I’m just gonna say it: I hate new years resolutions. I think they’re the worst. And no, I’m not just bitter about my failed attempt to totally transform my life in 2014 (hey, I was only 11, give me a break!). But I don’t hate them for what they are- goals are good things. I hate them for the way they make us think.
New years resolutions perpetuate an all-or-nothing mentality that is as ridiculous as it is detrimental to our mental well-being. The idea that we have to do something perfectly or not at all causes us to believe that one mistake signifies instant failure. That if we can’t do it right all the time, there’s no point in trying in the first place.
Now, this mentality might work if you’re a superhuman robot who never has bad days and can afford the “perfect” lifestyle we see advertised so often in the media. But what happens when you wake up in excruciating arthritis pain at 4 am and can’t make it to the gym? Or you only have the energy to make a frozen pizza for dinner instead of spending hours in the kitchen. Or, oh, I don’t know, a global pandemic makes it so that you essentially can’t go places and see people for 10+ months. Does one skipped workout, or frozen meal, or bad day make you a failure? Of course not. But our little friends called new years resolutions seem to think they do. Which is why they suck.
We aren’t built to be all-or-nothing beings. We have good hours and bad hours within each day. We face challenges that tear us down but also bring a new perspective. We feel pain, and sadness, and fear, but at the same time, we can still sense the goodness that still exists in our world. Life isn’t black and white. It’s not all great or all awful. Rather, it’s a mix of both.
I hate feeling sick. I hate waking up feeling like I was run over by a truck and dumped into the ocean where I spent 2 hours treading water. I hate the physical, mental, and emotional toll that living with IBD takes on me. But I don’t hate my disease or the life that it has caused me to live. I don’t hate the sense of empathy I’ve gained, the people that I’ve been able to meet, and the impact that I’ve been able to have because of it. I cherish those things, and I can cherish them while still hating the way that I feel.
So how to we handle a time when everyone seems to be making huge “all-or-nothing” goals that we know will only hurt us in the end? How can we motivate ourselves to try new things and be open to change without feeling like a failure every time we slip up? As I mentioned before, it’s not the idea of making goals that harms us in the long run, but the way we think about them. So I present to you, my totally awesome way to set goals without feeling like a complete and utter failure when you make a mistake or two (or three or four or seven) along the way! Now say that 10 times fast.
Here’s how it works: stop making new years resolutions, and instead, start making intentions. See how much nicer that word even sounds? Intentions, by definition, are things you aim to do. Think about shooting a basketball. Sure, you have the size of the rim, the heigh of the hoop, how far back you’re standing, and if it’s really windy outside determining if your shot will go in. But those things are all out of your control. The one thing that is up to you is your aim. So in this new year, don’t worry about setting goals for things you can’t control. As we saw in 2020, stuff happens, and sometimes, there’s not much we can about it. So forget about resolutions, and focus on intentions. Focus on aiming for the things you can control.
In addition to that, make those intentions broad. Setting a goal to do a six step skincare routine three times a day is intimidating and likely not going to happen. So instead, make one of your intentions to prioritize self care. Decide to do one, or two, or three things just for yourself every day. Maybe most days that looks like doing your multistep skin care routine, and that’s great! But on the days where getting out of bed is hard, just brushing your teeth can count, too. And bam! You aren’t a failure, because you’ve followed your intentions to take care of yourself.
Now, let’s talk about what types of intentions to actually make. So often, we tend to focus on physical goals and completely forget to make mental ones. But the big actions, like working out and eating differently, are no more important that the ones you can’t see. Make an intention to shift your current attitude closer to your ideal mindset, whether that be becoming more inclusive, thoughtful, or self-aware. So make goals for the way you want to treat yourself, but also the way you view and talk to yourself and others.
And lastly, realize that you shouldn’t be perfect. Even by using intentions instead of resolutions, we’re bound to forget where we’re aiming sometimes, and that’s ok. Maybe a few weeks in you realize setting an intention to be more mindful is actually making you more anxious, so you decide to focus on something else. January you is not the same as February you or July you, and that’s to be expected. So remind yourself that the goals you set now are for the person you are now, and those goals may change as you do.
New years resolutions suck, and so often they make us feel like we do, too. So let’s stop giving them that power. Instead, take the hope, the ambition, and the motivation that once fueled your resolutions and turn it into something useful: an intention. Think of the person you want to be- the actions you want to take, the thoughts you want to have, and the feelings you want to experience- and think of small steps you can take to make that person possible. Set intentions that not only propel you forward, but give you the flexibility to face the hard days.
Being a human is not easy, and its even harder right now. So this new year, let’s be kind to ourselves and the people around us. Let’s be patient, and flexible, and okay with making mistakes. Let’s set intentions that build us up rather than resolutions that tear us down. We can do this.