Setting Realistic Goals

Setting Realistic Goals

2020 has been a challenging year, so it’s natural to want to approach 2021 as a fresh slate. As daydreams of doing everything you set out to accomplish in 2020 fill your head, remember that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the New Year. That’s why it is important to set realistic expectations, resolutions, and goals for the upcoming year.

We sat down with our Director of Clinical Therapy, Erin O’Callaghan, Ph.D., who offered her advice on setting realistic goals in the New Year and coping with continued uncertainty, stress, and anxiety that we were all subjected to in 2020.

Reflecting on 2020

Before planning for 2021, it is both essential and useful to reflect on 2020. Think about or write down the answers to these questions:

  • What are the lessons you learned this year about yourself and your relationships with others?
  • Are you a frontline worker who persevered through daily stressors related to exposure to COVID-19?
  • Did you support a frontline worker in some way throughout this pandemic this year? A partner? A friend?
  • Did you have to monitor and help your children with online schooling while also maintaining your job?
  • Did you find creative ways to survive these stressful times?
  • Did you have any personal or work accomplishments?
  • In what ways did you persevere through social distancing and other stressors this year?
  • How have you been resilient this year?

Once you start to answer these questions, you’ll begin to realize how much you accomplished in 2020. You should be proud of everything that you achieved amid the chaos and uncertainty of this past year. 

Tips for setting realistic goals in the New Year

Most New Year’s resolutions end up getting forgotten about by the third week of January. Why? Because many of them are vague and not actionable, such as “eat healthier” or “save more money.” A good resolution or goal is clear, realistic, and actionable—meaning you can make a plan to meet it. 

As we look towards 2021, it is important to be flexible as we make plans for the year. Here are Dr. O’Callaghan’s tips for making (and sticking with) your 2021 goals and resolutions.

Don’t be too rigid with plans or goals.

Try to avoid setting yourself up for disappointment. Because we are uncertain of what 2021 will bring, making plans like traveling, joining a local gym, or having a large family reunion may not be possible quite yet. If we do make plans that fall through due to restrictions, we will set ourselves up for disappointment.

Focus on attainable goals.

Instead, focus on making plans and setting expectations and resolutions for 2021 that are attainable. For example, you could make a plan to plant a new garden in your backyard, or decide to set up a meal plan schedule for your family, or pick up a new hobby like baking. 

You could choose to focus on improving your mental health and coping skills by starting to see a therapist online. You could also develop new hobbies or interests, like learning a new instrument, reading, or finding new music. Wherever you decide, make sure that the goal is actionable and attainable.

Try it out by selecting a goal that you’d like to achieve in the New Year. Make it clear and specific, such as, “I’d like to run a 10k race.” Next, make a specific, measurable plan to help you achieve this goal, i.e., “I’ll run 3 times per week for the next 6 weeks.”

Specific, actionable, measurable goals help you follow through and get results. This can help you feel like you’re living an empowered, meaningful life, reducing feelings of depression and anxiety in the process. 

Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness involves using your five senses (touch, smell, sight, sound, and hearing) to fully experience daily activities in a more immersive way. Here are some examples of daily activities where you can practice mindfulness: 

  • Sitting on your front porch or backyard
  • Taking a walk in your neighborhood
  • Cooking
  • Eating
  • Playing a game
  • Driving
  • Waking up in the morning
  • Listening to others
  • Listening to music

It is important during stressful and uncertain times to try to remain present and “in the moment” as much as possible. This allows our brains to focus on activities we are currently doing, which takes us away from any continuous stressors or anxieties we may be thinking about or experiencing. Practicing mindfulness in every aspect of your life can help relieve stress and symptoms of anxiety. 


Setting both big and small goals can help give you the structure and motivation to follow through and make real progress. Take a moment to set a goal for yourself in 2021 today. It can be big or small, but make it specific and actionable. Remember that you can set attainable goals and practice mindfulness in any part of your life, such as work, relationships, hobbies, and daily routines. 

From all of us at Brightside, we wish you good mental health in 2021.

brightside logo

Get the 1:1 care you need to overcome your depression & anxiety.

Learn More
Join our newsletter

Get helpful tips & strategies for better mental health delivered right to your inbox.

    Share Article
    brightside logo

    Get the 1:1 care you need to overcome your depression & anxiety.

    Learn More



    Covered by insurance
    or $95/month

    Learn More



    Covered by insurance
    or $299/month

    Learn More


    + Therapy

    Covered by insurance
    or $349/month

    Learn More

    Free Assessment

    Get started in
    just 3 minutes

    begin assessment

    86% of our members feel better within 12 weeks.


    If you’re in emotional distress, text HOME to connect with a counselor immediately.


    Call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24/7 emotional support.


    If you’re having a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 or go to your local ER.