It’s hard enough to keep to our New Year’s resolutions in a typical year. But this is no typical year, with the coronavirus still raging, and following the stress marathon that was 2020.

This past year brought the coronavirus pandemic, which forced us into social isolation. Systemic racism and police brutality were thrust into the spotlight as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations spread across the country. And an incredibly divisive election bumped President Donald Trump from office after serving one term.

Four Puget Sound community leaders on what we can learn from this year about ourselves to build a stronger 2021

Is it any wonder that keeping a New Year’s resolution this year might actually be harder than it has been any other year?

One of the traps that fallen goal-setters land in is avoiding behaviors, like exercise, because they “aren’t in the right mood,” said Matthew Enkema, a psychologist based in Seattle. In a year spent in isolation conditions and under substantial stress, symptoms of depression tend to increase — therefore decreasing our motivation.

“In times of uncertainty, it’s common to experience an increase in anxiety and fear, and with that, it’s really important to be kind to ourselves,” Enkema said. “To recognize that we’re doing the best that we can, and that it’s also true that we can do better.”

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Sticking to New Year’s resolutions can be challenging. Enkema says the key is identifying the values that are driving your goals, and then creating time-specific, measurable goals. For example, if you value relationships or connections, one of your goals might be to call your family members once a week. The more we associate the action with the value behind it, the easier it will become to stick to the goal.

So, after a rough year and with the odds stacked against us — how do we make goals for the future? And has the pandemic changed our values and goals? Several Seattle-area residents shared their stories and resolutions with The Seattle Times.

Stephanie Jones

Stephanie Jones (Courtesy of Stephanie Jones)
Stephanie Jones (Courtesy of Stephanie Jones)

Stephanie Jones is a wellness coach and nutritionist who said she wants to prioritize her mental health and practice self-care after a turbulent year and a dramatic lifestyle change.

Jones said she quit her job in corporate restaurant management and set off to start a travel blog with her girlfriend in 2020, but personal reasons, and the pandemic, brought her back to Seattle. Here, she and her girlfriend began sharing a studio apartment with Jones’ sister.

“We found ourselves all of the sudden going from this lifestyle of kind of freedom and exploring to all living together in a 450-square-foot studio,” Jones said.

She started to practice self-care daily to cope during the lockdown and said she wants to keep it going through 2021. Things like getting up early to drink a cup of coffee and read by herself before she starts her day have made a difference.

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“We find ways to fill our day that 2020 kind of took away, all of those pieces,” Jones said. “A lot of us just don’t know how to really just sit and be with ourselves and find our happiness.”

Ricky Nave

In 2020, Ricky Nave went from studying for his doctorate in math at Duke University to living on a boat in the Puget Sound and working for a startup. He said the pandemic pushed him to take a risk and now he’s inspired to start a new company in the new year. 

“It’s kind of funny, when the whole coronavirus thing started, I was joking with a lot of my friends that my life hadn’t really changed much because as a grad student you work a lot more by yourself,” Nave said. “[Working for a startup] kind of dropped in my lap and I thought it was an opportunity I should take. Definitely, my 2020 went in a different direction.”

He made the cross-country move in August and bought a boat off Craigslist to live in for the first few months before settling in the city.

After a crazy year, Nave said he’s eager to create a startup of his own: a platform for accessing cryptocurrency, which he predicts will become more popular.

Nave said he’s always been interested in entrepreneurship, but with the uncertainty that 2020 brought, he was more willing to take risks and follow opportunities that came his way.

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Mary Powers

For Mary Powers, 2020 showed her that she wants to prioritize building quality friendships. Before the shutdown, Powers said, she’d be booked with happy hours, group hikes and outdoor adventures sometimes months in advance — but she never took a step back and looked at who her friends really were.

“During the pandemic, I had ample time to think about how I spent my time and what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I just realized I had all these friendships, but they weren’t super deep friendships,” said Powers, who lives in Kirkland. “If you have too many relationships you can’t really focus on any one person. It’s harder to get to know them well because it takes so much time and energy to deepen a friendship, and what I realized is that I couldn’t do it if I had too many.”

She said she plans to focus on strengthening three friendships — and she’s done her research. She learned that things like texting a friend out of the blue or buying them thoughtful gifts can go a long way.

“I think if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have realized that,” she said, “I think I would have been on autopilot, and just kind of schedule all these plans without being really thoughtful at all.”

Michael Stepan

Michael Stepan (Courtesy of Michael Stepan)
Michael Stepan (Courtesy of Michael Stepan)

Michael Stepan is new to Seattle, and he said he wants to get out of his comfort zone in 2021. Originally from Utah, Stepan said he came to the Pacific Northwest as a Mormon missionary in August and has had some trouble meeting new people under lockdown.

“At first it was pretty difficult because I’m a very social person, I’m super extroverted,” Stepan said. He said he did everything he could to keep himself busy. “I studied Spanish a lot, I was exercising more, I just had to adapt what I enjoyed doing.”

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He also wants to bolster his relationship with both his family and God — and gather in person once it’s safe to do so. As a missionary during COVID-19, he’s had a lot of virtual Bible studies and Facebook chats.

Monica Sabharwal Arun

Monica Sabharwal Arun, with husband Srinivasan and son Abhinav (Courtesy of Monica Arun)
Monica Sabharwal Arun, with husband Srinivasan and son Abhinav (Courtesy of Monica Arun)

Monica Sabharwal Arun ran a travel agency in India before she and her family moved to Seattle in 2018. She was in the beginning phases of starting a travel agency in Seattle when the pandemic hit — canceling all forms of travel.

“The pandemic has really given an opportunity for everybody to self-reflect,” Arun said. “It has made me more grateful for all the things that I have, that I possess already, instead of complaining about what I don’t have.”

She said her key to sticking to resolutions is to create monthly goals centered on her values, like relationships, health and spirituality.

“If you have resolutions broken down into months, it’s more practical and more realistic. Even if I’ve missed one goal in one month, I can carry that goal into the next month,” Arun said.

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Casey Krueger

Casey Krueger, an engineer for Boeing who lives in Seattle, said 2020 was one of the best years he’s ever had.

“I’ve really exercised a lot of mental strength, and I grew in a lot of ways that I don’t think I would have been able to grow in the pre-COVID era,” he said. “I’ve just had a lot of time to focus on what I really want to do with my life. It’s kind of defined what I want my next career to be.”

He spent this past year developing a startup that he plans to work on more this year, called PeerStorage — something like Airbnb for storage units. It connects people with unused spaces in their home to people who need to store something — an idea that Krueger hopes will preserve land that would be turned into storage facilities.

He said he wants to get the business up and running, establish 1,000 clients, and partner with land conservation efforts.

“It’s redirected a lot of my goals, I think. Going into [2020], I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish, but then going throughout the year it made me realize a lot — redefine some of those goals,” Krueger said.