Allergic to New Year's resolutions? Try a new approach this year
“I'm resolving to just wing it and see what happens.”
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Or does the idea of setting resolutions just because it’s the start of a new calendar seem unnecessary to you? Perhaps you object to being told when you should set goals, or resent being made to feel that you should set goals at all?
I definitely used to be in the ‘no one tells me what to do or when to do it’ camp when it came to New Year’s resolutions. I was always allergic to what I saw as jumping on the bandwagon. Call it stubbornness, or fierce independence, but there was something in me that resisted making any resolutions on the one day of the year when I knew everyone else was doing it.
I think I was also put off by what seemed like a narrative of virtue and self-denial – of doing what you ‘should’, even if it made you miserable, or of denying yourself something you did enjoy. I’m no hedonist, but New Year’s resolutions just seemed to be an exercise in sacrifice and self-punishment.
These days, my approach to resolutions is different (largely thanks to what I’ve learned about myself through my yoga practice): it so happens that the first few days of January are, for me, a lull before I return to my usual routines after the Christmas break, so I did take the opportunity to reflect, and to set some intentions and goals for the year ahead. But I’m also likely to do this at other times in the year when this feels right for me – the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, or the Summer and Winter solstices, for example.
What’s really changed, though, is how I understand and approach resolution-setting – and this shift in perspective means that I can use the New Year as one point (among many) in the year to reflect and to look ahead: not because I should, not in order to impress anyone (including myself), but because it is genuinely helpful to me. Here are three ways I reframed my thinking and found a new approach to resolutions:
They are a chance for you to get to know yourself better
Rather than setting the goals you think you should in January – the ones it seems like everyone is telling you to, whether it’s giving up meat or alcohol, or taking on a 30-day fitness challenge – take some time to find out what goals will serve you right now. This is a great opportunity to spend a bit of quality time with yourself, tuning in to your own voice and your truth, rather than blindly following generic advice. It might help to think of yourself as a good friend of … well … yourself. As your own friend, you genuinely want to find out more about yourself – your hopes and dreams, as well as your fears and doubts – so that you can help yourself find resolutions that will take you further towards those dreams, or will help start to allay those fears.
Instead of starting by asking yourself ‘what should I do?’, ask yourself instead ‘what do you want?’. Of course, this is a very broad and vague question! But, just like a good friend would, there are all kinds of more specific things you can ask yourself that will help you answer that question in a way that will bring you closer to your true, authentic self.
You can download a free set of questions here to help you get to know yourself and what you really want:
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They are an act of kindness to yourself
Many of us have a negative inner voice (usually amplified by the messages we receive through the media, and more generally within our culture) that tells us a goal is only valid if it feels like we’re punishing our denying ourselves in some way. We may not even recognise that voice as negative – we may see it as the ‘tough love’ we need to find our willpower and commit. But positive things like challenging ourselves and finding our inner strength are not the same as being mean to ourselves. So try saying no to the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach. Reject the idea that if you’re enjoying it, it can’t be good for you. Instead, think of resolutions as things you can do to be a little kinder to yourself. By this I mean genuinely kind: you could resolve to eat chocolate cake every day because you enjoy it and it makes you feel good – but is it an act of kindness, really, to yourself? You know, if you’re honest with yourself, that it’s not – that the kindness would be in resolving to eat less chocolate cake because that would help to improve your physical health and wellbeing in the long run.
That same negative voice will probably also focus on what you’re losing, or missing out on, when you set a resolution – especially if it’s the kind where you’re trying to change a habit or deal with an addiction. So when you make a resolution, silence that negative voice by thinking about what you’ll gain from it, rather than what you’ll lose. If there’s something you’re ‘giving up’, think of this instead as letting go of something that no longer serves you. See if you can feel gratitude for no longer being enslaved by that which you have let go. Try thinking of your resolutions as a gift from your present self to your future self: gratefully accept this gift, knowing that – in the words of a well-known shampoo advert – you’re worth it!
They keep your optimism alive
It can be very easy, for many of us, to spend a lot of time looking back at our past actions, past events and decisions, and to get stuck there. We might spend time beating ourselves up over things we regret and wish we could change (that negative inner voice again!). Or we might hang on tightly to ‘better’ times, allowing nostalgia to negatively colour our experience of the present. Whilst looking back can be useful, if we use it to reflect on something and learn from it, it’s not helpful to get stuck in the past. Nor is it helpful to get stuck in all possible futures – which is where anxious thoughts can often take us: the voice that projects our fears into the future, constantly asking us ‘what if?’, imagining and worrying about all possible negative scenarios.
And that’s the great thing about resolutions: they get you focussing on the future in positive, productive ways. They ask you to imagine a future where you’re doing something you can’t yet do, or have made a change or dropped a habit that has made your life feel better in some way. They are driven by that great antidote to your negative inner voice – your positive inner voice. This is the voice that assumes you can achieve your goals, and tells you so. It’s the voice that assumes good things will happen, and that encourages you to play your part in making them happen. I know, from personal experience, how easy it can be to stay in the comfort zone of listening to your negative voice – but I also know how very worthwhile it is to make the effort to tune in instead to that wonderful, optimistic voice that says “you can do it”, and “good things are ahead”.
So, rather than being a dreary, joy-sapping list of shoulds, with guilt waiting just around the corner, resolutions can instead help you get closer to your true, authentic self, be kinder to yourself, and embrace an optimistic, future-facing approach to life. Put that way, a new approach to resolutions might just be worth a try – any time of year.