Do New Year Resolutions Stress You Out? Try This Instead.

New Year, Old Cycle

English: New Year's Resolutions postcard

English: New Year’s Resolutions postcard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not going to speculate whether it’s part of American society or just plain human nature, but in general, people like to advance and achieve. Whether it’s looking for a better bargain on shoes, a better apartment (I’d sure love one!), a better paycheck or a better haircut, the bright and shiny potential of what could be is often much more appealing than the reality of what is.

Hence the popularity of New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, it’s also the downfall of many a resolution – once you get past the golly-gee-what-could-be stage and actually start working on it, the luster wears off really quick. Then cue frustration, disappointment, and a nose dive back into bad habits. Sound familiar? Want to try something different this year?

Choose a theme. Yes, that dreaded word that probably only ever came up in your English class. In the dictionary, a theme can mean “a distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern <the campaign has lacked a theme>”. For you, it means creating a guide for the year – as opposed to a resolution check-list.

I stopped making resolutions a couple of years ago. I often found myself in the same cycle that most people do; I’d have a slew of things I wanted to change, get started with gusto, then either get bored, decide to pursue something else or fail for some other reason. Mostly, though my resolutions fell through because, over the course of the year, my priorities changed and my old resolutions no longer fit what I wanted to achieve or change.

So I stopped making resolutions. Instead, I chose themes.

Each year, I would choose a theme that I wanted to focus on. For example, 2012 was my year of the Body. My aim, then, was to keep that in mind when it came to making choices. What would be better for my body – the broiled fish or the cream-soaked pasta? What would make my body happier – a nap or 10 minutes on the bike? What would provide better for my body – a regular seasonal job that gave my plenty of rest time (not to mention time for all my doc appointments) or a full-time position?

I found it a huge relief to not have a specific hit list of resolutions to cross off. Having an over-arching theme left me room to be flexible with whatever events came up during the year. Thinking back, I could actually count off a good amount of things that I had done that were good for my body, instead of my previous ritual of moping over the number of broken resolutions. Since starting, I haven’t looked back.

If you want to break free of the New Year’s resolution cycle, try sticking with a theme this year.

How to Get Started

  1. Ask yourself some questions. Is there an area of your life that you really want or need to work on? Be honest – nobody’s going to see it but you. If you want love, is it because you’re lonely or for some other reason? If you want to get in shape, think about why – do you really want to be healthier or do you just want to look better/ feel better about yourself?
  2. Make it about you. Look, you can’t change people – I’ve tried, you’ve tried, everyone’s tried. The only people who actually succeed in changing others are abusers (or religious nuts) who use psychological manipulation and don’t care about the person they’re bulling into submission. Instead of trying to change your jerk of a boss or boy/girlfriend, work on getting the confidence and resources to give them the shaft. Focus inward – you’ll have a much better shot real change.
  3. Generalize. Leave yourself wiggle room. “Getting healthy” isn’t just about eating right – it can also mean getting more sleep, leaving a toxic relationship, quitting smoking or even just smoking less, trying a new vegetable or making your own soups this winter. By being general, you leave yourself open to work with what you have at hand – upping your odds for success.
  4. Simplify. This ties in with generalizing. Like a mantra or affirmation, it’s a good idea to make your theme as simple and easy-to-remember as possible. Boil it down to one sentence, or even one word, if possible.
  5. Don’t wait for midnight. Start thinking in terms of your theme right now. Write it on a Post-It note and put a bunch of them everywhere. Repeat it to yourself often and use it as a rule of thumb when making your decisions.

Here are some other links to get your brain percolating for the New Year:

New Year, New You Project (this started last year, but has become pretty popular)
A-kick-in-the-pants article to get you thinking

My theme for 2013 is going to be Feeding the Soul. Let me know what themes you plan to use for 2013 in the comments below!

If you’re going to make a resolution for 2013, resolve to subscribe and get every new post by email (at least until I can decide on a layout I really like).

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