Can we just skip the New Year's resolutions this time around and do something productive instead? I mean, seriously, New Year's resolutions are pretty much worthless.
Despite being a time honored tradition that damn near everyone participates in, making resolutions to better yourself in the upcoming year is practically a complete waste of time and energy. Here's why:
1. New Year's Day is basically just an arbitrary, externally imposed date that we have somehow collectively decided is the best single day of the year to change habits. This begs the obvious question: Why have you waited until now to make this "resolution" and improve your life? Why January 1st instead of June 5th or October 22nd? Dare I say that maybe this "resolution" isn't really all that important to you after all? *GASP!* If it was something that you really, truly, honestly and deeply valued, wouldn't you have done it already?
2. Resolutions are often based on success-or-failure, all-or-nothing ideals that are extremely difficult to achieve and maintain. Here are some examples: "I'm done with all processed foods!" "I am going to run three miles every single day!" "I'm going to stop yelling at my kids!" While these are all fantastic things to strive for, they only become realistic goals if you are able to make sweeping lifestyle changes to allow for success. Quite frankly, setting yourself up for failure isn't exactly the best way to kick off the New Year. And speaking of failure ...
3. Since everyone else is failing miserably, it's easy to give yourself permission to fail right alongside them. Here's the real deal bottom line: Upwards of 90% of all New Year's resolutions are broken at some point in time, 50% of them left lying in a trash pile before the calendar flips over to February. Everyone around you will likely start sharing their "failure stories" loudly and humorously, almost like a badge of anti-honor. This social cueing not only gives you permission to toss your own resolutions aside, it actually goes one step further and subversively encourages you to join their ranks in order to avoid the eye rolls and heavy sighs you'd be subjected to when sharing your own successes.
Instead of jumping on the New Year's resolution hamster wheel year after year, you can opt out of the entire disappointing process by refocusing your attention and energy elsewhere. Here are three surefire tips to help you start the new year off on the right foot, with optimism and gratitude:
1. Take stock of what went really well in your life this past year and give yourself permission to sit with your achievements. Even if your year had more downs than ups, there were at least a few things that went well and that deserves some acknowledgement. Our brains are trained to point out the negatives, so now is a great time to counteract that tendency by intentionally searching for the positive. Set aside 30 minutes of quiet time, turn on some relaxing background music, pour yourself a beverage, grab a pen and paper, and start putting your successes in writing. Did you take any trips that you enjoyed? Spend time with specific people that really brought you joy? Complete any projects at work or home? Engaged in any self-care activities that brought a sense of peace? Read any great books? Try to make your list as long and exhaustive as possible, hang it up somewhere you can see it, and go back to review it whenever you need a little psychological boost.
2. Think about the people who were your biggest cheerleaders over the past year and let them know how much you appreciate them. Odds are you have at least a handful of supporters in your life, some of whom you may have inadvertently overlooked in the everyday hustle and bustle of life. Maybe it's an old friend from college that texts on occasion to check in, a coworker who stepped up to cover your ass in a meeting, or a mom friend who always has extra snacks on play dates. Now is a great time to reach out and let them know how much their support has meant to you! Even the smallest of gestures, like a quick phone call or a heartfelt note, can make a big difference in how they feel about you and about themselves. If you are able, offer to treat them to a coffee date or evening out so you can talk about how awesome they are and show your gratitude in person.
3. Take a look at whether your current lifestyle reflects your values. Are you living a life that allows you to prioritize the things that are most important to you? Are you spending your time, money, and energy on the people, activities, and things that bring you the most joy? Put on your detective hat and look for patterns in your daily schedule and your spending habits. Are you "wasting" your precious resources of time and money on things that really don't matter to you at all? If so, this is a great time to start brainstorming little changes that you can make over time to put your "real life" more in alignment with your "ideal life."
Instead of setting yourself up for failure this time around, focus your attention to the positives in your life. By doing so, you'll be more likely to enter the New Year with optimism and in turn you'll be more likely engage in more healthy and helpful habits overall in the upcoming year.
Jill Wiliams, LCSW is the owner of Flourish Counseling & Wellness in Asheville, NC, where she provides counseling to children and adults struggling with anxiety or trauma-related stress. You can learn more about Jill at www.flourishasheville.com.