Resolutions: The insanity of repeatedly failing and how to stop

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Resolutions don’t work. Every year we jump right into big, audacious goals. We commit to losing weight, getting fit, paying off debt, giving up smoking. By the middle of February, the gyms are empty, we’ve had an entire chocolate cake for dinner, and are back to two packs a day.

Then we beat ourselves up. We feel like failures. We berate ourselves for our lack of willpower. We don’t blame the resolutions. We blame ourselves.

What if this year, we tried something different? Because it’s not us, it’s the idea of resolutions.

Let’s admit it. On December 31st, you take 10 minutes (maybe 60) to contemplate what you want out of the next year. And after a little reflection, you write down the exact same goals as last year. And the year before. THIS will be the year, you think.

Am I wrong? I know that’s exactly what I did for years.

Some of you may have taken some time to reflect on the past year and taken some time to think about your intention for the coming year. By January 1, you’ve chosen a word for the year.

That was me for the last five years.

And it didn’t matter. I might remember that word in March. But usually, it was the last thing on my mind before spring came to a close.

There are so many reasons why resolutions have failed for me and why I couldn’t stay committed to my word of the year. I could blame life. It does tend to get in the way.

But when I think back to years past it comes down to three things. The deadline of January 1st. A lack of meaning and purpose. And an inherent need to control the outcomes of life.

The looming deadline

You know how Ellen scares her guests by jumping out from behind doors or chairs? That’s what January 1st feels like to me. After the chaos of the holidays, just when we have a moment to relax, the new year is there. Right in our faces.

We’ve barely had a second to breathe. And we’re expected to know, in that second, what we want for the coming year. For all 365 days. Because in an instant we know exactly what will unfold over the next 12 months.

You read the sarcasm right?

Yes, your word of the year can be a guiding light to help you become who you might have been. Or a compass to stay true to who you are. Those are the best words.

But when I approach that word with a deadline of January 1, I write down that word, reflect on it for a few days, and then I go about my life. And that’s that.

This year, I’m taking the advice of a dear friend. Winter isn’t a time of growth and creation. Winter is a period of rest, of introspection. On January 1st, winter has just begun, so why would I jump right into new habits and behaviors?

This year, rather than setting a word for the year on January 1, I’m spending the month in rest, stillness, and introspection. I’m giving myself space. I’m giving the Universe time to drop some hints.

Instead of a deadline, I will build a practice and a process that honors the rhythms of nature and my natural inclinations.

Not understanding the why

When we set our resolutions, do we even know why we choose them? Why are we picking “lose weight” or “get in shape”?

You can probably give me a reason. Because you want to be healthier. Because your doctor said you should.

But do those reasons motivate you? Do they keep you going when life gets hard?

When I set my word for the year, I usually have a reason. I know why I’ve picked that word.

But it’s not the BIG WHY.

And I don’t take the time to define what needs to be defined. I don’t reflect on how the word will and can impact all aspects of my life.

I have this daydream of how it will transform my life into something meaningful and amazing.

I don’t consider the work that I will need to do. Or if that work will even be worth it.

By giving myself January to contemplate, I have the space to explore what I need. What am I willing to sacrifice? What is meaningful and what is not? What is worth it and what isn’t?

And this year, I am approaching 2018 with a series of “what if” questions.

  • What if I prioritize my health and well-being?
  • What if I prioritize my financial security?
  • What if I prioritize the relationships in my life?

If I prioritize my health and well-being, I first have to define what health and well-being mean to me? What does it mean to be healthy? What do I measure? How do I know I am healthy? How do I know that I am contributing to my well-being? What things contribute to my well-being?

Then I have to ask what I need to do if I want to intentionally improve my health and well-being. I know that I need to eat more vegetables. But how many more vegetables? I know I need to move more? But how much more?

And then I need to examine whether some health goals will conflict with my well-being goals. Because to be healthier, I should cut out sugar. But if I cut out all sugar from my life, what happens to our summer runs for ice cream at Snookies? How will that impact my well-being?

For 2018, I digging into those "what if" questions, picking them apart until I can say I understand the reasons why, the work I need to do, and how it all will bring me to what I might have been and who I want to be.

Death grip of control

In a recent Instagram post, Susannah Conway said

Life always seems to have other plans for us. The key seems to be finding ways to stay in the FLOW. When I hold on too tight I interrupt the flow. When I numb out (and sometimes I need that) the flow slows. When I stay present to my world and follow the breadcrumbs, the flow takes me where I need to go. This is something I’m going to be really paying attention to in 2018.

I might be the only one, but for me, my word of the year is often a desperate desire to CONTROL my life. I have 365 days of unknown before me. I know what the last year was like, I think about what went well and what didn’t. And then I decide, based on the past, what I want for the next 12 months.

There’s something to be said about learning from your past. But there’s even more to learn by staying open to the breadcrumbs that the Universe is laying at our feet.

As Conway says, it means paying attention and letting the flow of life take us on our journey.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.
— Joseph Campbell

I can’t decide in January what my life is going to be on November 26th. What I can decide is to stay open. To notice where I am on my path. To look for the breadcrumbs. To trust I will arrive at the right destination. To stay true to who I am and what is important to me. To know what I value. To chose my steps purposefully and with the best intentions in my heart.

Where to go from here

As the first month of 2018 unfolds, I’m giving myself the space and time to reflect on what is important in my life and what will guide me to becoming who I want to be in the next 365 days.

I’m checking my need to control and looking for the breadcrumbs the Universe is leaving on my path. Perhaps on January 31st, I will have a word for the year. Or I’ll have a word for each season or for each month. Maybe I won’t have any words at all.

All that matters is that with each day of the year, I am who I am and no one else.