This morning I woke up far too early. In the early hours in the morning on the first day of a new year it is easy become nostalgic, reflective and overly sentimental. Thoughts of resolutions, change and new beginings start to seep into my head. Then it dawned on me, I don’t need to be a victim of the New Years’s tradition of “shoulds” and the self-depricating garbage that comes with it. So this year I decided to use my early morning musings to give you some free advice.
1. New Year’s resolutions are traps
Motivational speakers, personal trainers and the weight loss industry all want us to buy into the story that if we only try harder, put more focused energy into ourselves, then we can transform into our ideal self. In my experience, that isn’t how the world and people work. Change that sticks is more subtle. You can not make yourself a “project” and expect satisfying results. You are not a hobby or a construction project. You are a complex interaction of your mind, body, soul and community. You are greater than the sum of your parts. Resolutions fail because they don’t take into account the complexity of you. Often they only focus on one aspect of ourselves and ignore the complexity of the human spirit.
Resolutions imply judgement. Underneath judgment is comparison, jealousy, envy and other unflattering things. These are the uglier sides of our human nature. They can be toxic, extreme and disconnecting. The reality is that judgement is a form of self-protection. It shields us from the deeper truth. At the core of judgement is hurt and trauma. You can’t heal hurt with more hurt.
Still, if you really need to make a resolution or set an intention for the year make it simple: Do more of what makes you feel good and less of what makes you feel bad.
2. Acceptance is the key to pretty much everything
When people come to me they often want a “fix”. They want me to do some magical therapy or say some magic words that will create change in their lives. Sadly I still have not perfected my magic wand skills. I believe the magic of therapy is what Carl Rogers described as “unconditional positive regard”. This means that basically having someone believe in you, have faith in you and accept you regardless of what you have done is often life changing.
You don’t need to be in therapy for this to work. Accepting your partner, your children and most importantly yourself, just as you are will revolutionize your relationships. This is of course easier said than done. Accepting that your teenager’s room is a mess or that your partner sometimes isn’t capable of the intimacy you would like is hard and sometimes disappointing. Accepting that you are overweight, out of shape and older than you’d like is hard. Whole industries have emerged to encourage us not to accept this. Acceptance is hard work and a never ending challenge. It is also totally worth it.
I don’t want to imply that we should accept being treated badly. Sometimes acceptance means recognizing that you cannot change other people. Sometimes acceptance means seeing a person’s faults and protecting yourself from them. Sometimes acceptance means letting go and saying goodbye because that is the only choice we have. Acceptance is about choosing calm rather than a fight. When you accept yourself without judgement that is when lasting change becomes possible. Acceptance means finding a place to start that releases you from the past that got you there.
3. Embrace change
Embracing change means doing a hard reality check. You are never going to be exactly where you are again. I look back on my 20s and wonder why I was so worried about my weight, and how I looked. I wasted time worrying about the inevitable rather than enjoying what I had. Embracing change is another form of acceptance. Life will always be changing around you. Nothing remains stagnant. This is both good news and bad. For me embracing change means acknowledging the here and now. I try to rejoice in the good of the moment and be relieved the struggles will also be temporary. Walking with my father through his last few months was both excruciating and rewarding. I don’t think I could have done it without knowing that it was temporary for me and for him. But it also is what allowed me to be present and enjoy our last moments. Change is scary but you can’t fight it so you might as well participate in how it evolves.
4. Foster meaning and connection
The two main reasons people come into therapy is that they are in need of meaning and connection. They feel disconnected from others and themselves. They feel isolated and alone. Often this leads to the existential question; “What is the point?’ Sadly there is no easy answer to any of these issues. Finding the answers is a personal journey. The way to find meaning is to explore joy and connection. It is a journey that you don’t need to do alone. Showing up in people’s lives is important. Being present to the people we care about is often inconvenient. Asking for help is difficult. Making time and having good boundaries is essential to feeling connected.
5. Reflection is healthy
The new year is a time that we often reflect back on our life. This is healthy. It is good to take stock and make adjustments. It is better if we approach our reflections with kindness rather than judgement. For me 2016 was the year I grew up and became an adult at 40. I dealt with loss and learned my own strength. Last year, 2017, was a year of adjusting. It was adjusting to a new world in which my father was no longer a part, at least not in the way I wanted. It was helping my family and I manage these changes. It was about shifts in my relationships with my children as they grow and thrive. It was about shifting responsibilities with my partner as he started a new professional adventure. It was about making room in our home for more love in the form of two mysterious and curious kittens. It was a good year. This upcoming year has adventures already planned and some adventures will also come that I’m sure that won’t be as welcome.
Regardless of what the year brings for all of us focusing on embracing life and being kind to ourselves will make it a healthier year than being judgmental to ourselves and others. I hope today you take the time to look back, plan ahead but mostly enjoy what now has to offer. Happy New Year.