As the last of 2019’s shadow disappears below the horizon, we begin to think of the horizons that we have created for ourselves. Thus commences another resolution season: a parade of inspirational Twitter posts, old to-do lists fished out of dustbins, and a genuine — albeit temporal — attempt at self-improvement. While I’m sure we’ve all checked off the islands we want to visit and listed the fresh kale-based whatever we would like to try, our resolutions often miss the most critical component of personal development — mental wellness.  

Taking care of our mental wellness, and even recognizing that our emotional well-being is as important as its physical counterpart, can be difficult or unmanageable. But our mental health follows us wherever we go. This invisible energy molds our ties with family and influences our relationships with work. That’s why our objective to lead balanced, healthy lives shouldn’t leave our inner selves behind. 

No matter what heights we want to reach this year, it’s absolutely necessary that one of our resolutions is to take out some time for ourselves.  Amid a barrage of personal commitments and career responsibilities, we often leave behind our old hobbies. While the abandonment of former interests can be a healthy part of self-growth, it’s also symptomatic of a cluttered schedule and a tired mind. Challenges that don’t involve money or grades — the classic incentives — may actually prove to be more fulfilling because they represent an ardent and emotional commitment. Setting aside some personal free time for the occasional trek up Mission Peak or a weekly pottery class reminds us of who we are, and provides the essential reward to our demanding work hours.

This year, my personal resolution is to keep a journal. In the bottomless sea of extracurricular activities, SAT scores, and social media updates, I have often sacrificed self reflection and character-building just to stay afloat. And I’m not alone in this deluge of academic responsibilities; most teenagers in the Silicon Valley barely get eight hours of sleep, thus navigating a thin line between textbook toil and exhaustion. Perhaps that’s why the experience of jotting down what comes to mind is almost cathartic, as it relieves the weight of my suppressed emotions. Evenings with my journal have yielded an unexpected wave of short stories, poetry, and flash fiction —  creative outbursts that I simply can’t explore while memorizing a syllabus. The routine struggles of a high junior seem much more feasible when I can dedicate just a sliver of my day to directionless, free-flowing imagination. 

For the resolution lists that seem to be on the longer side, it’s equally important to consider the way that we set our goals. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being ambitious, but an overwhelming set of tasks ahead can lead to self-doubt and denial. Rather than kicking off the new year with three presentations, a home renovation project, and a rigorous new gym routine, try staggering your goals. Unrealistic expectations of our work ethic or our natural abilities spell an imminent, self-fulfilling cycle of inferiority and inefficacy. Abstract resolutions that seem unattainable need to be broken down into subcategories and intermediate deadlines so they can turn into realities, rather than burdens on the backs of our calendars. 

The “new year, new me” mentality is less focused on turning us into the person we would like to be. Rather, our best years are spent appreciating and cultivating the people that we are. And emphasizing our mental health on a day-to-day basis plays a pivotal role. Taking a step back to introspect might seem like a watery, insignificant thing — but self-analysis helps us discover the goals that we need, rather than the things that we want. So as the roaring 20s finally open their endless jaws, our expectations of our work, fitness, and family won’t swallow us whole. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.