We usher in each New Year with hope in our hearts, tasty finger food in our fingers and colourful explosions in the sky. But each New Year it doesn’t work out quite as we expected.
One moment we are marvelling at spectacular fireworks; the next we are trying to comfort a petrified dog. One moment we are snacking on a tasty dip; the next we are trying to remove an annoying guacamole stain. One moment we are proudly showing off how we can still do the worm; the next we are having a back spasm and asking for assistance to be rolled into a position which isn’t quite so painful.
Even if we do manage to make it through the night having a grand old time, someone is bound to come in and ruin it all, by asking “so, what’s your New Year’s resolution?”
When put on the spot, it can be hard to come up with something worthwhile and not completely unrealistic and ill-conceived. Last year, I resolved to trade my car in for an elephant (apparently elephants cost far more than a beaten-up old Mazda and are really hard to find finance for).
Most of us are terrible at making resolutions and even worse at keeping them. Classically, we make a resolution to get super-fit and get as far as purchasing a gym membership. The next year we resolve to actually use the gym membership. The following year we resolve to finally stop the direct debit for the gym membership that we have been wasting all that money on.
For anyone looking to escape this annual loop of poor planning, inevitable failure and bitter self-recrimination, here are a few helpful suggestions.
Start from worthy, then consider what’s truly important to you
Often resolutions are made as a form of social self-criticism and vague aspirational intent. When we tell our friends we are going to grow an organic vegetable garden, learn the guitar and do sit-ups until we have the abs of a Hemsworth, we may not realistically intend to do these things. Instead we are announcing that we too are failing horribly at life… but there’s still hope we will turn it all around and become the wonderfully virtuous/intelligent/beautiful/healthy/enlightened/rock star/movie star/God-like creature that we ‘should’ be.
A New Year’s resolution should not be about ‘fixing’ ourselves or living up to some ridiculous ideal. Instead, it’s important to remember that each of us is already worthy, just as we are.
With this as the starting point, we can come up with resolutions that are far more interesting, exciting and aligned with our actual values. Instead of focusing on perceived shortcomings, we can begin to focus on doing what truly matters most to us.
Take small, meaningful steps and celebrate your achievements
It’s incredibly hard to stay fully committed to doing big things we only semi-care about. After all, snails really like organic vegetables, learning the guitar takes loads of practise and sit-ups are rather painful and boring. Only if it’s truly important to us will we persist.
If you really do want to master the guitar, it’s best not to make a resolution to play guitar better than Hendrix. Instead, you might make a resolution to take your guitar down from the attic and get it re-strung. Once you’ve achieved that, make another resolution to book in some lessons. Next you may resolve to learn some chords and then a whole song. Then you may choose to perform that song in front of some supportive people who won’t boo you for hitting a bum note or dropping your plectrum.
Change occurs best with small, achievable goals. If you focus on your guitar abilities relative to Hendrix, you will probably get frustrated and give up rather quickly. If you take small steps and celebrate each of your achievements, you are likely to continue to make meaningful progress.
Make it non-negotiable
Our dreams and desires have wings. They can lift us up… or they can escape us completely while we’re bogged down doing everything else.
At the end of your life the Queen is not going to pop by and present you with a medal for getting all your chores done, so you may as well take some time out to do that thing you actually care about. Prioritise this precious thing and make it a non-negotiable part of how you live life.
In the end no one wants their tombstone to read “Here lies (your name). Wanted to be an artist but work was really busy and there were all those bills and a mortgage and so much general adulting and you know, these bins don’t empty themselves.”
Do what matters most, then look after the rest of it.
Have a plan for the difficult days
Hopefully you jumped out of bed this morning, bursting with enthusiasm and excitement, singing “I’m walking on sunshine” as you danced down the hall. Hopefully you are breezing through your day with absolutely no obstacles in your path. Sadly, that’s often not how life works and unless you have discovered a secret switch with which you can turn your willpower up to 11, you will need a plan for the days when it’s not all going right.
Many of us tend to choose resolutions around cutting out our go-to avoidance strategies. We may want to stop drinking, smoking, gambling or overeating. Without a proper alternate plan for stressful, difficult days, it’s very easy to fall straight back in to these habits.
Even if you slip up, it’s no reason to give up. It is however a reminder that you may need better plans in place for all those not-so-good days. When developing a plan, consider: what acts of self-care will you include? Who will you reach out to? How you will reward yourself for sticking with it and doing what’s important?
Don’t go it alone
Telling every one of your nearest and dearest about your plans has one glorious advantage – there’s no backing out. When asked “how is that thing going?” you will want to be able to report progress, rather than explain why you’ve decided to abandon your dream like it was a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel.
Ask your loved ones to hold you accountable, or better still, ask them to be involved. Reaching goals together can be a lot more fun. It is also far easier to stay on track if you don’t want to let someone else down.
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As we come together to mark another orbit of the sun, we would like to remind you to be brave, be bold and most importantly, be true to yourself. We wish you a very happy New Year and hope these snippets of advice will help take you in exactly the direction you want!