With 2021 here, it’s time to scramble to find the perfect new year’s resolutions for self-improvement so that this can be the best year ever!
Did your heart just sink at the thought of boldly announcing this year’s weight loss goal or your 27th attempt at quitting coffee? Because I have great news: You do not need to make “resolutions.” You are not required to sift through a bunch of society’s expectations and obligations and then set yourself up for another year of disappointment.
Let’s take a step back and honor the tradition of making resolutions each January as an attempt to make each year better than the one before. That’s good, right? Except that studies show less than half of folks who set resolutions achieve them and often abandon them entirely after only a few months.
For me, the idea of coming up with a bigger and shinier resolution year after year is stressful — especially after a year of uncertainty, worry and hardship. I’d argue that creating more sacrifice and guilt for ourselves with out-of-reach resolutions may actually be unhealthy for many this year.
Many resolutions are giant “shoulds” created from outside expectations in which we are looking to avoid shame or seeking approval from others. External rewards are far less effective than internal rewards for motivating lasting change. This means that hopes may be high the first week of January, but when it comes to eliminating all refined sugars or never purchasing anything made of plastic for the rest of your life, we’re not that motivated to do the work needed to achieve it. It’s just easier to mark it as a FAIL and to try to forget you ever resolved to do it in the first place.
Imagine what the coming year might look like if your choices and actions were motivated from deep inside yourself. Intrinsic rewards are not tangible and individuals experience them differently; however, they almost always derive from a sense of accomplishment, fun, curiosity and connection.
So, what does this look like in the real world? Let’s practice reframing resolutions into inspired action, shall we?
If you want to experience more calm and ease, make sure you’re getting the sleep you need and explore relaxation or movement activities that feel good, like yoga, meditation, qi gong or swimming. Join a local movement studio that offers online classes (in the region, the Yoga Together Wellness Facebook Group lists online and in-person classes) or sign up for a retreat this summer when it’s safe to travel. You could download one of the many apps, like Headspace, Insight Timer or Simple Habit, designed to make mindfulness and meditation accessible and achievable. Try it out; if it feels good after the first three to five sessions, you’ll stick with it (because: intrinsic rewards). If not, try something else; it’s not the right activity for you.
If you want to feel inspired and energized you could go somewhere breathtaking, create something beautiful, take an online class to learn something new or do something that challenges you a little bit.
If you want to enjoy your body you could explore activities like hiking, biking, dancing or skating that put a smile on your face and get your blood flowing. Take a moment to put your hand on your heart each day and feel it beating for you — so amazing. Avoid your scale and stop punishing yourself with exercise that hurts, causes injury or makes you feel bad. Your worth has nothing to do with your ability to fit into that old pair of jeans.
If you want to connect meaningfully with friends and family consider who helps you feel safe and supported and create some plans to see them regularly, even for a short time. You don’t have to spend hours together to benefit from human connection.
If you want to enjoy eating healthier, start by identifying what you can add to your meals to bring you more variety, nutrients and vitamins. You may be tempted to swear off fatty, sweet or salty foods you enjoy because the diet police tell you they are “unhealthy,” but you don’t have to eliminate foods you love to get better nutrition. Try adding in nutrient-dense food when possible; cooking with seasonal fruits and veggies and exploring new whole grains like farro and wild rice instead of pasta and white rice.
If you want to embrace adventure and travel, look ahead and get it on the calendar. You may want to request the time off of work or book your travel while rates are low. The idea is to make plans in January that you can look forward to all year. The heavy lifting is in the planning. Once that’s done you can focus on the fun you’ll have, which makes it easier to handle the details along the way. Be realistic in expectations about how often to travel and what sorts of coronavirus restrictions may be in place the coming months.
If you want to find peace in nature more often the easiest way is to create an indoor or backyard space where you can observe the sky above, green growing things and the sounds of nature surrounding you even in winter. When spring has sprung, you can reach out to a knowledgeable friend or local hiking group to show you new trails or green spaces and create time for nature each month or week.
You’ll find that the benefits from these activities multiply when you combine them. Notice how good it feels to work from the inside out connecting with people, places and activities that inspire and motivate you. Most importantly, stop keeping up with the Joneses. Give yourself permission to do what feels good, safe and easy for you this year. After 2020, you deserve it.
Originally Published in the Inland360, January 2021