So, it’s January 11. How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Your answer is probably one of these three:
- Um, well…
- I didn’t make any because I never accomplish them anyway, so whatever.
If you answered #1, rock on and have fun. How about the other two? If you’re struggling, or if you don’t bother with our culture’s January ritual, I have one thing to say: New Year’s resolutions suck.
That’s right, I said they suck. But why? Isn’t it good to have a fresh start, to look at your life and decide how you can live it better?
YES! I love fresh starts. I love taking a step back and seeing what might need changing. We all fall into patterns of thinking, behaving, and choosing. Over time those patterns can get stagnant, or maybe they never served us in the first place. Stagnation causes pain, both physical and emotional, so shaking things up is often energizing and inspiring.
Why do resolutions suck, then? Because they’re so rarely about how we want to feel. Instead, we choose them based on the messages we receive about who we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be people who eat vegetables at every meal. We’re supposed to exercise daily. We’re supposed to be organized and productive. We’re supposed to be kind and loving.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those messages. But if you’re someone who’s ever made a resolution that sounds like the above, did you do it because eating vegetables at every meal is something that will align your life with how you want to feel? Or did you do it because you absorbed a finger-wagging message that not eating vegetables makes you, somehow, a slightly lesser person?
One of those motivations is way more likely to lead to success than the other. Change is hard, and it’s normal to have an adjustment period when we shift our habits. However, if we try to shift because we think we’re supposed to, we set ourselves up for shame and failure. I made lists of resolutions for many years. I’d do fine for a week, maybe a month. By February the “new me” was always starting to fall apart, and by springtime I’d forgotten about her completely.
So I don’t make resolutions anymore. I make intentions, and these days that usually looks like a single word. It starts with several words, but over time one yells at me louder than any of the others. That’s the one I choose, because it’s the one my intuition knows I need the most.
What’s my word for 2017? Selfishness.
Yeah, I said selfishness. I know. I resisted it for weeks, and even looked in the thesaurus for a more palatable synonym (there isn’t one).
In reality, my inner vision of selfishness looks a lot like self-care. I don’t have a grand 2017 plan to be a total jerk. But it’s easy to put off self-care. We all think “I’ll do that nice thing for myself later, when I’ve ‘earned’ it by being productive enough, when I’m not in the middle of doing this other thing, when I’m not in such a rush to get out the door, when I’ve had more sleep, when I’m in a better mood…”
What does this pattern look like? It looks like skipping that nice thing way too often, which is one way we wordlessly tell ourselves our needs aren’t actually all that important.
Hence: selfishness. The word shocks me. It makes me laugh. Because it’s a word nobody is EVER supposed to apply to themselves, I don’t tune it out easily. Instead I wonder what selfish means in any given moment, and if that thing really will make me a jerk or will instead nourish me.
Every time I remind myself that selfishness is my chosen intention for the year, it acts as a reminder of how I actually want to feel: genuinely respectful of myself. And that’s what I think helps achieve other goals, things that might be New Year’s resolutions if I made them. If I live each day respecting my own needs, kindness follows. Healthy productivity follows. Vegetables follow. Love follows.
Happy 2017 to you all.