I love the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Giving ourselves permission to start over, to try again, and to recommit to the habits and ways of being that improve our lives, seems healthy, wise, and self-honoring.
But like so many others within our culture, this tradition has morphed into something much less beautiful and meaningful than it has the potential to be. Thanks (in large part) to the shallow-sighted influence of consumer culture, this potentially powerful time of growth, change, and restoration has devolved into yet another excuse to beat ourselves up, to doubt our capabilities, and to question our self-worth.
Many of us don’t even bother to set goals or intentions because we’ve failed so thoroughly at following through in the past.
I see three main reasons that even our best intentions often fall flat:
1. Our desire for change is rooted in more self-loathing and perceived inadequacy than self-love.
It isn’t that we are overtly hateful in our resolution creating and intention setting, but that our underlying motivation, expectations of ourselves, and strategies for creating change are based on less-than-loving core beliefs:
There is something wrong with me.
I am not good enough.
I am not lovable or desirable as I am.
I am not worthy of joy or acceptance until I change.
When driven by the sense that we aren’t okay, or that we must work our way to worthiness, we feel very little satisfaction, even when we achieve our goals. With our lovability on the line, we operate from a primal place of fear (the fear of not being accepted), which overwhelms and drains us right from the start. Fear and inadequacy-based motivations are hard to sustain for long without burnout.
2. We haven’t gotten to the heart of what we really want.
Let’s say that I want to lose twenty pounds by June because I’m going on vacation this summer and want to be “beach ready.”
My surface level motivation, in this case, is a desire to look a certain way, presumably so that I might feel more confident (read: desirable, sexy, less disgusting or less ashamed) in my bathing suit. But even if I do manage to lose those twenty pounds, the chances of me feeling ashamed and inadequate when sunbathing alongside others whose bodies I perceive as more beautiful than my own, are great. This is because exercise alone couldn’t touch the core of my desires.
Alternatively, I can dig deeper into what I really want right from the start. If I know that I want to feel more confident in a bikini, I might ask myself, “What do I desire even more than this?” or “What is behind my desire for confidence in a bikini?” The idea is to keep asking myself this question until I get to the heart of my desires.
Beneath “confident in a bikini” I might discover a desire to feel good in my own skin. Beneath this I may find a desire for greater overall self-acceptance. Beneath this I may find a belief that I am unlovable unless desired by men or approved of by society.
Drilling down to the core of our desires, though vulnerable and sometimes painful, is a powerful way to stop the endless cycle of striving yet rarely arriving. “How do I really want to feel?” is an essential question for anyone searching for deep contentment and true fulfillment in this lifetime.
3. We set ourselves up to fail by pretending we’re superhuman.
One of the most common ways we inadvertently sabotage ourselves is to set grand goals and then fail to create a framework for the support of those goals. We hold ourselves to superhuman standards, then become disappointed with ourselves when we realize, yet again, that we are merely mortal.
Achieving our goals requires that we be realistic about where we are in our lives, aware and accepting of our needs and limitations, and honest with ourselves about the ways we’re wired.
It is not realistic to expect that we are going to have a super tidy and organized home the same year we’ve given birth to twins.
It is unkind to expect ourselves to be good at every part of an entrepreneurial endeavor and never outsource a thing because we think we should be able to do it all.
It is a recipe for disappointment to commit to a daily exercise routine without also planning for and setting up the childcare necessary to make this possible.
It is self-loving and self-respecting, on the other hand, to give ourselves the support and permission we need in order to succeed. Permission to join a gym, permission to hire a coach or therapist, permission to schedule regular date nights, or permission to take naps when needed, is often as essential to our success as anything.
We are not superhuman. We aren’t meant to do it all, nor to do it all alone.
Sure, it takes self-discipline to follow through with our goals and intentions, but self-discipline rooted in shame, self-loathing, and a sense of unworthiness is a completely different thing than self-discipline rooted in self-love and self-respect. The former leads to disappointment, and the latter to growth, wholeness, and healing.
Wishing you a joyful, nourishing new year,
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**Photo credit goes to the amazing Jote Khalsa.