As a new year begins, some area residents said they want to eat healthier, travel more and see their friends during 2021 — but a psychology professor cautioned that goals should be realistic and values-driven.

Hartselle resident Allison Firpo said the pandemic kept her from seeing her friends last year, which is something she hopes to change this year.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to make it a point to make dinner dates with friends each month. Post them on my calendar and actually not back out like I have in the past,” Firpo said. “Due to the pandemic we aren’t meeting with friends and family as we were.”

Sarah Pickerill said her 2021 goal is to travel when it’s safe to do so.

“I’m retired, so not working out of my home was not an issue for me. However, my grown children missed a lot of work due to closing and it was bad for them,” she said. “I think I’ve put off a lot of things the last few years, one being just taking a trip — not going far, just going to a different place.”

Decatur resident Samantha Blalock said she hasn’t set New Year’s resolutions in a few years, and isn’t this year, either.

“In the past, every time I made resolutions saying, ‘A new year, a new me,’ it never happened,” Blalock said. “I’m not doing that to myself anymore.”

Blalock said while she’s constantly trying to improve and reach her goals, her aspirations have nothing to do with the new year.

Decatur resident Arnella Clouse-Hanna said COVID-19 meant her family spent more time at home than usual, which made it harder to stay organized. She said she doesn’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but wants to get “back on track” this year.

“I usually don’t, I’m usually happy with who I am. But like most people, this year changed me,” she said. “This past year went to heck. Having everyone in the house gave me extra meals to make, dishes to clean and stuff to pick up. My goal is to bring back a little more normality to our home.”

University of Alabama psychology professor Jenny Cundiff said setting New Year’s resolutions such as goals to prioritize travel, health or relationships could be a reclamation of human needs that were stolen by the pandemic.

“One way of thinking about people’s needs, which drive goals, is that we have two primary categories of needs — social connection and agency,” Cundiff said. “We need to be connected to others, loved, valued, attended to and we need to know we are capable and effective as individuals.

"I think this year has challenged many of us to rethink the balance of love and work in our lives, and many people have lost both loved ones and work this year. Getting healthier and seeing friends is, perhaps, about caring for ourselves and others. Travel is likely a reaction to not being able to travel, so perhaps we’re reasserting our ability, (or) agency, to get away.”

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Health goals

Many said they want to focus on their health and get into shape for the new year, including Lawrence County resident Angie Paddie. Paddie said the pandemic caused her to focus more on her health — her goal is to lose 50 pounds before her 50th birthday. Paddie said she’s set New Year’s resolutions a few times in her life, but this year goal-setting has been especially important to her.

“It definitely opened my eyes to my health,” Paddie said. “I’m in good health overall, just want to be as healthy as I can be going into my 50s. My mom died at 66 and my dad was 72, I would hope to live to at least be 80 myself.”

Decatur resident Jenny Higgins, a physical therapist assistant, said her career was changed significantly as a result of the pandemic. Higgins said between the personal struggles she endured last year, and the difficulties many of her patients have faced, she wants to both improve her own health and assist her patients in doing the same.

“Our career field has suffered with schools canceling, elective surgeries on hold and the pandemic spreading like wildfire,” Higgins said. “I would hope that I motivate people to reach their goals including some New Year’s resolutions for change. I have set some personal goals to focus on self-health and growth. I start back to school at the beginning of this upcoming year. Even though I push people daily to strive to do their best, I personally struggle with taking care of me.”

Danville resident Deanna Taylor Brooks said instead of trying to lose weight or signing up for a gym membership, her New Year’s resolution is to focus more on her mental health. Brooks said her job at a financial institution has become stressful this year due to co-workers testing positive for COVID-19.

“Some of us have been doing three or four different people’s job and not knowing who was going to test positive next; (it’s) just a guessing game. So I’m going into 2021 with the attitude that I can only do so much and that I will not stress about the things I can’t fix,” Brooks said.

Brooks said she sets New Year’s resolutions every year, but this one is different.

“I usually do the typical, eat better, exercise more type of resolutions that no one ever keeps. But this one I plan on keeping,” she said.

Decatur resident Joy Corsey said her New Year’s resolution is to get more exercise. She said she wants to improve her health, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She plans to use at-home workout equipment rather than going to a gym.

“I have bands and weights I use,” she said. “I want to get back in shape for spring and summer.”

Theresa Crisp, boxing personal trainer at Iron Lung Fitness in Decatur, said her advice to those making health and fitness resolutions this year is to focus on overall health rather than achieving fast results.

“We truly believe (in) loving yourself and staying healthy. … 2020 has been a challenge for us all, so let’s take the mistakes and turn them around,” Crisp said.

Crisp said those wanting to improve their health should get “regular exercise, no matter what you do or where you go.”

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Goal-setting

Cundiff said while a new year represents a fresh start, most of the goals people set for a new year are long term and require small, consistent changes, rather than flipping a switch for a sudden, drastic change.

“New Year’s is an obvious symbol for rebirth and reorganization. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, ‘If I can just get through this year,’ but nothing magical happens December 31st to January 1st that can’t happen January 1st to January 2nd,” Cundiff said.

People making resolutions often set unrealistic or vague goals, Cundiff said.

“These long-term goals are tricky, because even if we care about them deeply, they often take small steps and sustained effort to accomplish. For example, if time is the issue, you’re more likely to keep in touch with friends more if you protect time in your calendar for calling friends. But how much do you want to reconnect, and who do you want to reconnect with? Most of us set goals that are vague and we have high, and often unrealistic, expectations of ourselves, so when we don’t feel connected with all of our friends in two weeks we feel like a failure and give up,” Cundiff said.

Cundiff said other complications are that people sometimes fail to identify what they’re actually wanting to get out of a goal or resolution, or fail to match their goals to their values.

“The goals we set also often are not the real goal. For example, losing weight may really be in service of increasing self-confidence or decreasing self-loathing or wanting others to find us attractive and thus love and respect us,” she said. “Sometimes we also set goals without thinking about our values. Values provide a road map for how we want to behave, and I think people often set goals because their behavior is out of line with their values.”

Despite the many reasons people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions each year, Cundiff said a new year still provides a meaningful opportunity for self-reflection.

“Perhaps goals can be a starting point for letting us know how we feel our lives are out of balance. It's nice to take this time once a year to reevaluate what you care about and look to see whether your day-to-day life reflects that,” she said. “There are always opportunities for bringing our behavior and our values closer into alignment.”

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cassie.kuhn@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @ DD_CassieKuhn.

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