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New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! It feels very strange that we are starting the year 2022. The new year often brings hope of a refreshed and renewed start. It gives us a natural point to reflect on the last year and to think about what we hope the new year will bring.


~ New Year, New Me ~


I will admit, I do like to have a reason to pause, reflect, and attempt to be intentional with my time, goals, and focus. However, I think the way in which we go about new year's resolutions can be problematic and damaging. I want to spend some time talking about that and making some suggestions to a different approach to resolutions.


Anchored in Shame and Self-Punishment

The main problem I find with many New Year's Resolutions is that they are anchored in shame and self-punishment. Many of us create goals to address the things we don't like about ourselves. These resolutions might sound or feel similar to:

  • "I am unattractive so I am going to restrict my eating."

  • "I am stressed and falling behind at work because I am a failure and too weak to handle this. I need to work harder in order to get that promotion."

  • "I am irresponsible and I need to be an adult and be better with my money so I am going to stop buying Starbucks"

While these might not be the exact wording you write in your planner, but it’s maybe what your brain is telling you or maybe an unspoken core belief. When our goals are based on shaming and punishing ourselves (i.e. working out to punish your body and change it rather than to take care of your body), it is very hard to maintain these goals because even thinking about them makes us feel terrible. When we aren't consistent, the shame monster comes rearing back "see, you are lazy, disgusting, irresponsible..."


To identify whether your goals are based in shame, there is one key element to look for. Are you labelling your identity as something negative? These are "I am" statements that are followed up with a negative attribute (i.e. "I am lazy" or "I am disgusting").


Try using self-compassion, self-love, and value-based goals

Instead of using shame as your motivator, working on anchoring your goals in self-compassion and self-love, alongside your values may help you feel more motivated to actually work on these goals. When our goals are anchored in our values, we feel less shame and are better able to engage with them. If we are able to have more compassion for ourselves when we (inevitably) slip up and have set backs on our goals we actually are more likely to achieve this goal. There will be more blogs on this topic to come, so for now, take my word for it.


Examples of self-compassionate, values-based goals may look like:

  • "I am going to work on adding in more nutritious foods to my diet so that my body is getting everything it needs"

  • "I am going to work on getting more consistent exercise to take care of my physical and mental well-being"

  • “I noticed I am feeling really stretched at work and having trouble focusing when I am being pulled in so many directions. I want to work on having better systems in place at work to help make my job more manageable. I will talk to management about getting support with this.

  • "It is important to me to feel secure financially, so I am going to start contributing 50 dollars a month to an emergency fund"

Using self-compassion does not mean we don't hold ourselves accountable, or we don't want to focus on self-improvement. It just means we do it in a different way. We can use curiosity and compassion to understand why we might be struggling with something. For example, I might identify I have had a very stressful year and to cope I would treat myself to Starbucks a little more often than I would like and that is having an impact on my finances. This impact on my finances is causing me more stress and anxiety because I don't know what I would do if an emergency situation came up. When I understand that, there are various different ways I might be able to address that concern in a compassionate and understanding way, rather than shaming myself. The focus may even shift to trying to working through the life stressors rather than focusing on the Starbucks at all which would naturally eliminate the reliance on Starbucks to cope.

Too Many Changes at Once

Sometimes with resolutions, we make promises to make drastic changes in all areas of our lives at once. We are going to eat better, exercise more, drink more water, be more productive, spend less, and socialize more. And we plan to do all of this starting January 1st. When we take on too much too quickly, it leaves us feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. This method of doing a complete life-style change overnight is not often achievable let alone sustainable. We might be able to do it for a certain amount of time but then inevitably we crash because it's too much at once.


Try Breaking Goals Down and Building on Them

It may be more helpful to break goals down into smaller goals and to focus on only one at a time. For example, if your goal is to add in more exercise, maybe break that down into a goal of doing 15-20 minutes of movement 2-3 times a week. Instead of an hour-long high intensity workout 5 times a week. That might be a really big shift from what you are used to. If your goal is to drink 8 cups of water a day but currently you are only drinking 2. Then maybe your goal is to start with increasing your water intake to 4 cups a day and building from there. This will make your goals feel a lot more achievable. I also caution you to pick only one or two goals to start with.


Pick a theme for the year

An alternative or even adjunct strategy for your resolutions may be to pick a theme for the year. The theme may be "financial security" or "taking care of my body" or "Improving my mental health." And then your goals for the year are all supportive of the same overall theme. This will also allow you to take one step at a time. For example, if your theme is your mental health then you might start tackling goals (one at time) that look like this:

  • Find a therapist

  • Do one self-care thing for myself a week or a day

  • Connect with my friends/family more frequently

  • Begin meditating for 10 minutes twice a week

Again, the key here is to start with one at a time, make sure you get to a stable place with this goal before adding more in.

Out-put vs In-put goals

Another potential problem with goals or resolutions is being too heavily based in out-put goals. Out-put goals are focusing on the final outcome of things rather than the process. The problem with this is most out-put goals are out of our control. An output goal is the final result you wish to achieve:

  • "I want to lose 30 pounds"

  • "I want to save $30, 000 by the end of the year"

  • "I want to have 3000 more followers on TikTok."

It is important to think about the end result you might like to see, but ultimately these things may not be in your control. There are way too many external factors that influence these things and if you don't achieve them, you may feel like a failure and spiral back into shame. In-put goals are things you ultimately have more control over and aren't dependent on the result. These types of goals help us to build more confidence, self-efficacy, and help us feel better. For example, if I am focused on gaining 3000 followers on TikTok, I may or may not achieve that based on a number of external factors that are completely out of my control. I can however control posting 2 times a week on TikTok and would feel good about the fact I was able to achieve that goal. That goal will support gaining followers on TikTok but I am not focused on a number that I cannot control when or if I will achieve it.

In-put goals look like:

  • "I want to move my body 3-4 times a week"

  • "I want to save 5% of my income for a down payment"

  • "I will post 2 times a week on TikTok"

The Problem with Toxic-Productivity / Self-Improvement

The final thing I want to talk about is the tendency in our westernized society to place far too much value in productivity, efficiency, improvement, and achievement. Yes, there is value to these things but lately I have been noticing this coming at a cost to all our other values. These values might be spending time with loved ones, feeling joy, or engaging in play and rest and relaxation. Not only is it causing us to disengage from other values, but it is causing increased anxiety and hypervigilance around things such as time or performance. It can cause us to feel anxious or guilty when we aren't being "productive" even when there isn't anything we need to do. Resolutions are another avenue in which our goals might be very heavily focused on productivity or self-improvement. That might feel okay for you, but I do encourage you to pause and reflect and see if your goals feel aligned with your values and if you might be overlooking some of your other values.

You might consider reminding yourself that productivity does not equal worthiness. You are worthy right now, in this moment, as you are, without having to change a thing.

 

If you are struggling with heightened anxiety or difficulty feeling motivated, we can help.


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Great post! I think it's a great time for self-reflection but we definitely put way too much pressure on our self and others as a society to set these giant goals that are often forgotten within a couple days! It's so important to take the time to sit down and reflect but also know that it's okay if that happens later on during the year and it's okay to shift goals to where we are in our journey as the year progresses.

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