So here we are heading into a new year, and it might surprise you to know that despite my love of all things planning and change making, I’m not that into new year’s resolutions. In general, I do like New Year’s Eve. Before we had the kids, it was my favourite night of the festive season; fireworks, drinking, dancing, being with a big group of friends- I loved it!
But, the whole ‘New Year, New You’ thing that seems to cling to the concept of New Year’s resolutions doesn’t sit well with me. It feels arbitrary and forced and consequently is unlikely to have personal relevance, meaning or value. This, I believe, is not only less than helpful in terms of achieving goals, but it can make us feel worse about aspects of our lives that previously we felt ok about.
So, first things first, do you want to make a new year’s resolution? Are there changes you would like to make and now seems an opportune moment? If yes, read on, I’ve got some ideas about how to make resolutions more personal and more sustainable. If not, read on if you choose to but if not, see you next year!
And this is where I go back to where I always start; reflection. Before starting to make a resolution or any kind of plan really, I think we need to make sure we’re linking what we think we want to change to our actual lives. Sometimes, I think we’re (maybe just me???) so engaged in the media narrative about health and well being as focussed on healthier eating, less alcohol, more exercise, more ‘me time’, it can be tempting to attach ourselves to these values and give ourselves resolutions like:
do more exercise
make time for me
These are often well intentioned and I’m not going to argue that they would be bad for you, what I would ask is: why does this matter to you and how will it fit into your life?
How will you feel if you drink less? What difference would it make to you in your life?
Same for exercise - what’s it for? Is it for physical health? Mental health? Fun? Socialising? Relaxation? All of the above?
What is ‘me time’ for you? How does this relate to who you are and how you want to feel?
How can you find time for any of this in the context of your your daily and weekly habits and routines?
I guess what I’m saying is whatever your resolution is:
stop and think about where it’s come from.
Is it something that feels relevant and important to you or is it something you think you ‘ought to’ change? It might be a bit of both which is fine. The key, I think, is to find the bit that’s relevant to you in your own personal circumstances; how does this resolution fit with who you are, and how you want your life to be?
It’s a dynamic interplay between what you want to do differently, your personal qualities and challenges, your physical and social environments and the occupation itself.
Working out some of the underlying meaning and links between your resolution and your history, identity and daily life can not only help you make the overall resolution more meaningful to you, it’ll help you plan how you actually intend to do the things you need to do to achieve the end result.
The action plan formats I’ve talked about before are in the file share section of the website (and example below) and can be really helpful in unpicking the realities of a new year’s resolutions. The form organises your thinking and asks you to consider the person-environment-occupation elements of your resolution or plan. By doing this you can consciously think about the purpose and values of your goals and work out the things that’ll help, the potential challenges and some strategies to manage these.
This will mean you end up with a more detailed and more realistic plan to achieve your goals.
It’s not guaranteed, nobody can see into the future (except Mystic Meg of course!) so planning doesn’t cover every possible eventuality but if you plan to reflect on your experience, you create a plan to support you to manage the possible challenges and set backs from the very start. So you don’t do what the majority of us do: give it all up by February 1st!
Finally, I’m also going to suggest that if you're going to do resolutions; include some joy, peace, rest, fun. We all need to focus on the possibility of good stuff given the year we've had so why make ourselves more miserable with worthy resolutions? Make your resolutions so they can lift you up and bring a smile, not create another thing to beat yourself up about.
Take my example of exercising more; this is something that is ever present on my to do list. And it might be argued that it’s probably a good idea for lots of health reasons but actually ‘Do more exercise’ as a resolution wouldn’t end up with me doing more exercise. I have little motivation for ‘exercise’ as a generic concept. I struggle to find energy and time to do anything extra in my day and often don’t prioritize exercise. Plus, I’m generally fit and well enough to do the things I need to do to feel ok. So, where’s the motivation? Yes, I know I ‘ought’ to exercise for physical and mental health benefits but since when does knowing we ‘ought’ to do something make us actually do it?
A better approach for me is to decide that I’ll do Pilates at least once a week and walk once a fortnight (either with a friend or listening to the radio).
Pilates relaxes me and makes my body feel less achy and tense. Walking means I get outside, I catch up with a friend or get to be by myself for a bit and I get some time away from the physical as well as the social space of home (super important given our experiences of previous lockdowns and the potential of moving up the tier system in the coming months).
I know from experience that if I get into a routine of doing these two things that are relevant and meaningful to me and that are about more than ‘exercise’, I’ll be more likely to choose to do other types of exercise because I have the evidence that it feels good to move my body.
So, by creating a meaningful and achievable resolution with value beyond ‘exercise’, I will, ultimately, exercise more but I won’t resent it or feel like a failure if I don’t get there straight away.
By creating a realistic time frame and expectation of myself, I allow myself to create the evidence of why this matters to me and how it feels. This then gives meaning and motivation to exercise in general and makes it more likely to happen.
This is obviously just my way of working, and you’ll have different things that matter to you and make you feel good. But, I do believe that by focussing our resolutions on our own lives and our own values, we are more likely to make sustainable changes and more importantly, make changes that make us smile more!
Happy New Year, fingers crossed for less worry, more fun and much, much, MUCH more chance of hugs and hang outs with friends and family at some point in 2021.
Thanks for reading