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Why it's important to keep setting goals—even in a pandemic

A man stands on the summit of a mountain with both hands raised to the evening sky

If there is anything that’s clear, it’s that 2020 was not the year many of us expected. You may have planned to travel overseas, or interstate, bought that new outfit for a friend’s wedding, or signed up to a fitness class to focus on health goals.

As many of our plans and resolutions for 2020 were foiled, other things we hadn’t planned kicked off. We learnt how to communicate better - the unmute button became a friend - we set time aside to call loved ones, online workout video views soared, new hobbies were invested in, and we focused on celebrating little victories.

The early months of any new year are often filled with big plans or resolutions. Setting goals at such an uncertain time may spark your brain to whisper, “Why bother?”, but it may be more important than ever. Read on to find out why setting goals is important, how to do it well, and for some ideas to get you started, regardless of how the year unfolds.

Why set goals?

Most of us would like to see some positive change in our lives. Setting goals is a great way to increase motivation to create the changes you would like to see in your life. Goals can help us improve our relationships, our work, and our mental and physical health.

Goal setting provides you with a roadmap to show you where you are going, with a plan to help you get there. It helps trigger new behaviours, allowing us to maintain focus (when unpredictable things happen) and giving you a surge of motivation when you make progress.

Set a SMART Goal

When you set goals for yourself, it often works best to write them down and be precise. Writing goals down does a couple of things: it helps you clarify your goal and define it clearly, and it serves as a record of your commitment. It lets your brain know that this information is important to you, and it helps your brain encode the information, so you remember it better. It’s why we take notes during class. And finally, it serves as a reminder, in case we forget!

There are many different goal-setting systems and methods you can choose, but the SMART goal principle is simple and easy to remember:

S = Specific – be very clear about exactly what you are aiming for

M = Measurable – goals should be measurable, such as ‘walk 3 kilometres a day’.

A = Achievable – set goals that are realistic and not so difficult you’ll get discouraged

R = Relevant – the goal should make sense in your bigger picture

T = Time-bound – the goal should have a realistic timeframe and have a completion date.

For example, instead of ‘I want to have better health’, try something like, ‘I want to be able to comfortably jog 1km by March. I’m going to plan 3 jogs a week for the next 6 weeks to help me get there’.

7 goal suggestions for 2021

Now that you know why goal setting is helpful, and how to set better goals, here are a few ideas to inspire you when you think about what you want to tackle this year.

1. Move your body

Taking good care of your body is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental wellbeing and maintain your overall health. How we think and feel directly depends on how well our brain is functioning. A healthy body provides the foundation for your mind to function at its best.

Adults aged 18-64 should try to be active for at least half an hour on most, preferably all, days of the week. If you haven’t exercised much before, or it’s been awhile, it can be daunting to know how to start. We’ve put together this guide to help you get started.

Ideas could include:

  • Join a neighbourhood walking group
  • Set yourself a fitness goal (learn to do a proper push up)
  • Do an at-home dance choreography class (do it online).

A woman in a yoga pose with a fluffy dog balanced on her back

2. Eat the good stuff

Aim to eat a well-balance and nutritious diet in 2021. Following a healthy diet means your brain will have the right balance of nutrients to work at its best.

It will also improve your energy levels, sleep patterns and general health, leaving you fresh and ready to handle life’s day-to-day challenges.

Ideas could include:

  • Have a friend choose a cuisine for you to cook – send them photos and a recipe once it’s done
  • Pick your favourite vegetable to learn a new healthy recipe with it
  • Go meat-free one night a week
  • Try meal prepping or cooking a new recipe once a month.

A woman looking at a recipe on her phone while cooking in her kitchen

3. Get more rest

Sleep gives your brain important down time to process and store the information it receives during the day. Just like eating more healthily and getting more exercise, it’s possible to improve our sleep. With a little time and commitment, hitting reset on your sleep routine can boost your physical and mental wellbeing in the long run.

Aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night. This isn’t always easy, especially if you have young children. But even a small change like shifting your bedtime forward could make a big difference to your energy levels.

Ideas could include:

  • Test different pre-bed routines. Maybe a cup of herbal tea or read a book
  • Decorate your sleep spaceTry getting active during the day (it promotes good sleep).

For more sleep ideas, visit: 10 steps to better sleep

4. Connect More

We got really good at finding new ways to connect in 2020. Feeling connected to people, groups, places and culture plays a big role in our wellbeing. Regular positive interactions stimulate the production of a feel-good chemical in your brain, boosting your mood.

Fostering stronger relationships and connections to your community will also strengthen your social networks for the times you might need extra support.

Ideas could include:

  • Video call a friend or loved one once a fortnight
  • Write a letter to a loved one
  • Ask a friend or loved one a new question every time you see them next. For example: What’s something you think every person should experience in their lifetime?

For more ideas check out some activities for building meaningful relationships.

5. Travel: Redefine the way you do it

We may not be able to travel right now, but with Queensland offering a range of opportunities – traveling around our state provides an amazing way to learn about our big backyard.

Ideas could include:

  • Explore a new farmers’ market or walking loop every week
  • Get out to national parks
  • Visit a small local art gallery
  • Test out some new cafes.

However, if you are waiting for a bigger trip overseas, 2021 is a great time to really do your research. Understand the history, try to learn some of the language and jump on Google Maps to study where you want to go and what cool things you can do there.

6. Learn something new

Keeping your mind engaged with new ideas and experiences plays an important role in your mental wellbeing and brain function. What’s better is that many skills and hobbies can be learned online – sometimes for free.

Ideas could include:

  • Explore a new hobby like knitting or writing.
  • Study something useful or interesting to you - there are thousands of excellent free online courses available online
  • Learn about a new topic through a podcast
  • Join a local sport or recreation club.

An older man cross-legged on the couch learning to play the guitar

7. Small celebrations

Many celebrations were postponed for us in 2020. In 2021, finding small moments to celebrate can be a great idea. While it may seem trivial to celebrate little wins like getting out of bed, making time to go on a long walk, starting a new project, or cooking a delicious meal, they should still be celebrated.

Celebrations act as a reward and can keep you accountable for the goal you set, and they act as motivation while you are working to achieve them

Ideas could include:

Plan a gift-free Christmas in July

  • Celebrate the latest season of your favourite show coming out by organising a viewing night with friends (in person or online)
  • Make a bigger deal of birthdays, anniversaries (it doesn’t need to cost a lot)
  • Get behind a new sporting team and celebrate their wins.

A man sitting on his own in an apartment in front of a work desk celebrating by raising his fist in the air

Whatever your goals are for this year, they don’t need to be big, long or numerous. Start small!

See below for more activities and ideas:

Last updated: 19 January 2021