How and why should anyone keep New Year’s resolutions is a frequent question in my business coaching sessions around this time of the year. And it’s a valid one, isn’t it?
We want to keep learning to lead our lives better—eat less meat, less sugar, walk more, go to the gym, spend more time with our family and friends, read more, and spend less time on our phones.
The goal is good.
I’m sure you have a zillion other items on your wish-list :) And yes, the New Year is indeed a perfect time to evaluate where we stand, how life is going, where we want to be, and what we want to achieve in the year(s) to come.
At least that’s the feeling before we start surfing the endless online click-bait lists of “resolutions-that-will-change-your-life-next-year.”
But it’s a trap. We all know it’s a trap. Yet, somehow, it fools us every year.
New Year’s resolutions are exactly what you don’t want to do.
What our New Year’s resolutions really tell us is this: “You’re not good enough.” This is why they don’t inspire us for long and leave us feeling even worse.
Resolutions are like the world’s worst partner: “Hey, baby—if you change, I might love you.”
When we make our New Year’s resolutions, we’re essentially saying, “it would be better if you were different than you actually are.” The tradition of New Year’s resolutions simply normalizes and perpetuates this misguided thinking of being “not good enough”. The negativity it engenders is more destructive than helpful.
Comparing ourselves with role models, following other people’s self-improvement standards, and coming up with New Year’s Resolutions—these efforts amount to searching for the key to our potential in the wrong place.
I love to recall this story about an older woman on her way home one evening. She finds her neighbor, a nice young woman, outside her apartment near the street lamp, searching for something.
The older lady stops. “What have you lost? Let me help you!”
The younger woman looks up briefly and replies, “I’ve lost my key!” then continues searching.
“Where have you lost it?”
The younger one replies, “over there, in the bushes.”
“Then why are you searching here and not there, where you lost the key?” asks the older woman.
“Because here I have light. Over there, it’s dark.”
How can I grow and improve without setting resolutions?
It’s tempting to look under the light, to compare ourselves with others, to do what they did to be even more successful. It’s easier and more comfortable. But it’s ultimately a waste of time. Looking inward is a greater challenge. It seems dark and mysterious and no one else is there to show us the way—but it’s the only place we can find what we’re seeking.
So how can we go about searching for the key in the right place—within ourselves?
There are two ways we can look at ourselves.
New Year’s resolutions mostly arise from the first way of thinking: “I’m not good enough,” We look at how other people became successful, we compare, we dwell on our flaws. It’s an almost surgical perspective: cut this out, fix that, sew up the mess. That’s one way.
The other way is to assume “it’s all there”—that is, we are exactly who we’re supposed to be—and the task is not to change who we are but to keep discovering all that we are and thus give ourselves the opportunity to thrive.
Instead of coming up with New Year’s Resolutions do this instead.
Give yourself some time and space for what I call, simply, “The Walk.”
“The Walk” goes like this:
First, go into nature. Be on your own, without a cell phone or any other potential distractions.
Take your time.You might want to give yourself a window of at least two hours.
Find an area where you can walk by yourself—a path, an open field, or a hiking trail. Define a specific starting point and mark it. You will come back to this point.
Think about what you’d like to change about yourself. Go ahead—let yourself think about those things you usually write as New Year’s resolutions.
Think about what you would like to be less of, more of, or how different you’d like to be.
Speak those changes you’d like to make out loud, one at a time, and consider how that feels. Then take one step forward.
Say, for example, “I’d like to spend more time with my family.” Experience how that idea feels. Then take one step.
You think, speak out loud, and make a step. This is how you proceed, until you can’t think of anything else. Take your time. Really empty the bucket, so to speak. Surprise yourself! Surprise yourself with all those things that you might want to change about yourself.
Once your bucket is empty, take one more last step. Look around. Take in your surroundings, breathe, feel nature around you. Follow your breath, the inflow, the outflow. Feel your feet on the ground, your body, just standing there. Watch your thoughts, no reaction needed.
Then turn around. You’re about to go all the way back, back to your starting point.
This time, think: “What makes me unique is ____, and I thank myself for this.” Think about what you have already achieved, what you love to do, what you thank yourself for.
Again, speak those things out loud. See how each one feels, then take one step ahead. Like this: “What makes me unique is my big nose, and I thank myself for this.” Pay attention to how that feels. Then take one step.
Do this until you have reached your starting point. If you feel like you’re running out of things that make you unique, stay with the question—again, you’ll be surprised what will come up.
Once you have reached your starting point, take one final step further. Then direct your attention towards nature—hear the wind in the trees, absorb the air, the scent. Feel how the earth carries you, notice how cold, warm, or hot you feel. Feel.
With this exercise, you’ll plant a seed, you’ll start the second way of thinking—“it’s all there and all I have to do is to discover it and let it bloom.”
Being thankful for our uniqueness and discovering ourselves in this uniqueness is what allows our potential to bloom and thrive. So whenever the first, trained way of thinking sneaks back into your mind, thank yourself for your awareness—for noticing it—and then move on. There’s no need to take it seriously or believe in it anymore.
What are your experiences with New Year’s resolutions? How do you go about discovering all that you are? What makes you thrive? If work and career is a focus, consider reading my blog on work-life balance to understand how to make the most of your quality time and life.
(Credits to Mark Bilbrey, Editor)