As the new year is underway and the dieting, fitness and general self betterment industry is in full swing I think it is a good opportunity to repost one of my favourite blog posts of 2017. Resolutions don’t have to be something that you reject because they fail and they don’t have to be something to do because you want to lose weight and look different. They can be useful and life-improving if you approach them with a longer term attitude. They can be a fantastic opportunity for personal growth. With the current momentum created by Blue Planet and #MeToo why not choose a social or environmental cause for this year instead of focussing on improving all your perceived imperfections? Happy New Year y’all!
New Year, New You…. how many times do you hear that in January every year? Well, I disagree. Setting the expectation that you will radically be different in 2018 than you were in 2017 is totally unrealistic and doomed to leave you feeling like you fell short of your target.
To me, new year is an opportunity to reflect on progress, assess short, medium and long-term goals and to resolve to continue to progress as a person over the coming year.
As a teenager I used to set new year’s resolutions that I didn’t even try and do and were all based on the inadequacies I thought I had. Lose weight, be nice etc etc. In my latter teens and early twenties I stopped making resolutions altogether and decided just to enjoy that feeling of a fresh start each January. But it was a conversation with a colleague when I was 22 that changed my attitude to resolutions and has stayed with me ever since.
We were discussing the many ills of the world. At the time I was working in a Environmental Education Center and while everyday was about addressing some of the issues we face as a planet- teaching children how to recycle, conserving habitats- it sometimes felt like a drop in an ocean of s**t that we couldn’t do anything about. It was easy, particularly when you are a fresh out of uni whippersnapper, to feel a bit defeated by the trajectory of humanity. She told me that her family had felt much the same so, in order to stop thinking and start acting they made a collective decision to address one thing one year at a time. Each new year they decided what they most want to address over the coming year. Over the time that behaviour would become habit allowing them to find space to start addressing another issue next year. This prevented them feeling overwhelmed and ending up just doing nothing.
This sounded amazing to me and from then on I gave myself a task each year to work on. A self-growth opportunity to allow me to make small changes that add up to a big change.
My first resolution was to try and reduce my use of cosmetics allowing me to use the spare money to buy fewer products that were more expensive but non-toxic and chemical-free. This is now habit. A few years later, I was sick of feeling useless every time something went wrong with the bike I commuted on. I cycled with squeaking brakes and slow punctures just because I was relying on someone else to help me fix it. I didn’t know where to start with bike maintenance. So, I resolved to fix every issue with my bike myself that year. In January I bought tools and a maintenance book (which I quickly realised was a waste of money when you have the internet). I used YouTube videos, took my bike to free maintenance workshops and asked friends to teach me. I know far more now than I knew before that year started and I no longer feel like a damsel in distress when my bike goes wrong. I feel empowered and I will still try to fix every problem myself before I turn paying a professional to do it.
I am sharing this with you because I believe that new year resolutions can be a brilliant tool for self-development when used sensibly. You don’t need to set yourself huge tasks, undefined goals (like lose weight- how many people do that?) and focus on your flaws. You can resolve to progress in something you’re good at or resolve to focus outside yourself on taking action on something you care about (reducing plastic use is so hot right now!).
Now, I often set myself more than one resolution because my goals are often opportunity-dependent so I have the scope to have more than one goal for the year. And the end result is always progress not a destination. I don’t aim to be able to be a bike mechanic by the end of the year, I just aim to have tried at every opportunity to learn more about bike maintenance.
And the best thing about it is that now, 5 years on from the bike maintenance resolution, I am still regularly using those skills and thanking my former self for having committed to that simple goal so that what was once a big source of insecurity is now a source of empowerment. Reassuringly, it was actually much easier to learn bike maintenance than I believed because I did so over time and made incremental changes. This is how lasting change happens. So put down your diet book and step away from the new fitness clothes, make 2018 a year for self care and personal growth of a different kind.
Happy New Year and enjoy making the most of the opportunities 2018 brings you.