The Trap of New Years Resolutions - Part 2
In the last blog we began an exploration into the idea of new year’s resolutions. Using the example of Samantha’s story, we saw how for many people setting goals can prove to be the catalyst for disappointment, depression and shame when they find themselves unable to meet those goals. There is a current obsession prevalent on social media with ‘living my best life’ and ‘being the best version of myself’. I have to say it’s one trend I have found difficult to relate to. I am unsure what it means exactly and what it looks like. It seems like another bit of ammunition to add to people’s artillery that can be used to tear others down in the name of looking after their best interests. “I just don’t think you’re the best version of yourself” “I just want you to live your best life” It also seems to perpetuate the centrality of the individual which I have an automatic reaction to.
Anyway, I digress! We concluded the previous blog with the questions should we give up on making goals or resolutions for the year? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by setting these goals? How do we prevent the triadic relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions from having such a stronghold in both our own lives and the lives of those that we care about? I gave up on making new year’s resolutions because I realised that I had a sensitivity towards generalisation. In other words, I tended towards a negative disposition which was incommensurate with reality. I had numerous Samantha-like moments where a goal or resolution was breached but rather than see that as an isolated situation, I would associate that with the rest of my life. I have a tendency to join in with the millennial choir and sing the chorus “fuck my LIFE” (FML) in response to single incidents.
I am by no means suggesting that refraining from making goals is the solution to Samantha’s dilemma. There needs to be a shift from the generalist application of incidents to a more realistic interpretation. We need the ability to respond appropriately to situations without the debilitating exaggerations. A lapse in our commitments does not need to be extended to a universal application to the rest of our lives. We are not defined by our moments of weakness irrespective of how many times we may feel like we have failed. Mindfulness teaches us to be present and to appreciate our feelings in the moment. Using mindfulness techniques, Samantha could understand that her feelings of depression are directly related to her choice to drink despite her new year’s resolution. While this choice may feel disappointing, it is NOT indicative of who she is but simply the result of one situation. Rather than saying “Fuck my Life”, she can learn to say, more appropriately, “Fuck that choice!”. This can then empower her to realise that if she is capable of making choices, then she could potentially make different ones in the future.
This also means that we need to be aware of how our words can either empower or subjugate others. Universal words and sentences such as “you always…” or “you never” really need to be rephrased in the proper context in which they occur. It is always more effective to express our experiences with others in the first person and in specific relation to the particular situation. “You never answer your phone” would be much better received and consequently worked through if presented as “I called you yesterday in the afternoon and when you didn’t answer I felt disappointed and ignored” This has a two-fold impact. Firstly, it allows the recipient of the information the ability to recognise how their choices affect the other without feeling attacked. Secondly, it gives agency to the person communicating in a way that makes them responsible for their feelings. This is such an important consideration especially when dealing with people who gravitate towards negativity and generalisation. In the context of Samantha’s story, the ability of her boss to engage empathically with her as described above can have significant influence on re-coding her brain. Her friend’s ability to understand her story and her new year’s resolution and to support her would potentially yield different results. Her personal trainer’s capacity to see her for who she is and appreciate where she is at, would allow her to also accept herself even when she has that occasional lapse in resolve.
In the final analysis, the traps of new year’s resolutions need not discourage us from setting goals. Instead, being mindful of our capacity as humans to make mistakes, we can surround ourselves with support systems that work collectively to ensure that success is achieved. Perhaps there is something to be said for the value of community and collectivism in achieving success. If one fails, then we all fail. And similarly, if one succeeds then we all succeed with them. Maybe I cannot possibly be living my best life unless everyone around me is also living theirs!