Advice For Making, Succeeding At New Year's Resolution : Consider This from NPR Back in November, comedian Robyn Schall found an old list of her goals for 2020. She shared the list in a video that went viral — because it turned out a lot of people could relate to a year that didn't go as planned.

Gretchen Rubin and R. Eric Thomas have some advice on how to make 2021 a little better.

Rubin writes books about happiness and habits — her latest is Outer Order, Inner Calm — and she hosts the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Thomas dispenses opinions and wisdom as a senior staff writer at He's the author of the memoir Here For It.

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Advice For Making (And Succeeding At) Your New Year's Resolution

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Advice For Making (And Succeeding At) Your New Year's Resolution

Advice For Making (And Succeeding At) Your New Year's Resolution

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Sometimes, as you scroll endlessly through social media, you stumble onto one meme, one image, one video that is so true, it almost makes all the doom scrolling worth it.


ROBYN SCHALL: OK. Excuse my lips. I'm just, you know, in the middle of hitting rock bottom. But...

SHAPIRO: That's comedian Robyn Schall pouring herself a glass of wine. She posted this TikTok video in November when she ran across a notebook entry that listed her goals for 2020.


SCHALL: (Laughter) OK. Tell me if this is not hilarious. All right. Goal one - make more money. I've, you know, been unemployed since March. Travel more (laughter) - loosely (laughter). Be more social (laughter). I wrote cry less. Cry less. Cry less. I've cried every single day of this whole pandemic.

SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - for many of us, the goals we set in 2020 have turned into a punchline. But there is always hope with a new year. Coming up, more from comedian Robyn Schall. And we discuss some of your questions about making resolutions for 2021. From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Friday, January 1. Happy New Year.


SHAPIRO: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. OK, back to comedian Robyn Schall - that video she posted struck such a deep chord with so many people that we called her up, and I asked her to tell me about where she was in her life at that point.

SCHALL: Well, like everyone in this - on this planet, I was miserable, depressed and anxious. I'm a stand-up comedian. So all, you know, entertainment has been shut down for months, so I haven't been working.

SHAPIRO: Totally.

SCHALL: I lost both grandmas. I'm constantly in this state of fear and anxiousness.

SHAPIRO: And so when she found her old list of goals for the year, it was just too funny not to share. She hit record. And millions of views later, her life had changed. She posted this just three days after that viral video.


SCHALL: Kristen Bell and Jennifer Aniston liked the video (clapping). (Unintelligible) Jennifer Aniston.

SHAPIRO: You are very unapologetic about the fact that you worship celebrities, so tell us about, like, the most mind-blowing celebrity encounter that you've had.

SCHALL: OK. Oh, my God. That's so hard because I really do love celebrities so much. So, I mean, Jen Garner was huge. I mean, that was, like, ridiculous. But then the whole Kardashians came out of nowhere. And they started, like, fighting on my Instagram post, like, not even on the viral video, like, on a different one. Khloe and Kourtney were like, stop following me. I'm the one who found it first. And then I saw just the other day Kris Jenner liked the video. So I mean (laughter) like, whatever...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

SCHALL: I died. Like, I don't even know if this is all real. This sounds, like, just like a dream.


SHAPIRO: Well, given how your 2020 resolutions completely turned your life upside down, how are you approaching resolutions for 2021?

SCHALL: No resolutions (laughter).

SHAPIRO: None? Whoa.

SCHALL: No. No. Well, I'm going to drink more water. But watch - now there's going to be a big drought in New York City...


SCHALL: ...Now that I've said that.


SHAPIRO: Comedian Robyn Schall - you can follow her on Instagram and TikTok @robynschallcomic. That's R-O-B-Y-N S-C-H-A-L-L.


SHAPIRO: Well, we asked for your questions about how to make resolutions in this new and completely unpredictable year. And we have some guests to help answer those questions. Gretchen Rubin writes books about happiness and habits. Her latest is "Outer Order, Inner Calm." And she hosts the podcast Happier With Gretchen Rubin. Thank you for being here.

GRETCHEN RUBIN: I'm so happy to be talking to you.

SHAPIRO: And R. Eric Thomas dispenses opinion and wisdom as a senior staff writer at He is the author of the memoir "Here For It," and he is also one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. Hi, Eric.

R ERIC THOMAS: Oh, it's so good to talk to you. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Before we dig in, can you each just give us, like, your guiding philosophy on New Year's resolutions in general?

RUBIN: Well, I would say, first of all, only make them if it's fun for you because I think a lot of people feel like they should make New Year's resolutions even though they've tried and failed in the past, or the whole idea turns them off. So only do it if you're the kind of person who enjoys it. And I think beyond that, it's good to make them very concrete and manageable, not ideas like enjoy the moment but, you know, something where you really know whether you did or didn't do it in a particular day.

SHAPIRO: Nice. Eric, what's your approach to them?

THOMAS: I have the complete opposite approach.


RUBIN: Hurt.

THOMAS: We're going to be in a feud. Yeah. I like - you know, I never know what's going to wait for me in the future. What I do in the future is sort of none of my business, and it's - I find it rude of myself to like, think that I can have any control over it. So I like - I always make resolutions like, I'm going to go to Mars. And if I make it, then I've really done something incredible. And if I don't make it, I can say, well, the past me was a moron, and he didn't know what he was talking about. But future me, he'll know. But I do think it's nice to, like, take big swings.

SHAPIRO: Take a big swing. I think there's something to be said for both of those philosophies. Let's hear from some listeners, starting with Dylan Manderlink (ph) in Seattle, Wash. She'd planned to start a graduate program this year. That's on hold. And she had set a goal to better manage her anxiety.

DYLAN MANDERLINK: When I did originally make that goal for the new year of 2020, it wasn't as much of a struggle as it is now, but it was something that I definitely wanted to improve in my life.

SHAPIRO: Totally understandable that it is more of a struggle now than she expected, and this is still a priority for her going forward. But she realizes she needs clearer benchmarks, and as she looks to 2021, she's wondering how to even start.

MANDERLINK: You know, I've just been thinking about, like, is it even worth making a resolution when things seem so uncertain still?

SHAPIRO: Gretchen, what do you think?

RUBIN: Well, she has the impulse to make resolutions. So unlike Eric, she wants to make a resolution. And the thing is\ she can't control the virus. She can't control the future. But there are certain things in her life that she could have more control over. And often, action is the antidote to anxiety. And so doing something like, I'm going to set a bedtime. Or I'm going to make time to read every day. Or I'm going to go for a 20-minute walk every day. Whatever she thinks would help her stay calm and feel energetic might make her feel like she is exerting a little bit of control in her life in a time when she feels, you know, overwhelmed by uncertainty.

SHAPIRO: OK, so set manageable goals. Eric, what do you think?

THOMAS: I think also just sort of rightsizing what our future looks like and what's possible is really helpful. Like, every resolution is made in the face of uncertainty. It's really prominent right now because there are a lot of things that we just don't know. But, you know, like, for instance, I think about what I'm going to do this year, where I'm going to go, if I'm able to go anywhere. And I don't have any control over when I'll be able to move freely about the country. But I do have control over my imagination. And I can say, if these benchmarks get hit by external forces, then I will do X, Y and Z. And so I think for her, it might also be useful to say, every day is a blank canvas that is being painted on by many more forces than just me. But these are the little marks that I'm going to try to make. And if I don't get to make them because of things beyond my control, I've still at least made some progress for myself.

SHAPIRO: Nice. Like, find satisfaction in the dreaming.

THOMAS: Right. Right.

SHAPIRO: Our next question comes from Tony Cummings (ph) in Austin, Texas, who had a 2020 goal to travel and meet more people...


SHAPIRO: ...Which obviously did not happen. So his goal for 2021 feels a little more attainable. He wants to write more as a daily practice. And his question is about accountability.

TONY CUMMINGS: I feel like it's hard to keep yourself accountable without, like, having unrealistic expectations for yourself sometimes, you know? Like, drawing the line between, like, OK, the situation has changed, and I need to reevaluate versus, like, you know, I really need to stay the course and just try harder - like, that kind of thing, right?

SHAPIRO: You're both writers, so I imagine you can probably relate to this on a very specific level. Eric, how do you wrestle with this in your own writing life?

THOMAS: Yeah. I separate sometimes the imperative - like, I need to get X amount of words on the page to hit this deadline - I separate that from the drive, which is that I want to write, and I love to write. A couple of years ago, I started writing a newsletter, and I send it out every Sunday. And I've done it for 208 weeks, and I do it only mostly because I really like writing. And that was a small source of joy that also turned into an accountability tool because whether I was not feeling it, whether I was sitting on the Provincetown ferry just waiting to go on vacation, I needed to get that newsletter out. And so I separated the imperative to, like, I'm a writer. I have to write every day. I have to write this newsletter every Sunday - from the fact that I'm trying to share part of myself with the world.

SHAPIRO: All right. Next, let's hear from Sarah Malcolm (ph), who is a high school theater and English teacher in Lyon County, Kan. And she had some fitness goals that were going well through the summer. But then fall semester came, and her fitness plan kind of fell by the wayside. So when it comes to goals for 2021, Sarah says she wants to find more balance in her life.

SARAH MALCOLM: You hear a lot about, oh, superhero teachers. I don't want to be a superhero teacher. I want to be a really good teacher who's also a good wife and mom and all those other things, too.

SHAPIRO: I love that. So her question is, how do we make New Year's resolutions that bring more balance into our lives rather than just giving us more to do?

RUBIN: Well, I think maybe what Sarah needs is resolutions that let her goof off or take time. If she's trying to get balance and she's working so hard, she might need to take time for fun. And for a lot of people, you know, they have to - you might have to schedule that like a dentist appointment and really carve out time for it because, otherwise, you just are always filling your time with things from your to-do list. So what is being crowded out of her life now, and how does she actually fit that in specifically? Because something like balance - no one would disagree with the idea of it, but what does it actually look like for an individual person? You have to translate that into something that then you could actually say, well, am I doing it? Is this happening? And if not, how can I set aside the time, really, to - the time, energy to get it done in my life?

SHAPIRO: All right. So let's end with how you're each approaching resolutions for this new year. Eric, what's yours?

THOMAS: Mine is to be as present in the world as I can, both in my actions and in my, you know, donations and in the digital space, and then, when I'm able to, to see people in person and to go to places that I wanted to go, to really embrace the fact that I'm alive and that I'm grateful for being alive.

SHAPIRO: And Gretchen?

RUBIN: Well, mine is related to Eric's. My one-word theme for the year - because I always pick a one-word theme - my one-word theme for 2021 is open. I want to be open to the world, to different people's perspectives. I'm working on a book, so I want to be open to people's criticisms and comments. I want to stay open, and I've also resolved to read 21 in '21. I love to read. It's my cubicle and my sandbox, and I'm going to do an extra 21 minutes of reading every day in 2021 for fun.


SHAPIRO: That's Gretchen Rubin, author of "Outer Order, Inner Calm," and R. Eric Thomas, author of "Here For It." You're listening to CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.

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