Updated: Sep 6, 2021
A friend asked me in early Jan what my resolution was going to be and it got me thinking about resolutions in general. So I started doing some research.
Why do we set NY resolutions?
The beginning of the year is like a clean slate - we believe all the mistakes of the past are gone. We have a new opportunity to "become a new person". It's called the fresh start effect - the idea that there are natural times during the year that our motivation is higher. The start of a new year, being one of them.
50% of the population makes resolutions each year, primarily focused on weight loss, exercise, smoking, money management, and debt reduction. These are what we call circumstantial.
And we often think that the only way forward with our resolutions is through willpower. Behavioral science work has suggested willpower doesn’t work when we need it to. When our motivation is high and our willpower is great it works well; but often falls apart as soon as things get difficult. When we look to change our circumstances, it often doesn't stick.
It's then probably no surprise that Approx. 90% of New year's resolutions fail. I know anytime I have tried to do a NY resolution, I often give up by the end of January. There are a couple reasons why: 1. we aren't true to ourselves when we pick our resolutions; 2. we tend to have this optimistic bias that we're going to be able to do anything. 3. We don't necessarily plan well and 4. we're often picking things to do that aren't necessarily great goals.
These kinds of resolutions don't have the effect we think they will. We adjust once we reach our goal/s so the happiness impact eventually lessens. We are much better off doing things that reflect new mindsets or new behaviors - things like, becoming more present, more grateful, more compassionate, etc. These are the changes that will have a long standing impact on our wellbeing. But we don't realize they are powerful. My focus for the past two years has been gratitude. While it isn't always easy when times are tough, it's important to me. I found when I wrote down 3 things I was grateful for each day, I found myself happier and more at peace.
This year, my focus is on self-compassion. When you have self-compassion for yourself, you naturally do a bunch of other positive things, like eat better, work out, less procrastination, etc
that ultimately boosts your well-being. Focusing on self-compassion helps get other things accomplished which will ultimately increase overall happiness. Which is what you're striving for to begin with, when you set your resolution!
Last year was difficult. We were hard on ourselves and we were hard on one another. We were angry at being at home, we were angry we couldn't travel, we were angry our plans were disrupted, we were angry we couldn't see our families. There was continual anger - through the news reports, and division seen in social channels. We have been missing that connection with one another, the thing that brings compassion and trust and closeness.
With much strife and discord in our country, we have to find ways to come together as a community and as a family. Self-shaming isn't going to help - it only makes things worse.
When you are nice to yourself, it can be powerful force for achievement and success. It has been found to foster positive emotion. It can allow us to become more mindful of ourselves and our decision making, resulting in more balance and positive interactions with others.
Being a new year, does not bring immediate relief from the last. But we have hope. Things always have to come to an end. And with endings, come new beginnings. We will continue to have challenges, both personally and professionally. But it's how we go about those challenges - will I beat myself up, and in turn, take my emotions out on others or will I give myself grace and forgiveness? I know it won't be easy and I will have off-days, as we all will; if I start with self-compassion, I know I will be a more positive person, which will make me a happier person. And with that, I know, kinder to others.
A way to work on changing mindsets or creating new behaviors is practice and meditation as well as affirmations can set positive intentions each day. The Loving Kindness meditation is particularly powerful. You may feel a little cheesy doing it but science has shown it works!
If you'd like to practice it, you find a quiet room, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and be relaxed. Your focus will be on yourself first, then someone you love, someone you don't like, and finally, a group of people (you know or don't know!) Say slowly and intentionally "May I be happy, May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I be at peace". And you repeat that for each person/group. When done regularly, meditation can help minimize negative emotions toward yourself and others.
In this new year, let's all come together, as one family, with the same goals, to work together with love and compassion and for ourselves and one another.
I will close with some numerology: 2021 is a 5 universal year - it represents change, freedom, adventure, risk taking and invites us to look for opportunities. It encourages vacations but also tends to bring challenges in order for us to break free from limitations. Even when things are a difficult, look for the positive and the opportunity that comes from the struggle. But first and foremost, give yourself some grace and treat yourself with kindness. If you do, it will translate to those around you. Wishing you all a productive and positive 2021!