’Tis the season when many of us make resolutions for the New Year. We set goals, renew our commitment to making changes in our lives, and set forth with renewed hope and energy. Sometime in the following six weeks, most of us find that we’ve fallen back into old patterns, slid back into those habits we were so hoping we would be breaking this time around, and—more often than not—feel guilt and disappointment about once again failing to live up to the expectations we set for ourselves.
As a therapist, I approach my practice from a strength-based perspective. I help clients define what isn’t working for them, but then we use their successes and strengths as the roadmap to making the changes they want in their lives. In my experience with resolutions (mine and those of friends, family, and clients), we generally approach them from the opposite point of view.
Most resolutions seem to be an expression of the lives we feel we should be leading. They are often a critique of what we’ve been doing so far, ways in which we have fallen short of our own expectations, and as such, start us off on the wrong emotional foot. We start off in a critical frame of mind. We focus on potential pitfalls and failures. We perpetuate the idea that somehow we’ve been lacking in the past (motivation, commitment, discipline), which does not do much for building our confidence in our future. Setting the intention that this is the year I’ll finally be good can be pretty demoralizing. Usually, resolutions involve NOT doing something we’ve been doing for a while, and breaking those patterns can be so hard, particularly when we start off in such a negative frame of mind.
Instead, it might be time to look at the things in the previous year that worked for us—the things we are most proud of, that brought us the most joy, and made us feel the most competent—and borrow from them. Let’s do more of the things that bring us contentment. If we start the year wanting to do more positive things, things we know from our own experiences we are capable of doing, we set ourselves up for success in a way that focusing on what NOT to do cannot.
In the past, I have set yearly resolutions about exercise and weight loss. Each year I set a target goal or number, and each year I fall short. This year, I want to look at something I did that worked for me last year and made me feel good: I planted a garden.
Working in the garden gave me time outside (often with my son), regular workouts (preparing the beds, planting, and weeding are no joke), and in the end left me with delicious, fresh produce that we enjoyed all spring, summer, and into the fall. Coming up with new recipes for the bushels of zucchini I was harvesting fed my creative side. I also saw how my son (just 2 years old at the time) would pick cherry tomatoes off the vine and eat them like candy. When he needed a snack, we’d pop outside and see what was ready to eat. If he looked skeptically at something I had prepared for dinner, all I had to do was tell him it came from our garden, and he ate it with gusto.
Through this one activity, I was able to engage in a healthy lifestyle that I enjoy and want to pass on to my son. So this year, I want to do more of it. I want to expand the garden and, instead of giving away all my excess harvest to friends and neighbors, learn how to can and preserve our bounty so that we can be enjoying the literal fruits of our labors year-round.
Through this process, I also developed a greater understanding of what truly motivates me. Being outdoors, enjoying time with others, and creating something tangible and useful are all things that make me feel good. Any goals or resolutions I set should include some or all of these if I want to increase my chances of success.
So this year, as you sit down to write your own resolutions or hopes for the year, think about what brings you joy and contentment, what IS working in your life, and find ways to do more of those things.
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