We made it to 2018 y’all! Another year gone by, another chance to reset the clock, reflect on the past, and think about what we want to accomplish in the year ahead.
For the first time in a long while, I did not spend my New Year’s Eve trying to find the very best party or getting drunk and hoping for someone to kiss at midnight. This year, after a nice dinner and wandering around on the local beach for a couple hours with my new yoga teacher training friends, I sat alone in my room about five minutes before midnight and meditated my way into 2018.
I realized this year that if I wanted to start things off on the right foot, then I should spend my first few minutes, days, and weeks of my year setting the tone for how I wanted to spend the rest of it. This did not involve being blackout drunk, feeling majorly hungover, or regretting decisions I had made the night before. For me, it involved spending time with good people, meditating, getting a good night’s sleep, and preparing to spend a month deepening my yoga practice and learning how to teach. The next day, my friend Tayler and I wrote in our journals reflecting on our previous year and setting some intentions for the upcoming one. All in all, it was a pretty great way to bring in the new year.
Changing how we make resolutions
I think sometimes New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rep. We spend the week between Christmas and NYE bingeing, knowing that it’s our last chance to get in all our vices before we have to be “good” (eat ALL the chocolate!!!). And on January 1st, we make ourselves a long list of goals that we tend to forget about within a month or so, returning quickly to our old habits, feeling defeated and sad because it’s still winter and now there is no holiday season to look forward to and we have to wait a whole 11 months to watch “Love Actually” again.
But maybe there is a different way to go about “being good” in the new year other than just creating a list of goals that will be difficult to stick to because they involve radical changes in our behavior and habits. I think the reason we fail a lot of the time is because we try to go big all at once and then we become defeated when we can’t stick to the very high bar we have set for ourselves. Once we fail to reach our goal the first time, we decide it’s all pointless anyway and we give up.
I am all about creating S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time sensitive) goals for myself, but I think we need to be really honest about that A and the R – the achievable and realistic aspects of our goals. Instead of setting the bar impossibly high and then feeling like a failure if we don’t reach it, what if we set the bar just a little bit higher than where it already is? It is so easy to get down on ourselves for missing the mark one time and completely give up because we think we are a failure, but progress is much more important than perfection. While it’s great to dream big, this can end up having a totally counterproductive effect.
Consider this: if your ultimate goal is to go to the gym 5 days a week, and right now you go 0 days a week, you are asking yourself for a very radical change in behavior to make that happen. You are going to have to use time, energy, and motivation, all of which are currently going to other areas of your life, and redirect those things towards going to the gym – that’s a lot to adjust almost every day of the week! Not to mention, if you miss a single day, you might end up feeling ashamed that you weren’t able to stick to your goal, leading to a vicious cycle where you feel bad about yourself, convince yourself that you were never going to be able to do it anyway, and give up.
Now what if you still held 5 days a week as your ultimate long-term goal, but started with the minimum you felt you could successfully do – perhaps just 1 day each week. This is a much more achievable goal and the positive feelings you gained from reaching your goal each week would make you much more likely to feel good about yourself! This would create a cycle of positive energy and momentum that encourages you to continue going to the gym rather than feeling like a failure. And after a few weeks of adjusting your schedule slightly to fit in one day a week at the gym, you may find it easier to increase it to two, and eventually three or four or five. Each incremental change makes it much easier to not only reach your long-term goal, but to cultivate the habit and incorporate it gradually into your daily life rather than trying to make a huge change all at once!
Unfortunately, tiny changes made slowly over time are not that celebrated in our society. We seem to revere people who wake up one day and completely turn their lives around and we think we should be able to do it because we see these stories in the media all the time. But the truth is that these stories are rare (that’s why they’re in the news!) and often these changes are not sustainable. For most of us, habit-forming is a slow process, especially since the habits we are trying to replace took years and years to create. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and time, and it’s not that sexy. It may seem like a much more admirable thing to make your goals huge and lofty, but consider where you would be one year from now if you made small improvements in your habits each month.
This is true for both mental and physical habits. In yoga, if you want to do the splits, you start by stretching a little bit every day, or a few times a week, slowly pushing yourself a little further each time until you are finally able to do the full pose. It would be silly to think you could do the splits all at once just because you made it a goal for yourself! Not to mention it might really freaking hurt and you could end up injured and even further away from your goal than when you started.
Similarly, if you want to work on saying nice things to yourself, you can’t start by committing to never say anything negative at all. These habits are deeply ingrained and can’t be changed overnight. But maybe you can start by committing to say one nice thing to yourself each day, or spend a month just noticing every time you say something negative and observing it without judgement, or write a list once a week of things you like about yourself. After a year of small steps, you will be amazed how far you have come.
A quick note on chocolate, just because
Certainly, there are some habits where it is easier or better to go big all at once. For example, I have a huge sweet tooth and people are always telling me to just try eating one piece of chocolate a day, or eating sweets only on the weekends. And to them I say “YOU TRY EATING JUST ONE PIECE OF CHOCOLATE A DAY IT’S NOT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE I’LL EAT A WHOLE BAR OF CHOCOLATE FOR BREAKFAST IF I WANT TO”.
So, for people like me, it’s better just to cut it out completely. Once I’ve gone about a week without sweets, my sugar demon retreats to its cave and patiently waits until it has cause to awaken again, but if I’m eating any sort of sugar, there really is no such thing as moderation. If you are one of those people who can eat one piece of chocolate a day, or finds dark chocolate “too rich” to eat a whole bar in one sitting, then I commend you on your inner strength (but also, you’re missing out).
To sum it all up…
It’s always nice to have a fresh start. A new year, a new week, a new moon, your 30th birthday. It’s a great time to harness the energy of starting over and finally make those changes you always wanted to. But giving yourself 10 impossible goals and then beating yourself up when you don’t perfectly follow every single one is simply a recipe for failure and disappointment.
Yes, it is important to make positive changes in our lives, set goals for ourselves, and push ourselves to committ to challenges and be better. But some ways of doing this are healthy and more effective than others and will not send you into a shame spiral that leaves you worse off than when you started. Just like climbing a mountain, improving your habits and making them stick takes thousands of small steps over a long period of time. It’s hard work and it takes a lot of energy and committment, but it’s worth it.
Also, chocolate is delicious and I want it (can you tell I’m on a no-sugar diet at the moment for this yoga course? IT’S KILLING ME SLOWLY).