So where do you stand on new year’s resolutions? Is it a ritual you follow assidiously each year or something you try and struggle with? Or is it just something you laugh off as an irrelevance.
What I find interesting about resolutions is the idea that something has to change. The assumption with a resolution is that you are not satisfied with certain aspects of your life, whether that’s body image, job and money, relationships and friendships or something else you’ve had on your mind. Somewhere in that dissatisfaction, there is an impulse to shake things up.
Taking stock of your life
And fair enough, it can be a good thing to take stock of your life from time to time and ask yourself:
In the overall balance of things, am I content?
When I look at the direction my life is moving in, do I feel ok with how things are?
When I think about the relationships in my life, am I satisfied and if not what would I change?
Those questions are the foundation of what’s shown to work in the research on wellbeing: a sense of gratitude, connectedness with others, compassion for yourself and the world.
So if those ideas resonate with you, why wouldn’t you set a resolution to change any or all of those things that aren’t quite right?
Well, for many people resolutions just don’t work, however strong the impulse to change. Why is that?
Why resolutions don’t work
I’m not saying change is bad. Quite the opposite. Counselling is most often about change of some sort. However, the starting point for a resolution seems, to me at least, an arbitrary point in time at the start of the year. With that arbitrariness can come a whole stack of ‘shoulds or musts’ – I should earn more this year, I should lose weight, get fit, eat better, meet friends more etc.
Shoulds and musts often are a warning sign when I meet clients for counselling. They’re looking to find a way out of discomfort, self-pressure, stuck ways of being. Shoulds are often a sign of that critical part of yourself starting to lay down the rules. While that voice may shout out loudly, it often comes with another voice of resentment and resistance which stops the resolution in its track sooner or later.
When there’s a strong disconnect between the part of you that says you should be doing something, and the part that is resisting, you can feel very stuck. In more extreme cases,the inner struggle can lead you into anxiety and depression or sometimes unexpected anger.
So what’s wrong with the ‘should’? You probably know there’s something particularly unmotivating when someone else tells you what to do, as an adult. And the same pretty much goes for that inner voice of ‘you should.’ You can put money on another part of you dragging its heels saying it doesn’t want to play.
The problem with January for new starts
The season may also have a part to play in this. January can be a difficult time of year to motivate yourself for change. The days are short, money is often tight after the holidays. The weather is cold and grim. Who’d want to go all out for something new then?
If you take a look at the seasonal patterns, winter is all about lying fallow and waiting for the soil to do its work underground and awaken for the spring. I believe strongly that change comes when it can and must. It emerges into your awareness with an increasing volume until it can’t be ignored. Change from the inside can’t really be forced or cajoled. It has to come of its own free will. Of course that can start on January 1st but it could equally be any other date, as it’s a movement that comes from within.
That’s not to say that taking stock of where you are in your life and what you need from it is a bad thing. But my suggestion here is to check in with the energy and desire behind it. What’s motivating the change right now? Is it a restless part of you, a critical part of you or a deeper knowing that change is needed? Or it is, that it really is time for change and you are seizing the moment.
Being aware of that bigger picture of the different parts of you driving and resisting change can bring more harmony and ease into the process of deciding to make any changes. It means the resistance might be turned down a bit or even absent.
This week’s Lifeline
Here’s a Lifeline that can help you get more clarity about what is you really want to change and it’s based on completing three drawings or pieces of writing. You’ll need pen, paper, drawing implements.
Find a quiet space where you can be free of interruption for about 30 minutes.
Take a few moments to connect with your breath and centre yourself. And then go inside to a still place and ask yourself ‘Where have I come from?’
See if any images or words come up for this and when you are ready draw or write what you see / experienced.
When this is done, set the piece aside and go inside again, paying attention to your breath first. Then when you are ready, from that still place within, ask yourself ‘Where am I now’ and see what images or words come. Draw or write about what you experienced when you are ready.
Set the picture or writing aside when you are done.
Finally go inside once more, connecting with that still place and ask yourself, ‘Where am I going?’ Stay with any images or words that come to you and when you are ready make a note or draw what you experienced.
When you are ready, bring all three pieces in front of you and contemplate what you have produced. What do you see in the writing or drawing that is familiar? What is surprising and unexpected? Where do you think you are being led to in this process?
Reflect on your experience for a few minutes and decide whether to keep your images safe or to dispose of them.
What are you struggling with in your life right now?
If you feel you are at a turning point in your life or struggling with resolutions, why you are making them and where you want to go in your life, why not get in touch for a first counselling session?
I offer counselling in Totnes and online to help you explore and connect with what is most important in your life. If you’re struggling with feeling stuck, in depression or feel stressed and anxious about your life, counselling can help you get clearer on what’s happening and connect with new ways of being, freer from self-criticism and being gentler on yourself.