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How To Reframe Your New Year's Goals In Times Of Uncertainty

Image by Leandro Crespi / Stocksy
January 8, 2021

In the past year, virtually everyone has had to deal with some degree of uncertainty, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept all areas of the globe. It's a new year, but much of that uncertainty still remains—so, what does that mean for all of our New Year's resolutions? Here, we chat with addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist Jud Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., for his advice on setting goals and moving forward in unpredictable times.

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Why goal-setting feels so hard during times of uncertainty.

Simply stated, "Our brains hate uncertainty, and there's been a lot of it," Brewer tells mbg. With so much up in the air, it can be very challenging to stay aligned with long-term goals because we just don't know what's coming next.

For example, Brewer notes that his patients dealing with addiction often have a hard time with sobriety because they're thinking about it in the long term. Even a month out can feel like ages with so many unknowns: "That can be really tough for them because they have no idea what's going to intervene in the next month."

What to do about it.

We asked Brewer what can be done, then, if you still want to work toward a goal but uncertainty is getting in the way. And if you know anyone who's struggled with addiction, Brewer's best advice may come as no surprise: Take it one day at a time.

"In A.A. they say 'One day at a time,'" he explains, "so I have people dial it back." If someone is trying to set a goal for, say, a month away, he'll say to dial it back to a week. "And if that week seems like too much, dial it back to a day," he adds. And if that is too much, just focus on half the day, or the next hour, or even just that moment. "Whatever the goal is," he adds, "make sure that goal is split into bite-size pieces—and only bite off what you can chew."

When approached from this perspective, our goals become more about the journey than the endpoint. "If you focus on the destination, you have this itchy, restless drive to get there, and it's only when you get there that you're satisfied," Brewer explains. "But when you're focused on the journey, every moment is satisfying."

Think about the goals you've set for yourself in 2021. Now, scale them down. Just for today, what can you do to align yourself with that goal? How can you relish in the journey of getting there or, better yet, being here?

In a time when so much is uncertain, focus on what you can do right now, enjoy it, and try not to worry about what comes next.

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