Having new or revisited goals for ourselves is important in order to feel that we are progressing, growing, moving, and heading in a direction in our lives that feels good and leads us to success. The January New Year is a time for many which often ritualizes the process of establishing or revisiting goals for the 12 months ahead with the hope of change leading to better health and happiness.
Unfortunately, over time, "New Year's resolutions" have taken on aspects which don't actually contribute to our wellness and can actually set it back or harm it. There's the challenge of:
establishing realistic and doable goals
using language that can cause pressure instead of empower
societal and cultural expectations threaded in personal goals which don't necessarily nurture individual or collective well-being
feeling defeated when not doing exactly what we said we would, not having enough flexibility
seeing a "goal" in a linear way which set a goal up as an "end"
First, let's look at definitions. What do the often-used words "resolution" and "goal" mean? The term "resolution" according to Oxford dictionary is "a firm decision to do or not to do something" or "the quality of being determined or resolute;" being "resolute" means being "admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering." This language can be limiting, with not a lot of flexibility, and not allowing the natural ebb and flow of progress, leaving people feeling down if they perceive states of "set back" or for not reaching "milestones." Having markers for growth is important, yet growth presents itself when there is a mindset of compassion, caring and allowing for "mistakes" and distractions. Language is a very important part of mental health and can support it or cause us trouble mentally and emotionally if the language isn't supportive and empowering.
One way to not fall into language traps is to first notice them. We will usually know we're in these language traps when we notice problematic behaviours and emotional states, such as put-downs and depression or anxiety. These behaviours and states can then sometimes come with a painful, unhelpful and self-harming momentum. One way to come out of the trap is to practice resetting your brain what all these words mean, use different ones and think of their meanings differently, which in psychology is called "reframing." What if the process of "New Year's resolutions" was re-adjusted and simplified and see the coming months as an experiment to switch to "intentions" instead of "resolutions?" With a focus on defining what "wellness" is for you? Using distractions, what we might call "set backs" or "laziness," as markers and milestones?
Interestingly, "wellness" is defined as "the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal;" "pursue" then means "continue or proceed along (a path or route)." "Health" can be also "wellness" which is not a state but an evolving and ever-moving process, with no end per se, keeping goals and activities flexible. Ask yourself: What does it mean to "take good care of myself?" This a phrase we use all too often, so, challenge yourself to be specific in a wholistic way. How do I define "healthy?" Is what I am doing serving me well or causing pressure? Is what I am doing nurturing compassion for myself and others?
So, instead of setting "New Year's Resolutions," experiment with:
setting "intentions" (Oxford definition: an "aim or plan", and "the healing process of a wound)
allow intentions to be revisited again and again and serve as a welcome (not "crap I did it again, I always mess up"--that's a form of put-down) reminder to notice and, gently with compassion, return to the path (ie, "It's ok that I stray, it's a natural part of being human. It's super cool I was able to catch myself.")
giving a loving attention to what gets in the way of tasks or activities which are good for you
techniques which are proven to work, such as mindfulness and breathing
use positive, self-empowering language
have a compassionate stance towards yourself and others
calling your plan a wellness plan with few deadlines and lots of flexibility
wellness as a process with nourishing behaviours, thoughts and emotions, activities (ie, which can be just closing your eyes and breathing) which "light up" body, mind, heart and soul; this leaves us with tons of options to play with at different times, not all at the same time
Sometimes we need a little extra support, and psychological counselling can be highly beneficial in helping us learn skills around "reframing" and to be well in ways that are practical day to day and over the long term, not just for the upcoming year. Create a mindset to keep things simple and avoid defining wellness not as a "special thing that needs doing" and instead a natural, ever unfolding and folding, and integrated part of your every day life. Wellness involves staying ever curious about yourself and it smiles upon you as you revisit it again and again including what "healthy" means for you.
And...where to start?
Also check out the Love Yo' Self Challenge! Nothing stops us from doing these types of activities anytime and during the year.
I wish you well on your journey with its natural valleys and steep climbs, embracing them as opportunities every step of the way.