Oh hey 2018!
We are three days into a fresh year, and I have been hemming a hawing more than I’d care to admit over what to write to kick off this new year.
My brain immediately went to “Duh! Resolutions, obviously. It’s January, keep up Wanamaker.”
The problem is that I kind of cringe at the thought of resolutions. This is not because I’ve jumped on the anti-resolution bandwagon of no-one-even-keeps-them-anyway-so-why-try-isms, but actually because quite the opposite is true.
I actually really love New Years. I love the idea of reflecting on the past year. I love the idea of setting intentions for the year to come. Blame it on my very brief stint as a Lemonhead (lululemon employee, not the candy), but I’m a sucka for goals.
Real talk: I even have the original version of my goal to become a psychologist framed and hanging in my office as I type this.
Goals are my friends, without which I would never leave my natural state of existence: in a blanket cocoon with Netflix looping for eternity.
So, what’s my deal with resolutions then? In my experience, I think that resolutions tend to evolve from a place of “should”, which if you have worked with me, you know I am not a fan of.
Spoiler alert: I regularly tell people to stop shoulding all over themselves.
My issue is when people make resolutions from a place of should, they are often setting goals based on the expectations of others, rather than from their own values. Now, it’s not breaking news that when we strive to make changes for things that we don’t actually care about/value/want, we aren’t usually successful.
So, when we inevitably don’t keep our new year’s resolutions, we add another dose of failure to the already unrealistic/boring/weird expectations we originally set, which usually manifests in feeling even worse about ourselves. Thus, perpetuating the cycle of shoulding all over the place.
What’s worse, supposing we actually manage to stick to the resolution we thought we should set, only to achieve it and feel absolutely nothing. All because we didn’t stop to ponder if the resolution was actually something we value/like/want in the first place.
It’s just a whole cycle of doom that I am not down with. I just don’t believe it’s particularly helpful to hate ourselves and/or feel miserable.
I was having a conversation recently with a friend about new year’s goals, and she talked about the goal of wanting to work out at a gym.
Now, it's important to note that for the entire duration of our friendship, I have never known this friend to walk into a gym, and yet this is not the first I’ve heard about this resolution. I’m even gonna go so far to say that this friend doesn’t even particularly like gyms or gym-related culture, and that gyms on the whole probably make her feel weird and gross.
But, like many of us, this friend has set this same intention before, only to not keep it, feel bad about it, and tell herself she just needs to try harder/be better/blah blah blah next time. During this conversation I asked, “Do you really want that?” to which my friend chuckled and said “I don’t actually know.”
Long story short: my friend had the insight that at some point in her life she had associated people who have time to work out at a gym with success. Thus, if she was consistently working out at a gym every day, then she would know that she was successful.
The problem is, if you don’t like going to the gym (I mean who does), or value what going to the gym does for you or how it makes you feel, then you are setting a goal to do something every day that makes you feel miserable.
This is an excellent recipe to feel terrible.
For everyone who is about to get all up on the comments asking what kind of monster I am for supporting someone in not going to the gym because don’t I know the importance of physical health and mental health and all of the health?!
First of all: cool it.
Second of all: yes, moving our bodies is good for us, for so many reasons.
Fun fact: we can move our bodies at places that aren’t the gym.
Heck, I do it almost every day (even in a gym sometimes)! But wouldn’t it make more sense to find ways that we actually enjoy doing these really important things to take care of ourselves, rather than beating ourselves up for not doing how we should be? For my friend, this was realizing that she actually wanted to start taking dance classes, versus going to a place that she hates every day.
Which is where the glorious concept of intention comes in!
(Sorry not sorry if you thought the conclusion of this was going to be “Boo resolutions! Boo goals! Don’t do anything ever again!).
Intentions are similar to resolutions, except that they make us stop and think about what we value, before putting a specific plan or goal into action.
Intentions force us to consider the bigger picture.
Once my friend was able to identify her belief that gyms = success, she was able to:
1) Ask herself if she thought this belief was true (no), and
2) Reassess to see if she actually valued anything about working out.
What she discovered was that moving her body more positively affects her mental and physical health, which is something that she does value. Fortunately, this friend also is super interested in taking dance lessons, so voila! A goal that actually resonates (and thus is more likely to be successful) is set.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to do anything.
I mean, I’m just gonna say it’s probably in your best interest to stop at stop signs and pay your taxes, but ultimately you are the boss of you. Which is why it’s so important to stop and ask yourself what you actually like, how you want to spend your time, and who you want to be.
You get to decide that.
The thing is, unless we’ve done some deep self-reflection (what up therapy!), most of us aren’t taught how to do this. Not-knowing ourselves, coupled with the fact that Westernized society bombards us 24/7 with what we should be doing, usually leaves a lot of us working really hard to achieve things that will never bring us whatever it is that we are actually seeking.
So, what does this look like?
Well, there are a few ways to check in with yourself so that you can set intentions (if you choose that you want to. I'm not the boss of you.) that will actually fulfill whatever it is you are wanting to achieve:
1) Get to the why.
Ask yourself "why" like a toddler hopped up on curiosity. You want to eat more kale. Why? Because you know leafy greens are good for you. Why? Because they provide all kinds of important nutrients to your body. Why does this matter? Because you want to nourish your body so you can be the best version of yourself. Why? So you can do sweet dance moves and solve math problems. BOOM.
2) Ask yourself what lessons you are taking with you, and what you are leaving behind.
Rather than telling yourself to stop doing something (don’t think of a purple hippopotamus. See, doesn’t work), reflect on what you have learned, and what thoughts/beliefs/behaviours you may have outgrown, or no longer fit. Recognize where you have been, and dream up where you’d like to go. Shout out to Meg Hasek-Watt for reminding me of this gem this year.
3) Go to therapy.
I mean, I had to say it. Some people say going to therapy is like getting a PhD in self-reflection. I don’t know who these people are, but I do know that therapy allows us to get to know ourselves on another level. So, if you’re reading this and are like “Ahhhh! Ashley, I don’t know what I value!” or “Do I even like spinach? Or do I feel like I’m supposed to like spinach because society tells me too?!*”, then giving therapy a go is probably a really great idea. Heck, it's probably a good idea even if you are confident in your spinach-related feelings. People in the Calgary area who are interested in checking out therapy can check out resources in this post, or book a free consultation with me here.
*Just kidding, nobody likes spinach.
So whether it is to spend more time with family, eat more broccoli, or learn all of the words to No Diggity, go into this new year setting intentions that resonate with who you are, or who you'd like to be. Or don't. After all, you're the boss.
happy 2018 people! I am so glad to be here with you.
If you or anyone you know in the Calgary area is experiencing a mental health crisis call the 24-hour Distress Centre line at 403-266-4357 or 911.