The weirdness of setting 2021 resolutions

How do you set goals in a year where everything remains uncertain?

I’m usually a big new year’s resolutions person. Every year I sit down in December and think about what I accomplished that year and set goals for the new one, thinking about both personal goals and professional goals I want to achieve. I buy myself a fresh planner (I swear by the Hobonichi). I think about a new morning routine.

But this year feels different. For starters, how do you set goals in a year when you can’t really count on anything? In 2020, we were caught off guard by the pandemic and had to get comfortable with uncertainty. It feels futile to try to set goals in a year where we have no idea how things will play out; we all have to manage our expectations for 2021.

This year, we at least know to expect uncertainty — and we know not to make any plans. Though we can sort of see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of the vaccine, the rollout is still going slowly enough that I’m not counting on getting back to “normal” until 2022. (Just being realistic, you know?)

Secondly, I think just about everyone I know is exhausted after 2020. We made it through so much, through the longest year, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t tired. When I sat down with my notebook to think about resolutions, trying to think about ambitious goals for an entire year felt overwhelming. Trying to push ourselves to achieve anything in 2021 beyond getting through another year of the pandemic feels like far too much to ask of ourselves.

So instead of big ambitions this year, I’m thinking about very tiny ones. I loved this NYT piece about downsizing your resolutions this year: think small and achievable. Setting — and achieving — goals still feels satisfying, but for 2021, I’m making them smaller than ever.

One thing I’m doing is only thinking about goals at a monthly level. I can’t even begin to imagine a whole year, so right now I’ve set some goals just for January, and they’re all just small daily habits: keep a gratitude journal! meditate every day! They’re easy, they’re tiny, and they’re only one month — not a whole year.

Here’s to a brighter 2021, and to setting tiny goals. What are your tiny (or regular-sized) goals for this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Stuff I wrote

Last week I contributed to some of our end-of-year roundups at Vox: for a roundup of pop culture that brought us joy in 2020, I wrote about binge-watching Cougar Town. And for a roundup on the money we didn’t spend in 2020, I wrote an ode to my now-shuttered favorite neighborhood bar, Rose’s.

And for the new year, I revisited and updated a piece I wrote two years ago about the rise of habit-tracking apps.

Good things to read

The very real, totally bizarre bucatini shortage of 2020, Grubstreet. Believe me when I say this was the funniest and also best thing I read this week. Investigative journalism!

Working from bed is actually great, New York Times. I’m not not saying I’ve done this.

New Year’s Resolutions that will actually make you happier, The Atlantic.

Jenna Lyons’s J.Crew afterlife, The New Yorker.

How The Sopranos has become a Zoomer touchstone, Vulture.

Where year two of the pandemic will take us, The Atlantic.

How to be a husband, Catapult. A beautiful essay on figuring out life after divorce.

2020 is the year of sidewalk fatigue, Grubstreet.

Feminism has failed women, New York Times.

Good things to cook

For 2021, I’m changing up the format of this section of the newsletter a little bit. Instead of just the things I’ve cooked this week, I’m going to highlight some of the best new recipes I’ve seen around the food internet this week, as someone who reads pretty much every major food site.

January in particular is a time when everyone in food media is launching big recipe packages focused on healthy recipes for the new year. Here’s what’s caught my eye:


I’m speaking on a panel at Substack On, Substack’s first writer’s conference, about how to get out of a creative slump, with Abigail Koffler and Clara Parkes. It’s this Friday, Jan 8, and if you’re a Substack writer you can sign up to attend here!

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