2021 is Here! Planning for Personal Growth in the New Year

By Connor Wills M.Ed, LAC, NCC

As humans, we are naturally inclined to take time out for self-reflection when closing one chapter and beginning another. There is perhaps no greater example of this “reflect and reset” than the conclusion of one year with another twelve months only just around the corner. The year 2020 in particular has been fraught with complex challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in many of us maintaining our grounded focus by wearing proverbial blinders as we look straight ahead toward 2021. While we hope that the new year brings relief from the stressors of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be wise to put some particular intention behind our resolutions and plans for the coming year. Below are two simple steps to shed what has not served us in 2020 while successfully planning for sustained personal growth as we ring in the new year.


Before we are able to personally evolve with the coming year, it may be wise to take a look back at the personal challenges that 2020 brought. American author John C. Maxwell poignantly writes “change is inevitable, growth is optional.” How are we to begin moving toward personal growth if we do not reflect back on our experiences? There is significant value in examining both experiences handled masterfully as well as the difficult challenges which often provide even more valuable lessons. Take time to reflect and record some of the major events in your own life during 2020, whether they appear more positive or negative on the surface-level. For each stressor or hardship, try your best to find the “silver lining” or the lesson learned through that experience.

  • Perhaps a recent break up instilled an increased awareness into your own values and needs?
  • Maybe having a potential employment opportunity not work out in your favor opened the door for a richer opportunity just around the corner?

Record a bulleted list of any experiences that you hope to not repeat in 2021 and reflect on any important lessons learned. Separate each item on the list onto its own piece of paper and tear them up, toss them in a fireplace, or simply throw them into the garbage to symbolize letting go of what does not serve us in the year ahead.

Half of the battle in self-perception is simply framing experience with a full lens rather than resorting to dichotomous thinking which rarely nurtures a growth-mindset. While examining your experiences in 2020, pay special attention to what you are grateful for and what worked out in your favor. Just as the eye of a hurricane, sometimes we are able to maintain a remarkable level of tranquility even as the world feels like a chaotic storm all around us.

  • It could be that you are grateful for your health in 2020 while so many other folks have not been so lucky.
  • It may be that you were able to maintain financial stability while unemployment numbers are scrawled across the network news headlines.

World-renowned meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, famously remarked during a discourse how rarely we appreciate the “NOT headaches” in our lives. Take time to consciously reflect on the crises that have been avoided in your own life during 2020 and all that you still have to be thankful for. For bonus points, consider engaging in this conscious activity with a partner, family member, or a friend as doing so will undoubtedly result in a more rich experience for both of you.

Planning for Personal Growth

Some folks poke fun at the concept of a new year’s resolution, citing stereotypical examples such as signing up for a new diet or gym membership only to quit after a few short weeks. French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggested that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” It could be argued that many who struggle to follow through with so-called new year’s resolutions have simply not put enough energy into developing a detailed, realistic plan. Now that you have taken the time to consciously self-reflect on both the struggles and successes of the past year, it’s time to delve into the planning stages for personal growth in 2021. Just as before, engaging in this practice with a partner, family member, or friend is recommended for increased likelihood of desired outcomes.

To start, take a look back at your 2020 reflection list. What went well? What would you like to continue? In what areas would you like to enhance your own personal growth? You may be surprised at how many desired personal changes may already be underway and there is certainly no reason to reinvent the wheel when some degree of momentum may already be present. Continue to add other items to your personal growth list which you would like to see in 2021. Some guidelines for success include the following:

  1. Realistic: We are often our own biggest critics- let’s not add to that by placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves. There is nothing wrong with starting relatively simple and small in order to build up toward lasting change. For example:

“Become less attached to my phone.”

“Gain better control over my emotional reactions.”

  1. Specific: There is an old expression that says “aim small, miss small.” The more specific you are in your goal, the more likely you are to attain it. Notice how we use positive language of “I WILL” vs. “ I will NOT.” For example:

“I will decrease my phone screen time usage.”

“I will notice feelings of anger as they arise in me.”

  1. Measurable: Maintaining that “aim small, miss small” mentality, set a realistic number that you are aiming for which will speak to clear progress in the desired area. For example:

“I will decrease my phone screen time usage by 10%.

“I will notice feelings of anger as they arise at least 2/5 times.

  1. Timely: Finally, when will you aim to accomplish this by? Be gentle with yourself if you do not achieve your goal completely by the identified time, understanding that you are well on your way. For example:

“I will decrease my phone screen time usage by 10% between January 1st and March 1st, 2021.

“I will notice feelings of anger as they arise at least 2/5 times per week by March 15th, 2021.

Once you have identified your personal growth goal(s) for 2021, activate some positive peer pressure by telling at least two other people in your life what you are planning to accomplish in the new year. Feeling held somewhat accountable by folks close to you is a healthy way to motivate yourself to consistently maintain these changes throughout 2021. Just as Maxwell’s aforementioned quote suggests, growth requires a certain level of conscious planning in order to be successful in a consistent way. Regardless of what the new year brings, it is up to us to take control of our destinies during a time when so much around the globe can feel so out of our control. Changes are inevitably coming in 2021 with opportunities for growth along with them, choose to actively participate in them!