I actually believe that making resolutions can negatively impact one’s self-esteem. Take one of the classic new year’s resolution, i.e. the I-am-going-to-start-going-to-the-gym-and-go-on-a-diet-and lose-a-bunch-of-weight-by-such-and-such-date… typically, this is a resolution that is often abandoned… Why? Well, the reasons given are many I am sure.
In my opinion, we abandon these resolutions as we are confronted by the “realities” of living our lives and our core selves. Suddenly, the gung-ho daily visits to gym begin to diminish as work becomes too stressful and/or tiring… and the diet that was so rigidly kept to is given up for the little occasions that pop-up, involving dining out with friends, and even the amount of weight desired to be lost may be adjusted. What was a goal of 10lbs becomes 5lbs. You get the idea.
Why might this become a negative experience? Well, if the resolution is not fulfilled, the resulting self-message may be “I am incapable of following through with my plans” or “I’ll never achieve my goals” or “I am a failure.” This does not mean that everyone experiences things in this way or that these types of resolutions never succeed. There is a reason, however, for the continued popularity of the new year’s diet resolution.
Truly, my point is not to hyper-focus on dieting, although issues involving eating and self-esteem are areas of professional interest to me. New year’s resolutions, regardless of their nature, can become problematic, because they can lead to negative self-talk, and thus lowered self-esteem, if they are not completed.
A New Year…
As we begin 2012, I wonder what it would be like for everyone to imagine that this new year is simply a continuation of last year… That is, that nothing magical occurred as we shifted from the 31st of December 2011 to the 1st of January 2012. No magical fairy came by as the clock struck midnight and imbued us with both the determination and the ability to immediately make drastic (or even simple) changes in our lives. 😉 That nothing really happened except that today became yesterday and tomorrow became today…
What do you think would change for you in the way you acted, thought, and organized your life? Would there actually be any difference in how you thought and felt about yourself between December 30th to December 31st and December 31st and January 1st?
Beginning a new year is not a magic wand that fixes everything… It cannot be. It cannot erase whatever past you have lived or present you are living. It is simply a marker that informs you that 12 months of your life has gone by. It is simply a tool for you to ask yourself, “What have I accomplished in the last 12 months and over the course of my life?” and perhaps more importantly, “Given my history and my present, what path am I taking and is it leading me to where I want to be?”
Improve Upon the Attitude…
Ideally, it would be great if everyone would ask themselves the above questions regularly. Unfortunately, it seems to me that we sometimes wait until the end of the year to begin actively thinking about what, we believe, needs to be different in our lives… and then we make a list about it in the form of resolutions–and declare that we will change our ways this year!
… And of course, we do the same thing the next year… I imagine with many of the same resolutions from the previous year (perhaps 1oth time brings the charm, who knows? :))
In essence, the task of completing these listed resolutions can become daunting and self-defeating. Afterall, resolutions are typically actions that challenge us in some way. For example, perhaps there is…
- something you want to do that you have never done
- somewhere you want to go that you have never been
- the task losing that extra weight and starting that gym program
- the task of getting over that relationship(s) that has been haunting you
- getting a better, more emotionally and financially rewarding job
- going back to school
- starting a family
- making up with your family
- finding “the one”
- unburdening yourself of your emotional baggage
Whatever is included on the list, whether pleasant or unpleasant, it still means taking responsibility for taking immediate action to make a change in your life (ideally to improve that life). Not only that, it means that once one task is accomplished, there may be still a long list awaiting you to be tackled. In my opinion this can feel overwhelming, especially when, you know, “life” starts kicking into full gear and we are out of the holiday mode.
So, what am I suggesting? Am I suggesting not to set goals for the new year? No, I am suggesting simply that you spend the time, instead, acknowledging what you have done well in the past year and looking at the new year as an opportunity to build upon your accomplishments. Resolutions truly focus on the negative. They focus on what is not, i.e.
what you are not doing or have not been doing
what you”ought” to have been doing
who you are not or who you have never been
where you are not or where you have never been
what you have not resolved
what you have not accomplished
And honestly, how good does it feel to focus on the negative? Wouldn’t it feel better to make a Last Year’s List of Accomplishments?
Wouldn’t it feel better to celebrate what you have been doing well and how you have made positive changes within yourself and your relationships?
Just How Strong…
When we focus on our strengths, we generally feel better about ourselves and our ability to be effective within our lives. So, I say make a list of your strengths, your accomplishments in all aspects of life: career, health, relationships, finances, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically…
You could even make a timeline of your accomplishments, reviewing the last year (2011) or even the last 5 or 10 years. Once you do this, not only will you have a visual record of what you have been doing to make your life worthwhile, but you will also have a clearer sense of the path that you are taking towards achieving any already established life goal(s)… or if you don’t have one yet, then one may emerge from the process.
I imagine that many of us know, intrinsically, what it is that we want out of our lives. Some of us are focused on achieving a specific goal in one aspect of life (e.g. career), others of us are focused on multiple areas or are entirely holistic in our approach to our lives and have an overall goal for living. Whatever your approach, think now about what you want truly out of your life… No, really, ask yourself:
When all is said and done, what type of life will I want to have lead? What do I want out of this life?
Listen to the answer that comes and take that answer as your motivator for how to engage the world around you each day in this new year. Trust me, if you become resolved within your overall goal for living, the steps to take to move your life forward will come naturally… You don’t have to worry about making a list of demands that you may not be able to meet, because they are not aligned with where you are now and where you are trying to go in the future.
Best of regards for 2012!
Until Next Time,
P. S. Some quotes to kick start the new year:
“A friend of mine drinks a lot of whiskey and is concened about how this will affect his path. Thich Naht Hahn replied: ‘Thats OK if he drinks mindfully, he will realise what it is doing, and will gradualy stop drinking'”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
“One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. he did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower…. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step)
“What we are comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is this creation of our mind.”
– The Buddha
“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
– Joan Didion
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change
the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can
change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”
– Jim Rohn