How to not suck at New Year's resolutions
Updated: Mar 3, 2020
The number one reason we tend to fail miserably at keeping our self-care New Year's resolutions is that we frame them as "shoulds," "musts" and "have-tos." I should be more fit; I must make more money; I have to make more time for my kids. Sounds familiar? My question to you is: "Otherwise... What? What will happen if you don't?" The answer is always a negative: “I'll be fat;” “I won't be able to afford the lifestyle that I want;” “My kids will turn out to be brats.” These are all negatives. So, put together an order and a negative outcome, and what do you get? The worst possible way to motivate yourself. Ever.
Suppose for a moment you thought about the year ahead as a collection of moments you will have, some will be great, some may well be awful, and many will be somewhere in the middle [that's just your run-of-the-mill bell-shaped curve in action]. Zoom in on the really great moments that lie ahead. Close your eyes if you need to. Now, picture yourself immersed in those moments fully. How will you know they are great- how will you be feeling? What sensations will be going through your body? What thoughts will you be thinking? What emotions will you be feeling? Write these down. All of them. No, not on the computer or your phone, get a paper and pen please. You'll thank me later! And if you need some help from your senses, listen to your favorite music, touch a smooth comfortable material or have a bite of your favorite food to transport you into that moment.
A big part of the job is done now- you know how you want to feel. And that is no small feat! We rarely think about ourselves in the New Year's resolution equation, how we will actually feel and what we will actually be experiencing deep down inside when we achieve these much sought-after resolutions. And that’s another reason why we struggle to reach them. If one of your "shoulds" is to be more fit, why do you want to achieve this? So that other people will be wowed and floored when they see you strutting your stuff down the street? Where are you in that equation? Where is the part of you that will rejoice and come alive and feel connected with some sense of meaning once you have reached that place? One thing I can say for sure is, a "should" is not where it's at.
Alright, now that you know what that experience will be like, let's go back to your original list of resolutions [or just the one, that’s fine too]. Let's re-write and re-define them, so that they speak to: 1) how you will feel, 2) how the experience will enhance your person and your inside world, and 3) how it is connected to a deeper sense of meaning and/or values for you. Looking at the "should be fit" resolution through this lens gives it a completely different appearance because we have changed its meaning now. Now, it's about feeling your blood pumping through your veins and feeling like your lungs are expanding to accommodate for more oxygen than before. It's about the newfound skills of resilience, perseverance and persistence being fit will help you acquire. It is about re-connecting with the nature that you love by exercising outdoors, and the investment you are making into living a longer life.
To top it all off, consider what are the activities, who are the people, and where are the places that will be conducive to your desired experiences. While I advocate for looking deeply inward when making your resolutions - let's re-define them actually - your plans, this doesn't change the fact that they have to happen within a context. And certain contexts, more so than others, will be enablers of your great moments. Being mindful of these 3 elements makes all the difference between creating the life you want, and just passively being alive.
I want to leave you with one more re-frame. The word "resolution" is a word with a very sharp edge- it suggests that one thing has ended completely, and another has clearly begun. A clear line has been drawn, and there is no going back. Not without consequences, those namely being irritation, guilt, and possibly compulsive eating, shopping and/or drinking. Yet another wonderful example of just how important language is! This is why I propose the use of a different word. Because, unless you fall into that group of naturally disciplined individuals, you will naturally falter at times [there's that bell-shaped curve again]. And that is fine. So, let's work on our skill of self-compassion while we're at it, and choose a word that will allow us to make mistakes and make come-backs, many times each month if needs be. I choose the word "plan," because plans can change and they are permissive of a growth-mindset [more about that in another blog entry], but you can choose any other word that suggests the same thing. This is about you and YOUR experience, so you get to choose.
Have a great time breaking and repairing your 2018 plans!