Oh, yes, it's that time of year again! Resolutions abound, and most of us have a laundry list of things that we'd like to improve (or ignore!) or projects that we'd like to start. New Year's Resolutions are opportunistic ways for us to jump on the bandwagon of making up for the things we think we should have done, or to make amends with what we think we did "wrong" over the last year. This creates a period of motivation and excitement, only to leave us guilt ridden and ashamed when our resolutions get thrown into the same heaping pile of failure as prior years' efforts.
How many of us actually make and commit to a resolution successfully for twelve full months, and beyond? It may help us all to understand that the New Year's Resolution is more of a dirty set-up than a personal motivator! Let's make one blanket-resolution to stop making resolutions, and instead make the commitment to identify and understand our wants and needs and then make small steps to improve our lives daily.
Resolutions are often a set-up because most are unrealistic. If we don’t normally go to the gym, and then simply resolve to do so in the New Year, we’ve skipped important steps in creating a place in our lives to make going to the gym actually possible. We must also establish if we really even want to go to the gym in the first place, or if we’d be better off with another form of movement or exercise. If we’d be happier running outside, or hiking, then why would we sign up for a gym? Because others do so? If we regularly eat sweets or unhealthy foods, or if we smoke or indulge in other behaviors that harm us, like unhealthy relationships; we can’t cut them off cold-turkey because there may be a component that we have failed to consider: mental or physical addiction. Old habits die hard, whether they’re things that we do or things that we don’t do.
Add unrealistic expectations or goals to the fact that many resolutions are made in a negative form to begin with, or from the standpoint of what we must deprive ourselves of, and you've got a recipe for failure (and a brownie binge or two!). If we resolve to not eat sweets or unhealthy foods, to not smoke, to not curse, to not blah blah blah, we're starting off in the negative. Rather, we can create goals with the concept of "adding in/crowing out", which was a major component of my own Integrative Nutrition training. This basically means that rather than taking away something perceived as bad and saying that we can’t have such, which creates feelings of failure and guilt when we inevitably “cheat”, we can add in more of what we want or feel good about in order to crowd out that which we want less of. If we want to clean up a habit of cursing (a popular resolution!), we can have a "word of the week" initiative where we learn and practice a new, creative, and expressive word each week, which would then be incorporated into our vocabulary to crowd out the curse words. Doesn’t that sound like it would be more effective and productive than simply saying, “I’m not going to curse anymore”? If we just decide not to curse, without thinking of what we’ll replace the curses with, we’ll be, well… s**t out of luck (pun clearly intended). Furthermore, if we want to eat fewer sweets, we can think of healthier options to add into our diets to crowd out the sweets, like a handful of fresh blueberries, plump dates, or 30 minutes of kissing! Yes, kissing! We don't always crave sugar just because we need sugary foods!
Why do we actually do the things we do that we then resolve to stop doing? Why do we not do what we know we want to do or need to do? The answer is often that we're not feeling fulfilled. We may indulge in brownies because we need some sweet comfort which then creates a sugar addiction in the body and a vicious craving cycle! Brownies taste good and they fulfill a need in the moment that's not being fulfilled elsewhere either by food or other areas of life. We can identify patterns of hindrance by paying close attention to our habits and cravings, when we do or have them, and how we feel prior to, while, and after we do or have them. Keeping a journal may help. We must identify what’s really behind our daily habits and cravings, because they’re often indirect. Patterns can be broken once they've been clearly identified and understood.
Most importantly, we must give plenty of honest thought to what we truly want in the New Year and beyond. In the spirit of staying positive, let's think about what we want to do, and of course, what is doable for us; not what we can’t or shouldn’t do or what’s unrealistic for us. How many of us know in our hearts what we want on a deep level, as opposed to what we think we should want or do, or what others (including the media) influence us to want or to do? We may have been conditioned by parents, education, media, religion, friends, and/or coworkers to maintain ideals that are in direct opposition to our true selves. Think of the doctor who wanted to be a reporter but attended medical school because she was expected to do so. My heart goes out to the over-worked corporate executive who is trying to catch up to that bigger house or faster car while his love and natural talent for painting is desperately seeking at least 15 minutes of fame.
We can start by making a list of everything we want now or have always wanted, in all areas of our life: joyful activities, career, personal relationships, diet and physical health, spirituality, whatever. Then, we can narrow down those few things that we want to manifest the most immediately, and write down one action step that we can realistically take to move us one step closer to each goal. Then, write steps two, three, four, and so on. Procrastinators and/or those who are struggling with feelings of insecurity must remember that they deserve and are worthy of health and happiness, and making deadlines for each action step may help to complete steps to then transition to the next steps.
Identifying what we truly want and need, and then making it happen can be accomplished with the right attention and attitude. Of course, support is a necessity and to deny that is to deny what we are by nature: social creatures who thrive on positive reinforcement! As a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, I work with people to help them identify and reach their own specific health goals by creating customized health and wellness programs. I work as a mentor and resource who thrives on the success of my clients. There’s nothing we can’t do, and nothing that we can’t have if we are willing to go for it! So, exit unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions, and enter long term self-awareness and success!
Here’s to your health and wellness in the New Year and thereafter!