The end of the year lends itself to celebration and indulgences. It’s only later, as New Year’s looms, that we turn our thoughts inward, hoping for the absolution of resolutions to clear away our excesses.
But do resolutions actually work? Take a moment to consider the following questions:
Luckily, I’m in the habit of writing things down, so I can look back and see all those promises to myself that didn’t last beyond a month or two… usually nebulous things like lose weight, get organized, or stop procrastinating. By Spring, those resolutions had been abandoned and forgotten, to avoid the guilt from not being able to make the changes I so desperately wanted.
What if there’s a better way to start our year? An easier, less punishing path to guide ourselves gently towards our goals with encouragement rather than shame?
A Resolution can be defined as
“A firm decision to do or not do something; the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.”
The tradition of making them exists across many faiths and cultures. Despite crowded schedules and busy lives, our spirituality and desire for personal growth encourage us to set aside time for reflection. In modern society, it’s easier to pinpoint areas in need of self-improvement than to articulate our values, or understand how we got off track in the first place.
Popular resolutions typically fall into goals surrounding:
Every year we make grand goals on January 1st…so why aren’t we getting any better at achieving them? As it turns out there are quite a few possible reasons. In my case, I’ve been derailed by all of them at various times.
In my determined years, I would develop elaborate lists of 6-12 goals, imagining that after the clock chimed midnight, I’d suddenly have all the time and motivation necessary to make them a success. In reality, I spread my energy too thin, and my willpower was soon depleted. The demands of normal life dashed my idealistic hopes, and I settled back into my usual habits.
I have also set goals so ambitious that it wasn’t reasonable to think I’d accomplish them over the course of one year, no matter how much time available to me. I set myself up for failure, and as soon as my inner perfectionist realized I couldn’t reach the finish line, I gave up the effort all together.
Many times my resolutions involved establishing better habits. However, when we fail to track what we do accomplish, our progress goes unnoticed, and so our gains are easily forgotten when life starts creeping in. You may not be making your goal of running five days a week, but knowing you’ve walked consistently three times is still better than going back to being a couch potato, right?
Most of my resolutions were made while the kids were still on Christmas vacation, when routines were slower and the ease of the post-holiday season still clung to the calendar. By the end of January, bills, deadlines, and family obligations had overwhelmed my motivation and my energy. Most years, I quickly forgot what I’d scribbled down in some random notebook because I never revisited my goals. I neglected to post reminders that would help me remember what I had been so determined to accomplish and why it mattered to me.
Think about the WHY behind your resolution, and ask yourself whether it developed from a “should” or a “must.”
According to Elle Luna, author of The Crossroads of Should and Must, Shoulds are “systems of thought that pressure and…coerce us to live our lives differently.” Whereas a Must is “who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self.”
For example, have you ever resolved to get ahead in a career that didn’t hold value for you? Or promised to go to the gym when exercising indoors felt stifling to your nature-loving inner child?
Conversely, have you ever resolved to spend time reflecting on the needs of your Highest Self?
A lot of what keeps us searching for resolutions to improve our lives is simply a matter of habit…it’s what we’ve always done. Friends or co-workers might ask us what we’re resolved to accomplish, and countless articles promise how we can do it better.
But deeper than that, the changing of the calendar provides a natural demarcation of time. As we write out the date, a fresh year encourages us to reflect back on what might have been and what we could have done differently. The New Year also shines brightly in our mind like a clean slate, allowing us to feel optimistic about starting over and getting things right this time.
This desire for self-improvement indicates that we have a strong belief in our ability to change. We continually experience the hope that we can become who we long to be.
That’s what kept me going year after year, even as the evidence of failed resolutions continued to mount.
Have you ever stopped to think about how your year might evolve if you didn’t impose resolutions upon it?
Take a moment to consider where your resolutions come from…how they spring into existence. I realized that all of mine—without exception—sprung from what I thought I “should” be doing. The self-critical voice inside my head liked to whisper:
You should exercise more and eat healthier.
You should keep your house cleaner.
You should spend more quality time with your kids.
When I observed my mental process of crafting resolutions, I noticed that I started with a long list of all my faults. And the myriad goals I developed from there often felt like harsh task-masters scolding me to get my act together.
I already knew, from watching my unwanted thoughts and behaviors, that I could do better. Yet making resolutions based on my perceived short-comings didn’t necessarily translate into improved actions.
So instead I decided to spend this time of year focused less on my shoulds and more on my MUSTS. Think about yours for a minute…
What do you want most?
What’s holding you back from going after it?
What would support you in pursuing your dreams?
What I realized, after decades of setting and breaking resolutions, is that I’m a more peaceful, self-confident, and joyful person when I don’t make them. So two years ago I stopped, cold-turkey. No more resolutions, no lofty goals, no shame-based habits to “fix my faults…”
I haven’t allowed myself to stop growing or become dissatisfied with life though. Rather, I chose to start living my life and making my choices with Intention.
I’d like to introduce you to my four step process for approaching the New Year…
Consider the upcoming year and pick a theme to create an intention for your energy and your life’s choices. Keep it simple, just a word or two. Make sure it reflects your values—what matters to you over the broader direction of your life.
Choose just a couple (no more than three) specific areas in your life where you’ll apply your theme. These will reflect your priorities, and may change over the course of the year. Having a focus reminds you where you want your intention to transform your life.
Decide when and how much time you’ll
find make to connect with what is truly important to you. Think tiny blocks of time. Five minutes in the morning to reflect on what your theme means to you, or a weekly contemplation of actions that supported your priorities. That’s all you need to keep your intention alive without being burdensome or becoming a “should.”
Set regular reminders on your calendar to think about how your theme and focus intersect within your life. Don’t over-extend yourself or make this more complicated than it needs to be—just a few moments are all that’s required. Writing down a couple words or sentences (in a journal or even right there on your calendar) will help measure your progress. By the end of the year, you’ll have a record of how far you’ve come, instead of a long-forgotten resolution that you couldn’t sustain.
When I started using this method to cultivate what I wanted for my New Year, I began with the intention to be OPEN. That’s a hugely vague concept, I know, but it expressed my desire to bring more connection and possibility into my life, without having to be specific about the sources.
My areas of focus included:
Personal Development: Being open to different ways to make peace with the things holding me back and to grow into a stronger, more confident woman.
Relationships: Keeping myself open to opportunities for making new friendships, deepening existing relationships, and connecting with people who challenge me.
Career Paths: Choosing to maintain an open mind as I moved towards re-entering the professional world, since my kids were no longer demanding every minute of my time.
The space for my intention started small…I wrote the word OPEN on a few post-its and placed them around the house. In my closet, so I would see it first thing in the morning. Over my desk, so I’d remember whenever I paused in my work. As the lock screen on my phone, to remind me what the year was supposed to be about.
I also committed to create a record of how my theme manifested over the year. I set aside time each month (15 minutes was enough) and meditated on what being open meant to me. To keep things simple, I summed up my monthly experiences within the space of a single notecard. Looking back, I see incredible progress that started with those Small Steps.
In regards to developing my career path, I seized many opportunities to be open by:
Upon reflection, I can see how I have revitalized my career path by leaping forward with an open heart and mind.
Find 20 minutes for deep reflection within the next 24 hours. That’s all you need to get started, and it’s short enough to fit into almost any day. Set a timer in increments of 5 minutes and answer the following questions, in writing:
What theme is calling me this year?
What priorities in my life need the most attention?
Where can I create the tiniest bit of space to focus on my Intention?
When will I check-in, and how will I remind myself?
Before you cap the pen, make a repeating event on your calendar or hang a few reminder notes around the house, to keep your intention alive throughout the year.
I’m not here to tell you what to do…only to describe what’s worked for me. If you’re rocking those resolutions, then by all means, keep at them.
But if sweeping goals and declarations aren’t motivating you, consider trying a focus on what truly matters.
As you sit down to contemplate what the upcoming year will bring to your life, remember this:
“Must is why we are here to begin with, and choosing it is the journey of our lives.”
~ Elle Luna
Where do you run into problems with keeping your resolutions? If you’re ready for something different this year, share your Intention for 2019 below…