Why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions

. . . and what I’m doing instead in 2017.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want the next year–2017–to look like for me. Have you been too? Maybe you’ve made a resolution to lose weight or to save or make more money or to get involved in local politics or to start making it to work on time. How many times have you said this to yourself, “This year will be the year I finally … (fill in the blank with your just-out-of-reach goal here)”?

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For most of my adult life, I was the queen of resolutions. In late December, as New Year’s Eve approached, I’d write in my journal all the hopes and dreams I had for the year ahead, all the ways I’d improve myself–bad habits I’d break (stop procrastinating), good habits I’d pick up (flossing), goals I’d accomplish (run a half marathon). I’d copy my list of resolutions neatly in the back of my planner, excited and eager and hopeful for a fresh year, a blank slate, a new story to write.

As each new year went on, though, inevitably I couldn’t live up to all dreams I had for myself. When I’d turn to the back of my planner and check in on my progress I’d feel good about what I was pursuing (training for that race – check!) and guilty about the habits I just couldn’t seem to shake (still procrastinating, ugh) or make (still not flossing, whoops). Because some of the visions I had for my life were just that–visions too aspirational or unattainable–I ended up putting myself through a lot of unnecessary, internal angst by focusing on my unmet resolutions rather than what I had accomplished with a little determination and focus.

Once I resolved to eat nothing but beans, vegetables and proteins for the entire year (I know, strange). Something I read had convinced me that this diet would be the solution to the body image issues that plagued me because with it I would finally lose the weight I desired and keep it off too. I wasn’t perfect, but I actually kept up with this weird diet for several months until I realized how unhappy I’d become and how unrealistic it was for someone like me to eliminate several food groups from my diet (I am a moderator, not an abstainer; for more on this idea, see this post).

Part of my problem was that the resolutions I set were just too idealistic. To “never eat gluten again” or “always be early to meetings” just isn’t realistic because life is never all or nothing, life just happens. Grandmother’s extra-special 80th birthday cake, a business lunch that runs late–happens and often bends or breaks a resolution. Unfortunately my all-or-nothing approach to resolutions made it hard for me to jump back on the horse when I faltered, leading way to self-loathing.

The other issue?  I had so many different resolutions going at once, I couldn’t keep them all straight. Though I had good intentions, I couldn’t see that I was actually setting myself up to fail by dividing my attention, rather than honing in on a few attainable resolutions. Maybe you already know this for yourself–I obviously didn’t–but eventually I realized New Year’s resolutions were doing me more harm than good.

I know I’m not alone in my resolution angst. This study found that 81 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. So why do we make them, year after year, even though it’s unlikely we follow through? I think the answer has something to do with this generation’s zeitgeist of self-improvement, coupled with the many messages we receive from media and marketers who capitalize on our deepest desires to become “better” than before.

My philosophy today: I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I suppose I could just be more practical and focused, lowering the bar a bit when it comes to resolutions. Do I still have habits I want to break or form? You bet. Goals that I want to accomplish? Sure. But I no longer use the New Year as my starting line for improving my life in those ways.

Instead I use the start of a New Year as an occasion to set one theme or focus I can pursue year-round. It’s an idea inspired by one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, who has written quite a bit about choosing a one-word or phrase theme for the New Year.

Your word or phrase can be just about anything–its purpose is to be a guiding beacon as you approach a new year of life. In the past, I’ve chosen “presence” (2016), “love” (2015) and “peace” (2014). When I look back on the past three years, I can see a marked change in the way I approached my life and ways my word helped me transform on a conscious and subconscious level. Gone is the creeping remorse of unmet resolutions of years past.

In 2015, I made a life shift toward a different career track. My company was restructuring our department and my dream job had opened up. So had a few management opportunities within my existing team. Both paths seemed intriguing and out of reach, but I knew I had to take a chance or risk the regret of not knowing what might have been. I applied for my dream job–a lateral move for sure–an incredible chance to do what I love every day. For work. It seemed a bit, well, unreal.

Fast forward a few weeks, and they offered me the dream job, the job I never thought I’d have. I was overjoyed and relieved and exhilarated. Due to a variety of factors, the next year in that position would be more challenging than I’d ever anticipated. When occasional moments of doubt or envy set in, I needed only remind myself of the love that inspired my career decision and those feelings dissipated.

Having a theme or focus for the New Year has been uplifting beyond measure, it’s like having a handy compass whenever you need direction or motivation or feel as if you’ve lost your way.

For my focus in 2017, I’ve chosen the word “courage.” In the past, I’ve often allowed my fears to hold me back from being my most authentic self or pursuing big dreams. This year I want to break up with fear and cultivate courage.

I want to be brave enough to create, to tell my unique stories and share others that need telling. I want to disagree, to disappoint, to say “no,” to say “yes,” to live out my faith and values in ways that might be counter-cultural.

I want to be courageous in the ways I love and care for my family and friends, showing up for them, being open and vulnerable and true. I want to be brave enough to speak up for what I believe or what I need, even when it’s unpopular or unsettling.

I want to be brave enough to live and love imperfectly in a world obsessed with picture perfect people. I know there are times that I’ll fail and give in to fear, but I’m using this space, this post to make a public promise to myself that I’ll keep pushing and trying to be courageous, and be gentle with myself when I’m not.

Being courageous means working to silence the tiny voice inside my head that says, “You are not enough,” and replace it with a message of love, a message that says, “You are enough.” I draw strength from my belief that God made me, and everyone else in the world, in God’s image.

I am enough, and my stories matter. You are enough, and your stories matter too.

I choose to be courageous in 2017. What do you choose? 

Do you have a one-word or phrase focus for 2017? Share it in comments section below. I’d love to hear from you! 

 

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions

  1. I love this Erin! You write beautifully and I love getting to know what’s going on in your mind 🙂 I also like this word focus for the year. I’ve never believed in “New Year’s Resolutions,” seeing them more as an excuse for people to procrastinate on their goals. Why wait? Start now! Anywho, my main current life goal, I’m sure like you, is to survive these early months of motherhood with a healthy happy baby at the end of it. But a word…hmmm…I’ll have to think on that and let you know! Keep writing my dear!
    P.S. I am also super selfishly happy that you guys didn’t move to Denver. I treasure our occasional Chicago dates.

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    1. Hey Jess! Thanks for reading — and yes, I am right there with you on surviving motherhood as my top priority for the year ahead! 😉 Yes, resolutions are just not for me. And as for Chicago, we are really glad we stayed here and I also have loved our occasional city meet ups.

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