It’s a kind of social convention to make New Year’s resolutions. The idea has traditionally been to make a list of how you’re going to improve yourself in the coming year. The follow-up tradition is to break each resolution, typically before March and often before the end of January.
It has become for many, probably most, people an exercise in self-recrimination. Instead of being motivational, it becomes an opportunity to flog yourself for a list of failures.
I’d like to offer some alternatives to this way of starting the new year.
1. Make a list of things you did in the PAST year that were good or valuable in some way. We’re not looking here for Nobel Peace Prize dimension deeds. This is more along the line of “did you floss regularly”.
Did you help a neighbor in some way?
Support a local fundraiser?
Get your flu shot?
Learn to meditate? Learn to swim?
Finish a project at home or at work?
Did you call your mother/father/aunt regularly?
2. Make a list of qualities you have that you value. Again, think small. Small doesn’t mean unimportant. We’re not looking for super powers. This is more along the line of “I’m reliable and show up for work even when I don’t want to.”
Are you persistent?
Kind to small children? to animals?
Do you never make fun of people who are different?
Are you clean, meaning bathe or shower regularly?
Note— those questions are just to get you thinking. They are NOT meant to give you more things on which to judge yourself harshly.
The point of this alternative New Year’s activity is to be self-affirming, not self-chastising. No one is perfect, no one achieves all of his or her goals. It is good to have aspirations IF they motivate you in your own growth and development. Growth and development is good and healthy and natural.
Most people do good things all the time but often dismiss them as not worthy of note. Same with dismissing their own positive qualities as not deserving attention. In our culture there is a lot of emphasis on not bragging or being prideful. There’s less of an emphasis on being able to value what you do and who you are.
There’s a belief held by many people that being hard on yourself will make you a better person. For most people it works the other way. Being hard on yourself, minimizing or dismissing your positives, emphasizing your imperfections, is discouraging and depletes you of the will and energy to grow.
It takes a certain amount of confidence in your ability to succeed in order to try new things, to put yourself out there when there’s any possibility of failure. It takes a certain amount of belief in your own ability to persist in order to be willing to tolerate the discomforts of failure. When we pay attention to what we have already accomplished, it gives us the confidence to attempt something new. When we affirm our own strength or resilience or stubbornness, we have faith in our own ability to tackle something difficult or challenging.
If you really want to make positive changes in the year ahead, first look back. If you want to build a better you, first affirm that you’re already pretty good.