The pressure to make resolutions each new year with the objective of creating a more successful, fulfilling life is enormous. The constant feed of memes and messages in our faces telling us what “happiness” and “achievement” look like can be overwhelming. They serve as a daily reminder that we could be better if we only did this, that or a combination of them all. That we’re not good enough if we aren’t always striving for change. While these objectives are not always bad, they are often unrealistic and set for the wrong reasons.
A resolution implies that there is existing conflict that needs resolving. Since personal goals are only between you and yourself alone, then that means that conflict must reside within you, right? When we think about the most common resolutions - weight loss, eating better, getting more sleep, exercising more, making more money or finding the person of our dreams - they all point towards steps to happiness. “If only” I can change this circumstance my life will be better. As soon as I am thinner, richer, more rested, in a relationship, joy will surely follow. This way of thinking suggests that our current state is not happy at all. Is this really true?
The majority of resolutions fail by February, or earlier, therefore we are consciously setting ourselves up for failure from the beginning. When we do eventually give up and admit the change was too hard or unrealistic, our happiness plummets even further and we take on the additional emotion of shame. No wonder many don’t bother setting goals at all because if we don’t bother trying then we can’t fail, right?
It is not all terrible news. There are those able to maintain changes to their lifestyle that increase their overall well being because they know the secret: make goals and changes for yourself and your personal desires and not for the outside world. Making a simple daily promise instead of resolutions will also increase your happiness and help you to attain your goals.
This daily promise is not about getting up at a certain time or eating specific foods, doing a trendy new exercise routine or testing out new work strategies. It is a daily promise to invest in yourself, learn about what you want, what makes you feel good and what truly matters to you. Start listening to your inner guide, your compass, your gut, your spirit or whatever you want to call it. We all have one and it is always directing us on the right path, but sadly we are not always listening. Due to outside influences we tend to lose our trust in our inner compass. How many times have you had someone tell you the way you feel is wrong and invalidate your feelings? The worst part is we believe them, we second guess our own feelings and wonder if they might be right and adopt their interpretation. Why would we do this? Why do we reject ourselves to make others happy? Ultimately, we are social creatures looking for love and acceptance from others. We are willing to lie and be someone we are not to appeal to other people, and, at times, people we don’t even know. If nothing else, celebrities have taught us that having money and being popular does not lead to happiness, but often, loneliness.
With a proven track record that changing ourselves for the purpose of satisfying others does not lead to our personal happiness or gratification why not try another option? Instead of wasting time, energy and emotions on the outside world, make a promise each day to focus on you. Treat yourself like you would your best friend or a treasured family member. Figure out things that make you feel good and practice just one each day. It doesn’t have to be something big. It can be as small as a daily affirmation, a 5 minute breathing exercise, eating and savouring a piece of chocolate, or taking 10 minutes at the end of the day to read before going to sleep. Once that becomes second nature add another and you will slowly redirect the energy of your life. Let your gut feeling judge challenges and situations, so that you can quickly respond confidently instead of agonizing over how someone else might react to your decision. Why would we want to spend our lives trying to figure out what others want us to do? This is a no-win situation and if these people want to reject us for not living up to “their” expectations why would we want them to be a part of our lives?
If the goal is not for self-fulfillment but to gain attention from others, the effort put into reaching that goal will fade as quickly as the attention does. The “acceptance high” is easy to crave, it feels good to be noticed and applauded, but it can be a vicious cycle of highs and lows. When we aren’t celebrated for an accomplishment that we thought would gain praise we doubt ourselves and spiral into a dangerous practice of negative self talk.
The moment we discover what we truly need, enjoy and love in life, the happier and more confident we become. That positive energy and attitude attracts more like-minded people. People who will choose to spend time with us, accept us for who we are and support and lift us up. They care for our true selves and not who we are pretending to be. When you are in tune with your desires all of those resolutions happen naturally for the right reasons. You feel great after going for a walk with a friend, so you start to add group exercise to your routine, and you look forward to it. You discover foods that give you more energy and build the base for a productive day, so you add them to your diet easily. You start to instinctively make choices based on how you feel and what matters to you and not because you are comparing yourselves to others and focusing on the “lack” in your life.
If we make our only source of comparison our past accomplishments and our personal expectations (as long as they are reasonable) then self acceptance will follow. Confidence will lead us to where we want to be because we aren’t relying on the approval of others to feel good inside. This year, skip the resolution and go straight to making a simple promise to discovering yourself a little more each day and happiness will follow.