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So much for self-improvement. Here’s a new way of looking at New Year’s resolutions in an era of COVID | COMMENTARY

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo a "Happy New Year" hat lies on the wet ground along with other items following the celebration in New York's Times Square. Setting a New Year’s resolution about improving your finances is an excellent way to start 2021. But before you come up with a list of goals, be aware that there are a few you should avoid. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo a "Happy New Year" hat lies on the wet ground along with other items following the celebration in New York's Times Square. Setting a New Year’s resolution about improving your finances is an excellent way to start 2021. But before you come up with a list of goals, be aware that there are a few you should avoid. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File) (Tina Fineberg/AP)

I have never been good at keeping New Year’s resolutions. I make too many, and they are too grand and unwieldy to ever stick with. I don’t come up with a plan on how to keep them or hold myself accountable. I set myself up for failure every single January.

Scrapping resolutions for 2021 seemed the best thing to do. It’s hard enough psychologically to keep any sense of normalcy during this era of COVID. Why add the extra pressure of meeting unreachable goals?

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Instead, I am looking at resolutions in a different way. I won’t be committing myself to eating fewer snacks, undertaking early-morning workouts, reading 100 books or not buying so many shoes. All the “how to succeed in life books” say the high achievers are most productive in the morning, take care of their bodies, are well read and don’t spend frivolously. And every year I tell myself that surely I can be one of those people.

Now, all of that seems meaningless. Millions of people have lost their jobs or face imminent layoffs; families are losing loved ones to COVID every day; kids are falling behind in school and the country is facing a mental health crisis. So what if I eat too many jalapeno-flavored potato chips and Oreos when I am healthy enough and will never get into those jeans from 20 years ago, anyway? And who cares if I work out in the morning or at night? I can walk up the stairs without passing out. I can enjoy books at my leisure, and my shoe love isn’t hurting anyone. (Even if it prompts a little ribbing from my husband).

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For the coming year, I will refocus my resolutions more on how I can be a better neighbor, citizen and contributor to society. Less on me and more on others. Although I, like everyone else, am ready for this hellish year to end, I know life will be challenging well into 2021. But there are things I can do to try and make it better for others.

  • I will start with a return to tutoring. For more than a decade I have worked with Baltimore school children on reading skills but hadn’t yet returned this school year. That changes in January, when I will rejoin the Reading Partners program, tutoring young kids once a week. Students who look like me are falling behind in learning at alarming rates, and I want to play my part, however small, in addressing the problem. I also get the added benefit of seeing the world through the innocent and imaginative eyes of a young person, something that brought me joy, laughter and a fresh perspective even before the pandemic.
  • Too many people are hurting this year, and I will look for more ways to help those in need, whether it be donating coats to shelters or giving five bucks to the homeless man standing outside the door who only asks for a cup of coffee. None of us knows when we might be the one to fall on hard times.
  • My favorite store is Target, and I have developed a bit of an Amazon addiction since COVID-19. But I will make it a priority to shop more locally and support struggling small businesses. I already established a pandemic takeout dining ritual and bought many Christmas gifts this year from small Baltimore stores. I will make a conscious effort to do this throughout the year as well. And I might even buy a pair of shoes.
  • Small bookstores, such as Greedy Reads and Everyone’s Place, will be some of the retailers getting my business. One hundred books may be too lofty of a goal, but reading more literature in general is not. Baltimore has plenty of local authors to support as well, and I have a list of their books I plan to dig into soon. I will also try a trick I have gotten from others: Put down books that don’t bring satisfaction. Trying to plow through uninteresting books just to finish them takes the joy out of reading.
  • Lastly, I will practice more patience with everyone. COVID has meant short fuses everywhere. It’s easy to let the small things get to us these days. I am going to do better at reminding myself that I never know what someone else is going through — especially in a pandemic world. And I would suggest everyone say thank you a little more often to all the workers who aren’t fortunate enough to telework.

These resolutions probably won’t land me on any list of most successful people, but they are meaningful just the same. One idea that I have kept from the books is to create a gratitude journal. I thought it hokey at first, writing down a gratitude notation every day. Instead, I have found it satisfying and reflective. There is a lot to be grateful for — including seeing a new year.

Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Please send her ideas at amcdaniels@baltsun.com. Her Twitter address is @ankwalker.

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