For our first post of 2020, we are addressing “New Year’s Resolutions.” We cover whether we are in favor of them or against them and why, and some ideas for alternatives.
Life’s natural rhythm provides us with opportunities to stop, start, pause, and replay. Birthdays and anniversaries can help us remember, holidays give us pause and help us replay traditions from the past, and a new school year, a move or job-change can give us an opportunity to start over. Goals can be helpful to help us work toward where we want to be, no matter when we set them.
While not always laced with pleasant memories, we are creatures that sometimes need reminders to reflect, process, and to use that knowledge of our past to apply going forward. Considering this, the New Year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect over the past year of what went well and what might need some tweaking in the future. However, as a culture, we have taken a beautiful opportunity to reflect, process, and grow and often use it as a way to shame ourselves. When done intentionally New Years Resolutions can be a place to prune our lives, acknowledging what growth is good and what areas need trimming. When done from shame it causes harm to our growing selves.
Many NY resolutions stem from a place of feeling dissatisfied with life and dealing with difficult emotions and beliefs about the self (internal issues). For example, maybe you are feeling a sense of emptiness, loneliness, or inadequacy (internal issues) so you set the NY resolution of traveling more, reading 1 book per month (external means). There is a saying, “What you resist, persists.” It’s the same idea as me telling you to NOT think about an elephant in the room, you will probably think about an elephant. In this way, I think that NY resolutions often set ourselves up for failure and disappointment which reinforces the beliefs about ourselves that initially sparked the NY resolutions in the first place…”see, you couldn’t even stay away from sweets for one week, you are worthless.”
Many New Year resolutions are focused on, “You are not _____ enough (skinny enough, social enough, healthy enough, smart enough) You are not enough as you are. But you ARE enough the way you are, right now, today. Some people treat New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to try to change who they are. “Resolution” is such a powerful word that conjures up images of conquering a problem: this is the year I am going to have a different body, a different personality, a different skill set, etc. These types of resolutions are a set up for disappointment since they come from a place of wanting to be someone different than we were made to be, often based on what the culture says we should be and not from an authentic place of nurturing self.
We are not problems, and there are definitely not the “right answers.” Sometimes resolutions feel as though you must complete it 100% or then you might as well not have even tried. Traditionally, these are general ideas, not tangible goals, for example, “My new year’s resolution is to lose weight” or “My new year’s resolution is to be healthier.” What does that even mean? How will you know if you’ve accomplished it? They seem to only last a few months, at best (part of the reason is because they are so general). This can easily get a person down on themselves.
NY resolutions are NOT all bad. If you are thinking about setting NY resolutions, give yourself a pat on the back. You are trying. You are trying to cope, to find relief, to feel better. You’re not the only one that feels this way (like you are not enough as you are and everyone else has it together, that you need to just catch up.)
Instead of this being a feeling that isolates us and makes us feel alone, its actually something that bonds us.
Think about “intentions” rather than resolutions. Intentions feels like a softer word that allows us to live our lives without a constant feeling of guilt for not achieving or conquering. Intentions feel like reminders to carry with us throughout the days, a reorientation of my focus and thinking toward something that is already a part of who we are just perhaps ignored or underutilized.
The important thing is that these goals, resolutions, or intentions stem from an authentic understanding of yourself and your needs rather than trying to conform yourself to the images and ideas of others.
New Years Resolutions are great if we have a flexible mindset about them. If we think of them more as goals and dreams and are compassionate with ourselves when things don’t turn out the way we thought they would, they can be a wonderful growing tool.
Name them. Accept that they are there. Get curious about them. Talk to a friend or a therapist about them. Check in to see what is motivating each specific resolution.
Most of us feel self-doubt or perfectionism at times. Setting goals is about caring for ourselves- not shaming ourselves. It’s okay to not be perfect. Give yourself (and others) space to practice. If you don’t love yourself now, you won’t love yourself after. So start loving yourself and practicing self-acceptance now!
We first learned about Word of the Year through Christine Kane, but many others utilize similar ideas and tools. Try to set the Word of the Year first, and then goal set, hopefully in a way that honors and is mindful of the word of the year. This ties in with the idea of intention. An intention can be as simple as a word, such as Joy, that can remind us to incorporate this idea into daily life through the books we choose to read, the activities we choose to participate in, or even just in the day to day interactions with the people in our lives. It may not be until the end of the year that we realize the purpose, or how we had been preparing for it all year long.
What do I need to say yes to more this year?
What do I need to say no to this year?
Is there one word that would describe where I have been, and one word to describe where I want to go?
What are a few of my best memories from this past year?
What am I most proud of from this past year?
What allowed these things to take place?
After you’ve addressed those questions:
Scale 1-10 how satisfied am I with:
my relationships, my spirituality, my security, my health, my rest, my work.
What is something in my control from 1-2 of these areas that I can improve on?
Start small with a measurable goal. Give yourself small steps to reach along the way. Notice what works and what doesn’t work. Then celebrate even the smallest of victories! You worked hard for those- give yourself some credit! If you like planners, the Day Design planner by Whitney English, has a beautiful page where you set your goals, and then write in dates in your planner to go back and check on your progress. For example, if your goal is to find a doctor, step 1 could be making a list of all the doctors in your area who are covered in your insurance, or, asking three friends for referrals. This way you can work towards it bit by bit. You can check your progress periodically, by March you should have a list of doctors to try. By July, you should have called and set up appointments. Pick dates throughout the year to write in “check goals sheet” and go through and assess how much progress had been made. You can do that with any goal- it might take some thought to figure out the baby steps for how you get there, but you can always ask a friend or therapist for help. Our systems don’t like change, especially not huge changes. If your goal is to meditate more, start with meditating for 2 minutes in the morning instead of 30 minutes
Having someone that is working on the goal with you or someone that you can talk to about it is invaluable. This allows you to process the hard things and the victories to help you stay motivated.
We are very excited for 2020, for all the growth and change. We are also excited to be on this journey with you, and we are all about celebrating the little steps along the way. If there’s anything we can do to help you as you work to improve (while not shaming where you are now), please feel free to Contact Us.
The Phoenix Counseling Collective