From running a marathon with no prior running experience to going vegan, gluten and sugar-free, whenever I’ve previously attempted to set new year’s resolutions I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve big goals in twelve months or under. In the past, the weight of these lofty resolutions felt so heavy that instead of working towards them, I avoided them completely and never made any progress. By the end of every year, I would feel a deep sense of failure instead of celebrating how I had grown and what I had accomplished whenever the clock struck twelve.
Last year I decided to try something new—I decided I would pick two broad intentions to cultivate in 2018, and let them unfold organically. Thinking long and hard about what I wanted to bring into my life, I chose the words “acceptance” and “abundance”. These two words became my anchors in a time when I was feeling very lost with my career. And whenever I was engulfed in immense fear or anxiety, I would repeat them in my mind, and slowly come out of whatever darkness had been plaguing me.
Overtime, I noticed my internal chatter started to shift and grow in a different, more positive direction, an evolution I believe was due to a mix of magic and logic—I established more self-compassion, which ultimately led to an abundance of deeply enriching experiences. Now looking back on everything I accomplished in the past year, I feel prouder of what I achieved and less hard on myself across the board.
So, how do you set realistic new year’s resolutions? Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist and the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girl's Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are, confirms that in order to establish attainable new year’s goals, we need to start thinking about them differently. “Strategize ways to accomplish or attain what you want in the ways that work for your personality, not your friends or the media’s ways,” she says.
Beyond this, Roberts suggests spending time examining what behaviors, thinking patterns or previous experiences have historically gotten in the way of achieving one’s goals. For many of us, this might include comparing ourselves to others but Roberts says, “We need to be less attached to how it works for others and find actions that work best for us.” In this way, it’s important not to make ourselves miserable trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of themselves.
Moreover, instead of focusing on a specific goal, Roberts suggests figuring how you want to feel. By selecting the word “acceptance” I was inadvertently able to allow myself to establish more self-love, largely because I was kinder to myself and more realistic by not employing an all-or-nothing mentality.
In order to be more mindful and gentle in our approach to new years resolutions, notice the language you use when you talk to yourself. “When we use negative and critical or fear-based thinking to attempt to motivate us, it becomes self-sabotage,” she says. Whenever we we are plagued with negative self-talk, our brains will fight back, creating a stream of anxious thinking.
Beyond this, Roberts believes it’s helpful to stay open to possibilities rather than force ourselves to commit to one singular outcome. For example, instead of saying you want to get published in a specific magazine, consider what steps you would need to take to get published in a magazine that vibes with you. As such, when we get attached to certain outcomes, it creates a fear-based mindset, which is much less likely to motivate us.
With all of this said, try focusing on taking small steps towards your desired goal this year, consider why you want said goal, and how you hope to feel as you work towards that accomplishment. That’s what will really will motivate us to make changes. And as Roberts says, “Real motivation comes from noticing how you want to feel today on the path to your bigger goal.” By not seeing resolutions in such a black and white way, we create more opportunity for self-exploration and compassion, which is ultimately what brings our lives deeper meaning.
Up for doing it differently in 2019? Let us know what intentions you’re setting this year and how you hope to achieve them.
Photo by Lauren Tepfer
Sara Radin is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York who frequently writes about culture, mental health, and identity. You can link to my Instagram and website - sararradin.com