One of my earliest memories of making a New Year's resolution was when I was a child and resolved to stop sucking my thumb. I wasn't successful, and I didn't actually kick this habit until I was much older than a thumb-sucker should be. As I grew up, my resolutions might have changed — go to the gym, eat more healthily, make a bigger effort to keep in touch with friends — but my lack of commitment did not.
I haven't made any New Year's resolutions for years. I found that my resolutions were made with good intentions, but they were so broad that they almost didn't seem like tangible goals. So for example, if my New Year's resolution was to make healthier lifestyle choices, I might eagerly imagine a future version of me who is fitter and healthier. But without mapping out a plan to make this a reality (take an exercise class once a week, bring a packed lunch to work), it seemed too big a goal to achieve.
"I found myself expecting immediate results, and when that didn't happen, I wrote off my failed resolution."
I was asking myself to change long-term habits immediately. We live in a culture where we have become accustomed to immediate access and results. Like a spoilt child, we want what we want when we want it, and we use our technology to get it now. I found myself expecting immediate results, and when that didn't happen, I wrote off my failed resolution.
My approach to making New Year's resolutions was also not good for my self-esteem. The clue is in the word "resolution" — a strong decision that will resolve or fix an issue. It's not so much that I have a problem with the idea of resolutions themselves, but I do think that my ability to achieve them depends on how I set them up and the language I use to describe them. My resolutions were inspired by where I thought I had "failed" or made "bad" choices earlier in the year, and so rather than being motivational, they became more like constant reminders of all the things I hadn't done.
So I have started a new habit. Now, instead of making New Year's resolutions, I take the time to reflect on the year gone by. I do a stock take of everything I have achieved — and I do mean everything, from winning an award for my short film to traveling solo on a plane for the first time. I am as proud of myself for trusting my instincts and turning down a job offer as I am of having committed to going to the gym twice a week. It is important that I include all forms of achievements that mean something to me, because otherwise I could still fall into the danger of thinking that end results are more important than the effort it took to make them a reality.
"The beauty of being able to take an inventory of the year gone by is that you gain perspective."
The beauty of being able to take an inventory of the year gone by is that you gain perspective. I can look at the areas where I can improve and be able to set up practical actions that I can follow in the new year. Note there's no vocabulary about "fixing" or "solving." The new year might be a great motivating factor for some. New year, new start. But for me, when I look back over this past year, it empowers me to step forward into the new year with a new appreciation of my tenacity and capabilities. After all, the person we are at the beginning of the year is different to who we are come New Year's Eve.
Actually, maybe I do have one sneaky resolution this year. It's to not wait until the end of the year to review my successes or my areas for improvement. Resolutions are a great way to set up good intentions, but it's the practices that we develop throughout the rest of the year that will enable us to keep them.