Pragya Handa working on her laptop

Kicking off the New Year: Goals for 2021 & Beyond...

Happy New Year!

Well, we're well into the second week of 2021 now so I'm off to a stellar start. But since the concept of time is either extremely flexible or completely irrelevant nowadays, I'm going to forge ahead with my new year start anyways.

2020 will always be the year I look back on with a strange combination of good-riddance-to-all-that energy and absent fondness (maybe not right this moment but hindsight is 20/20). It was a year of contradictions: the constant turmoil and lack of clarity coupled with letting go of expectations and living in the present; of embracing solitude and sitting with those uncomfortable thoughts while also rekindling connections, old and new; of days stretching out over a couple of decades to "wasn't it just March yesterday?!" 

December has traditionally been a time for me to take it slow and thoroughly enjoy my favourite time of the year - the holiday season (which I definitely did), but also, a time to start gearing up for the new year and getting my life in order (which I definitely did notdo). Planning for the new year, picking out new tools & stationery, decluttering, organizing, identifying and condensing those new year goals - all the thing I usually LOVE felt overwhelming. After almost a year of learning to live one day at a time, where the hell was I even supposed to start? 

Planning for the year felt impossible so I decided continue down my newfound path of flexibility and just let it go. No lofty goals, no 10,000 resolutions categorized by category and preference and importance, no list drawn up and ready to go by New Years Eve. And funny enough, as soon I took the pressure off myself, my brain was happy enough to flood my head with new ideas and inspiration and remind me that I crave structure and routine.

So here we are. And although it still doesn't follow the template from the past years, I've decided to put a super basic frame around my focus for the coming year.

1. Not putting pressure on myself

The number #1 thing on my plate this year is to ease up on the pressure around New Years goals and resolutions and be less strict with myself with respect to everything else on this list. I always try to make actionable goals instead of vague resolutions like 'read more' or 'eat out less' but the downside in the past has been the the pressure to meet this arbitrary number I set at the start of the year (when I'm feeling my most ambitious) and the possibility of failure.

I'm not abandoning specificity and numbers just yet because having something concrete to work towards is easier for me than wading about in the dark. But at the same time, I've changed my mindset around what this list means to me - guidelines to keep me on the path of progress - and more importantly, what failure to meet any/ all of them means.

Failure is good, failure teaches me new things, failure means I tried something but came up against a wall and simply didn't get the result I wanted. Either something needs to change or I've climbed the hill but haven't quite made it to the peak just yet. What it does not mean is anything about me personally or my self worth. It's taken me a lot of time and effort to truly internalize these thoughts and this is the year I valiantly attempt to apply it to all aspects of my life.

2. Theme for 2021

The vague, floaty feeling from 2020 hasn't dissipated quite yet and to embrace that sentiment, rather than struggle against it, I've decided to try experimenting with a theme for the year. It can anything from an ambiguous word to a phrase, something to keep in the forefront of my mind as I navigate the year. This year I've decided to go with 

"consistent over perfect"

As a recovering perfectionist trying to outgrow the all-or-nothing fixed mindset, it's important to keep reminding myself that done is better than perfect, an attempt is better than intangible potential and growth & satisfaction comes from the process not just the final goal. Despite knowing this intellectually, it's sometimes hard for me in the moment to identify when that 'stuck' feeling has taken hold and I'm conversely doing nothing at all and holding myself back in fear of not reaching my goals. If the start of this post is any indication, it seems to be working already.

Speaking of which...

3. Resolutions are (still) not welcome here

My brain was still resistant to the idea a long unwieldy list of resolutions and I've decided to just go with it. Fitness & wellness has almost become second nature to me, especially as my refuge during lockdown, and other habits, hobbies (travel anyone?) have their ups and downs and are still shrouded in uncertainty.

There is always something to improve, something to be better at but rather than stress myself out over all of that, this year I'm just going to focus on my mini-goals (more on that later). Ever since we've all hit the rock bottom with expectations last year, the only "resolution" that comes to mind is to have a safe, healthy and joyful 2021.

4. Yearly v. Quarterly Planning

Usually at the start of the new year, I take a bird's eye view at the upcoming 12 months and tentatively schedule in big events like vacations, weddings, exams, research deadlines, etc. Goals generally stem from what I have going on during the year and what I want to achieve big-picture.

Since my University doesn't even have their Fall 2021 academic schedule out as yet, trying to plan so far in advance this year is like hurling darts in the dark and a colossal waste of time. Instead, I've decided to plan 3 months at a time with mini-goals to focus on per quarter.

This also has the added bonus of having to periodically review and re-assess my goals and progress every quarter. I can't just make big, lofty goals for the year and abandon them by February once motivation has waned, overwhelm has kicked in and deadlines and papers have me pulling my hair out (guilty). I can more easily figure out if I'm on track and change things as needed to make the whole plan workable as the situation changes (hopefully for the better) throughout the year.

Mini-Goals for Quarter 1:

a. 10K steps everyday: 

Getting in an hour of hardcore activity everyday? No problem. The other 23 hours? Find me in a horizontal position or planted firmly on my butt.

While I'm generally pretty consistent with working out 4 to 6 times a week, I can easily slide into the category of an "active couch potato". Consciously being more active during my downtime has been a game changer and it didn't even have to involve another elaborate ritual or an absurd amount of time. Simply grabbing some headphones, a podcast and hitting the recommended 10K steps a day during my breaks turned out to be huge energy (and mood) booster during lockdown and the end of 2020.

I've already kickstarted this habit last year and want to keep the momentum going and cement this as a lifelong habit in 2021. To be clear, I'm not realistically expecting to hit this target every single day for the next 3 months (I think I've missed a day already). The goals is be consistent - my preferred definition is "more often than not" - and keep going even if I've broken a 'streak' or missed a day (or 5).

b. Open up an investment account

It's embarrassing to admit that despite being a finance major with a solid understanding of the market, I have been extremely lax with my own finances and have let my savings just kind of sit there and while away (hoping my professors never see this).

I don't believe the stock market has all the answers but letting money sit in a savings account (or even a fixed deposit account) for an extended period of time is the equivalent of leaving money on the table (cue Indian ancestors turning over in their non-existent graves). The goal for this quarter is to open up a brokerage account and start my portfolio.

c. Apply to 20 internships for the summer

I've set a hard number for myself here because I have tendency to pull back and not even bother applying to places where I think I'm unqualified for not meeting every single one of the listed qualification criterion. This later translates into a panicked flurry of applications as time runs out and deadlines loom over the horizon.

I'm not going to get a call back from half the places - heck maybe even a quarter of the places - but not applying and taking a chance just guarantees zero call backs from any of these places. Even if none of these applications pan out, this is still a valuable learning experience for me and will help me figure out what I want to get out of my internship and where I want to focus my energies in the next quarter.

d. A single unassisted pull-up

A lingering goal from 2020 (and from longer than even last year I'm honest) is to be able to do one honest to god clean pull-up.

I made a lot of progress in last quarter of 2021 when I joined a dedicated calisthenics program (@BiaWarrior) and really focused on building upper body strength. Like everything on this list, consistency can help me get over the finish line (it's the theme of the year for a reason). Here's to hoping I can check off that unassisted pull-up goal by the end of this quarter.

e. Write one blog post per week

Already a week behind this one but I've still decided to stick with it as a mini-goal for this quarter just to see how many posts I can get in and more importantly, to encourage a writing habit (that isn't related to grad school and endless research papers).

The posts don't have to long or complicated or a deep analysis or review on any topic in particular. It can be as simple as a life update, ruminations, an interesting thing I've learnt, anything at all just to get into the flow of writing and using time constraints to stop over-analyzing and over-editing everything to death.

f. Learn a couple of my favourite homemade recipes

This is more of a fun one but I want to use this time when I'm back home with family to learn how to make all the  classic Indian recipes that I love to eat but can never quite replicate in my apartment in Boston.

I think I'm a pretty decent cook however my cooking repertoire is limited to either throw-in-whatever-is-in-the-fridge type meals or following-detailed-recipes-to-the-T type ones. Unfortunately fore me, no authentic Indian recipe I've seen ever follows this pattern. It's more like "a pinch of this, a little bit of that obscure spice and add enough water to drown those potatoes". Before you know it, I'm next deep in youtube aunty videos and have spent an hour over dal that still doesn't taste quite like home.

The only way you know is to know and I'm going to try to spend the rest of this month finding out how. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Am I going to check everything off on this list? Probably not. But I want to start this year on a high with goals that get me excited and really move the needle even if I can't get through them all. Have you made resolutions this year? I'm always curious to hear about other people's new year ideas and their views on resolutions.