Life coaching expert Tal Fagin tells a reader to skip the tired old habit of New Year’s resolutions and instead to think deeply about the real reasons for each goal desired.
Most years, I indulge my way from Halloween to New Year’s Day, trying hard to ignore the number on the scale, the balance on my credit card and the vague sense of guilt and shame threatening to do me in. Along with the rest of the world, I wait for January—season of reboot and repair—to get my act in order. And it is that time of year again!
My annual resolutions are of the standard variety, a smorgasbord of aspirations and self-improvement plans. Eat more vegetables and fewer desserts. Drink more water and much less alcohol. Work out harder, snack less. Work smarter. Be more organized and efficient, waste less time. Get up earlier (but get more sleep). Appreciate more, complain less. Take up [violin/chess/aikido/knitting]. Grow the business. Be more patient, more loving, more present, more generous. Ditch the devices. Tend lovingly to friends and family. Be less judgmental and more accepting.
Stay the course!
January tends to go well. Sometimes February, too. After that? Not so much.
Do you have any advice on how to better honor my commitments and make my resolutions stick?
Dear Everly Optomistic,
That is some list. Whatever you do … Do more! Do less! Do something!!!!
I get it. For years, I had quite a list of my own.
My go-to New Year’s recipe used to look a little something like this: Assemble extra large list of worthy goals. Mix with healthy dose determination and generous sprinkling good intentions. Fold in one cup guilt, half cup shame and blend thoroughly. Douse with fiery assurances that this year will be different.
I don’t do this anymore, and since you are asking for my advice, you shouldn’t either. Instead, if you truly want this year to be different, try bucking the resolution trap and going your own way.
I say, skip the tired old habit of New Year’s resolutions. By their very name and nature, they carry the stench of inevitable failure, and set us up for same. Optimism is attractive. Success leads to more success. Sheer will and determination are powerful, but they are largely unsustainable means of accomplishing lasting results. A balanced approach, on the other hand—one that combines reasonable, achievable goals with compassion, tenderness and grace—is not only easier to maintain, but is more likely to take you where you want to go.
Simply put, give yourself a break.
You say January and February tend to go well, but after that, it all falls apart. Why do you think that is? Close your eyes and revisit the ghosts of Januaries and Februaries past. Notice any familiar patterns?
We all want to be the best version of ourselves we can possibly be, and we all have voices in our heads that drive us to strive onward and upward. The reason most of us fail to stick with our resolutions, however, is that the goals we set for ourselves—no matter how worthy—are often too rigid or ambitious, and often come at the behest of some inner dictator who is not only demanding, but rude and disrespectful. Like an impossible-to-please parent, this inner dictator gives rise to a rebellious teen who is utterly uninterested in anything but breaking free.
Enter Self-sabotage, stage left.
The voice inside that commands us to be better than we are operates largely out of fear, and is far more concerned with our survival than our contentment. In other words, it comes from a place of lack, a deeply felt sense that we are simply not good enough. I say PHEWEY to all that, not only because it’s not true, but because it never works.
Set goals, have aspirations, dream away—but be kind to yourself along the way. Drop the guilt, shed the self-loathing. You don’t force a plant to grow, you don’t shame a flower into bloom. You nurture and care for it, feed and tend to it, place it in the best possible light. Natural beauty ensues.
My invitation to you, Everly Optimistic, is to strive to be your best self by first loving and accepting yourself exactly as you are? Start with self-acceptance. Build from there.
Beyond that, might I suggest you go beneath the annual “smorgasboard of aspirations and self-improvement plans.” Rather than reflexively dusting off the old list of resolutions or setting any new ones, ask yourself my favorite question: WHY?
Why do you want to eat differently?
Why do you want to exercise more?
Why do you want to be more organized, efficient or productive? Why do you need to take up any new hobbies, grow your business or do or become any of the other things on your list?
Keep asking yourself why until your answers reveal the feeling state you wish to achieve. In my case, I wanted a tidy, organized home and a svelte physique because I longed to feel lighter, unencumbered and free. What do you long for? What felt sense do you desire? Close your eyes and imagine yourself already there. Feel yourself fit and strong, or flush with cash. Sense the pride and elation of a complicated new hobby successfully mastered. Relish the love and adoration of your partner or children, basking in your attention, beaming at you. Linger there, in the image. Move around in it, smell it, taste it, touch it, absorb it.
Really. I mean it. Stop reading and do this RIGHT NOW!
See how easy that was? Instant gratification. Mission accomplished. Success on the spot—no resolutions required.
Now get out there, live your life from that place, and see how effortlessly things fall into place.
And one more thing, just in case you are still determined to pursue the more traditional resolution route. Remember you are not alone. Chances are you have a friend or co-worker with similar goals. Team up, keep each other accountable, lend support. Turn your pain into a game. Try keeping score or providing other rewards and incentives. If you can’t find anyone, call me. I love playing wing-woman.
I wish you a happy, healthy, successful 2018, full of new delights and pleasant surprises.