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:
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.
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.
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,
**Photo credit goes to the amazing Jote Khalsa.
I’m finally coming around to this idea… Now is not a time to take stock of all the ways in failing and want to do better next year. Instead I’ve decided my main resolution is to have more fun. I’m often too busy “mothering” in all the ways that I don’t have fun in any way. With this in mind, when my four year old saw me folding socks and said, “look, mom has a sock hand!” I took the opportunity to chase and tickle him with the sock monster ????
I needed to hear this. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been thinking a lot about losing weight in the new year, and I know this is rooted in self-loathing and fear. Digging deeper: Why do I want to lose weight? Because after a difficult divorce, I’m afraid no one will love me again. I’m afraid that I need to find a partner who is financially well-off, because I don’t trust my own ability to make enough money to support my children. And on top of that, I don’t trust that there is any potential mate who will see me as beautiful just the way I am. It would be a lot easier if I was really just concerned about my weight.
I’m just getting around to reading this post (645 unread emails in the personal inbox had me like “whoa”), and I had to reach out to thank you for these words. You have really hit the nail on the head here–I was just thinking about the bikini thing yesterday and investigating what it would require for me to be happy as I am at ANY GIVEN MOMENT, not just when I’m in the best shape. It reminds me of some advice our mutual friend gave me which is to constantly ask myself the question, “what am I REALLY up to?”
Anyway, I thank you for your wisdom and honesty. Love your work. Keep doing you!