I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions. Too often we set ourselves up to fail by deciding on some sudden behaviour change.
This risks leaving us feeling worse, not better, if we are unable to live up to an unrealistic expectation of ourselves.
And given the year we’ve just had – and the knowledge that we won’t soon be out of the woods in 2021 – it feels right to be gentle with ourselves when we think about our hopes and plans for the year ahead.
For the past few years, instead of “resolutions”, I have used the new year to set goals based on my hopes and desires. What difficulties and challenges do I hope to resolve by the end of the year? What good things do I want to bring into my life? What would feel rewarding? I call this “new year’s evolution”.
I like to take some time to create a detailed picture in the mind’s eye of what that will look like, putting it down on paper (often in a brand-new journal). What would I be thinking, feeling, and doing differently? What would other people notice about me? What other benefits might flow from the change?
It’s often said that this kind of detailed visualisation helps motivate us to take action, but I find a different benefit – as time goes on I am able to notice the tiny changes in my attitude or behaviour that are moving me towards my goal.
I believe this combination of intention plus awareness is often as powerful – if not more powerful – than trying to force ourselves into a dramatic change. (I suspect that those exhilarating moments when we appear to make a sudden transformation have actually been a long time in the making, as attitudes and priorities have shifted within us).
It’s important that this visualisation exercise is a pleasant one. It’s a chance to relax and imagine good things coming into our lives – not to tensely berate ourselves for having achieved less than we want, or to despair at how circumstances seem to block us from our desires. In fact, practising self-compassion ((learn more about that here: https://self-compassion.org/) is one resolution that is worth implementing straight away.
A valuable antidote to negative comparisons – especially at the end of such a difficult and, for many of us, a tragic year – is to also spend some time focusing on our strengths.
Yes, we have endured disappointments and even significant losses. But we have somehow got through in spite of it all. What are the personal qualities that have enabled you in particular to do that? Are you determined? Flexible? Organised, creative, practical, kind? Are you good at planning or diligently following a plan? Have you used a particular skill to help others? Have your unique characteristics complemented others’ strengths in your family, community or workplace?
Perhaps characteristics that haven’t always been helpful (and get negative labels such as “stubborn”, “fussy”, “unassertive”) have proved to have value in unusual circumstances. Almost certainly you have discovered or developed unexpected strengths this year that you can be proud of, and that will serve you well in the future.
Sadly, my own hopes and plans for 2021 involve taking on a significant new commitment, which means I won’t be continuing with this column in the new year. I hope that some of you have found it useful over the past months, and I wish you a hopeful and compassionate year ahead.
Karen Bray (MBACP) is a counsellor with a private practice in Bath. Her website is at www.karenbray.co.uk.