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Aaaaaaaannnndd in the blink of an eye, 2020 is coming to a close. Thank god. This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster, to say the least. If your resolution from this past year never came to fruition, you're not to blame. Still, when considering potential methods of self-improvement to tackle in 2021, it’s crucial to be kind to yourself. A New Year’s resolution is supposed to be a goal that can be worked towards throughout the incoming year for the sake of putting yourself on a more fulfilling, happier path in life.

While losing weight may be a goal that you have for various reasons, there are so many other ways to go about improving your life and making yourself feel accomplished in 2021. There are approximately a million other directions to move in for a new years resolution that don’t include skipping out on your favorite foods or weighing yourself every morning (trust me, I did the calculations). If you want to be healthier in the new year, that’s great! But, there are also interesting skills and hobbies that you can pick up that are less about getting smaller and more about thinking bigger.

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1. Pick Up a Hobby—One that Isn’t Passive.
When was the last time you did something that wasn’t for monetary benefit and that required your active engagement? Meaning: not watching television, not scrolling through your social media, and not, well, sleeping. For me, it’s rare that I’m truly engaged in an activity that doesn’t have to do with work or school. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed how much effort is involved in regularly doing the things that make me happy and busy in my downtime.

While “hobbies” may seem somewhat juvenile, they’re actually incredibly important for our mental and physical health. Hobbies, or “serious leisure” activities, yield psychological, social, and physical health benefits, especially as we get older. Additionally, picking up a hobby is probably one of the more fun ways to improve yourself, as it’s tailored to what you enjoy doing. Serious leisure activities range from gardening or hiking, to volunteering for an organization that you believe in, to visiting museums, learning a new musical instrument, learning how to code, or cooking more difficult, intricate recipes. If you have a casual interest, build on it!

2. Read More Books
If you have a GoodReads account, you’re probably familiar with having a reading goal. Mine is to read 52 books a year, one every week, though I’ve never actually reached that goal. Stressing yourself out with a goal this ambitious is probably not the way to go, but I’m an English and CompLit major, so this is kind of my thing. Still, it’s important to open your mind and absorb content in a way that’s both entertaining and enlightening.

That doesn’t mean you have to crack open a copy of Atlas Shrugged (in fact, reading Ayn Rand is kind of cringe). Even if you just feel like picking up a graphic novel, or finding a collection of short stories or poems, that definitely counts. Currently, my “To-Read” list includes classics like Orlando by Virginia Woolf, nonfiction like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and a novel that I borrowed from my friend Jae two years ago and still haven’t returned titled I Love Dick. I’m sorry, I’ll give it back soonish. Keeping a list of books you want to read, even if it only has, like, three entries, will help you keep yourself on track to pick up a book a bit more often than you usually would. Mine is currently 173 entries long, and, yes, I am currently reading a book that was never even on it. You can follow my GoodReads account here for some ideas.

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3. Start Creating Art
It’s true that not all of us have the “magic touch” when it comes to acrylics or sketching, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t express your creativity. Last year, I took up embroidery and found that I have a knack for stitch lettering. Being able to make something tangible, even if it’s a scrapbook or a photograph, allows you to inject your imaginative energy into the material world. After all, the difference between good art and bad art is subjective, and even fingerpainting feels pretty good.

4. Drink More Water
Okay, this one is a bit more basic, but it deserves a spot on any resolution list. Just buy yourself a knock-off Hydro flask from the local CVS and fill it up. You can even add a slice of lemon if you’re feeling spicy. Trust me on this one.

5. Learn How to Make A Really Good Cup of Coffee (or Tea!)
This is me telling you to get that Aeropress that’s currently in your Amazon cart (though, perhaps try to patron a smaller business instead of buying it from there). If you don’t already own some kind of coffee-making apparatus (or if you don’t use your mom’s espresso machine), it’s time to invest. Your day should almost-never begin with a cup of instant coffee. Learn how your favorite cafe or coffee shop makes your order, and mimic that at home. This way, you can save money, be self-sufficient, and get that first sip of caffeine in as soon as you get out of bed.

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6. Make One New Friend
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed how difficult it is to socialize with new people. Yeah, the friends I have now are great. And I have enough people in my life to form a viable support system. However, if you really want to expand your world-view, it’s time to start talking to new people. I’ll even allow for the definition of “friend” to be as vague as possible. A new acquaintance, even, is fine. To go about doing this, you can download an app like Bumble, which has a feature for trying to make new friends, or you can even use your existing social media to reach out to mutual followers who you haven’t really spoken to. Or, maybe, you can reconnect with a friend from the past who’s become distant but who you’re still on good terms with. Maybe don’t try to become best friends with one of your exes, though.

7. Prioritize Your Mental Health
If I learned anything from 2020, it’s that things can change at a moment’s notice. In some situations, you only have yourself to turn to. So, it’s important that you give your own mindset special attention. If you don’t already see a therapist or counselor (and have the insurance coverage or means to afford one), then I urge you to start seeing someone. You don’t have to be morbidly depressed or anxious to go to therapy; it’s a good thing for everyone to talk through their problems before they become unmanageable.

If you are unable to see a professional, then there are other avenues to keep your mental health on track. I’m not going to claim that if you stop drinking as much, break up with your shitty boyfriend, start doing yoga, and start eating better, then your problems will disappear. However, embracing physical and social health can definitely benefit your mental health journey. Don’t discount the synergy all aspects of your health have on one another. Moreover, you can always explore affordable, convenient counseling options if traditional therapy doesn’t work for your wallet or your schedule. Either way, take a second to breathe every once in a while and evaluate how you actually feel mentally this upcoming year.

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8. Eat More Plant-Forward
Vegans, disregard this one. Look, I’m aware that vegetarianism/pescetarianism/veganism/every-other-ism isn’t for everyone. We all have different dietary restrictions and different ways of eating that work for us. And that’s fine! Meat-eaters aren’t monsters, and vegans aren’t morally righteous. However, eating more plant-based meals and snacks is a great way to lead a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Additionally, doing so has many health benefits, like lowering your risks for serious diseases and improving heart health.

You don’t even have to fully say goodbye to meat, just try eating a couple more plant-based dinners a week. There’s no need to be restrictive in your eating for any reason. That being said, if you want to try going vegan or vegetarian, I commend you. But make sure to forgive yourself if you happen to slip up with your eating habits, as making these kinds of lifestyle changes can be difficult. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend researching easy vegan recipes on YouTube or checking out the recipe blog Pick Up Limes, which is run by a plant-based dietician.

Header Image via Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash
Second image via Nicole Wolf on Unsplash
Third image via Chris Knight on Unsplash

More from BUST:

12 Books By Black Women Authors To Add To Your To-Read List

7 Vegan Bloggers To Follow On Instagram For Yummy, Easy-To-Make Meals

6 Healing Podcasts To Listen To For Self-Care

An intern here at Bust, Vanessa Wolosz is completing her bachelor's degree University of St Andrews, where she studies English and Comparative Literature.  Her parents are happy to report that she is an honors student, and are significantly less happy to report that her interests lie in researching body art, reading sci-fi, bleaching her own hair, and not-having-a-boyfriend.  You can follow her on Twitter, @memelover100, though doing so is not recommended.

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