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Catherine Jones/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

New Year’s resolutions are usually bold statements born of a feeling of can-do optimism. “I’m going to run a marathon!” “I’m going to lose 20 pounds!” “I’m going to get out of debt!” Fitness, finances and weight loss are consistently the top three most popular New Year’s resolutions. According to a survey conducted by Tangerine in 2018, 69 per cent of Canadians made a New Year’s resolution that year, and more than half resolved to improve their physical wellbeing, while 32 per cent were determined to better their financial health.

But after this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, is it worth summoning the energy to think of goals? And even if you do, how could you pursue them? How do you resolve to get fit when gyms and fitness centres are closed? How do you improve your finances in an economy like this?

Even when we’re not living through a pandemic, most people who make resolutions throw in the towel. An Ipsos survey conducted in 2010 founded that 80 per cent of Canadians give up on their resolutions before the year is over. The majority of people give up before the end of February, according to U.S. News and World Report. Yet the difficulty of making and then pursuing a New Year’s resolution is what makes it more important than ever to have one. The crucial part is choosing the right one.

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“Now is the most important time to set resolutions,” says David Dozois, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario. “From a mental health point of view, it’s extremely important that we set some goals and try to have some resolutions that are going to work for us and are going to help us find meaning and joy and fun.”

Having a goal to work toward will help us overcome that miserable feeling that every day is the same, says Dr. Dozois, and it will help us push through pandemic fatigue, something nearly half of Canadians are feeling, according to an Ipsos poll released in October.

Still, he acknowledges that pursuing a resolution this year will be harder than usual because, at least for a while, there won’t be the sort of external commitments that help keep people on track, such as meeting a personal trainer or attending classes. “[The work] has to be much more internally driven now,” Dr. Dozois says.

For people who resolve to get in shape or lose weight, there is no shortage of home exercise equipment to get the job done, whether it’s a single dumbbell or an exercise bike. And the rise of “connected fitness,” in which technology can be used to recreate a group fitness experience, is an ideal and increasingly popular option for people who don’t enjoy exercising alone.

For example, Spinco, a Canadian company that operates 18 spin studios across the country, last month unveiled Podium, an at-home bike that, much like Peloton, offers an immersive experience that mimics being in a studio. “Even just reaching out to your favourite instructor and saying, ‘Hey, I really loved your class,’ and creating that virtual community around yourself, is really important for this time and will help you stick to your resolutions,” Michelle August, Spinco’s founder, says.

That sense of social connection is one of the many benefits of pursuing a goal, and one that many of us would benefit from greatly at the moment, Dr. Dozois says. He encourages thinking beyond the typical resolutions this year. Perhaps you want to be more creatively satisfied and therefore resolve to take a drawing class online. Or, if you want to give back, find a volunteer opportunity. “It’s a good time to think outside the box,” he says.

Whatever resolution a person chooses, it has to be realistic to have any chance of success, says Dr. Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. “Make it simple. You’re probably not going to run a marathon. But you could probably run a 5k.”

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Most people who give up in February do so because they set their goals too high. And failure will only reinforce that pervasive sense of hopelessness that the right resolutions can help us overcome.

Unrealistically large goals too easily lead to failure; small, achievable goals are much more likely to lead to people taking on greater challenges. The happiness, confidence and meaning we derive from running that 5k is what will lead us to one day running that marathon, Ferrari notes.

That sense of forward momentum is what many of us are missing in our lives right now. “You need small wins in your life,” Ferrari says. The right New Year’s resolution can provide it.

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