations with a friend. Try a new exercise. Pick at least one thing each week to do differently. Over time, those little changes distinguish between the days and foster hope.

All of us are living through history. As endless as these days may seem right now, a few things can help for the new year, and someday, you’ll be glad that you captured how you felt during the pandemic of 2020.

Art Markman is executive director of the IC2 Institute and the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology, Human Dimensions of Organizations and Marketing at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also the author of “Smart Change.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Waco Tribune Herald, and the Houston Chronicle.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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