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March 3, 2021

2021 is the perfect time to set meaningful goals, psychiatrists say

SALT LAKE CITY — Many of us dread making New Year’s goals, but this year presents a special opportunity.

When times became tough, a Utah family dug deep and found it’s shaping their intentions for 2021.

They were faced with a role that strikes fear into the hearts of many parents: home-school teacher.

“The thought of that was a little bit daunting,” said Tara Bekker, a mother of five kids ranging in age from 4-14, who lives in Millcreek. “I have a friend who homeschooled all six of her children and I was one of those moms who said, ‘You’re crazy. I could never do that, for my sanity.'”

But when the need arose to home-school 9-year-old Sam, Tara was all in.

Sam Bekker said, “I really like it. It’s very fun because I get done really close to 12-ish.”

When Tara’s husband got very sick with COVID-19, the teacher became a student.

“It’s important to be a doer, instead of an asker,” Tara said. “We had people who just would come and drop things off, and it meant so much to us.”

It’s this kind of insight that can help us set our New Year’s goals, said Dr. Travis Mickelson, a psychiatrist with Intermountain Healthcare.

“Think about what we’ve learned about ourselves,” he said. “And think about at the end of 2020, when I look back at this year, ‘What do I want this year to mean for me? What do I want to have learned about this?'”

Instead of the typical diet or exercise goals this year, consider ones that improve mental health through compassion and caring. “Something in which I’m actually giving to others, and helping other people,” Mickelson said.

Also, try setting a goal to start a mindfulness practice. It doesn’t have to be a formal routine, and no app needed.

“It’s just doing something that really puts you in the moment,” Mickelson said. “And even if it’s just for 30 minutes, it’s amazing what that can do for the rest of your day.”

The key is starting small, and build on it.

“Ask yourself, what’s the chance that you’re going to be able to follow up on that? And if it’s, you know, less than 80%, then make it simpler,” Mickelson said.

It’s working for Tara, whose goals for herself and for her children have shifted this year.

“I hope that in this New Year, they become doers; they become people that serve and look for opportunities to do.”

Sam is taking note.

“This past week, I was shoveling my driveway and I just felt a prompting to go shovel my neighbor’s. It made me feel happy and good,” he said.

Tara became emotional and said, “The tears are because I’m proud of myself for doing the right thing.”

In the end, home-schooling hasn’t been so bad. And when it came time for a test, Tara was worried.

“He had to write a paragraph and the paragraph was, ‘What do you like about school?’ and I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be interesting,'” she said. “‘I said, ‘Did you finish your paragraph?’ I went over and there was one word, and I thought, ‘Oh no.'”

But it turns out, Tara made the grade. “I looked down and the word said, ‘Everything,'” she said.

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Heather Simonsen

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