It’s yet again that time of year, the summation of one year, and initiation of another. The beginning of a new year is symbolic for most people; it’s a representation of a new beginning, a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to rewrite your story and your life in general. It’s because of this that most people use this time to draw out new life resolutions. Some write it on paper, others make verbal declarations to their friends and loved ones of their new goals. Resolutions are unique for everyone, but most lie along the lines of drastic self-transformation; physically, socially, financially, spiritually to mention but a few.
For some people, especially those to whom the previous year hasn’t been so kind, the new year is a beacon of hope, a reminder of the healing power of time, a reminder that no bad situation is permanent. Most people picture their lives instantly transformed the moment the clock hits midnight. Some are honest and live up to their resolutions; Many visionaries and creatives have been built because of a single very powerful resolution to pursue change.
However, how many times have you reached a new year, made resolutions, then dropped them immediately the excitement of the new year fades? Some people even hold their resolutions for a few weeks, but then after the dopamine fades, they regress back to their old ways; a diet plan goes down the drain, a gym program disappears, career goals are forgotten and you go back to default settings. Why? Pause for a moment and ask yourself why you often fail to hold up to most of your new-year resolutions. Here’s a few possible reasons.
Motivation is everything: Most people jump into self-improvement even without asking themselves why, what’s the real reason you want to improve your life. The motivation is what will pull you out of bed at six in the morning to commit to that five mile run, it’s what will give you the power to commit to that diet, it’s that will give you the strength to put in those extra hours to study for that career you want, or put in the extra hours to build that side hustle. Motivation will determine whether you’ll stay in the grind when times get rough and you barely see any results.
With the wrong motivation, all actions however honest, however noble, are in vain. The ‘why’ is the most important. The wrong motivation will make the entire improvement process torture. Entering a marriage because you worry what others think about you makes you settle in an unfulfilling or even abusive marriage. Pursuing money because you think it will bring you ultimate happiness, makes you materialistic and shallow. Increasing your social circle because you fear loneliness makes you needy and clingy. You can take every self-help tip out there, but if your need to improve is fueled by an underlying feeling of inadequacy, to the point that you feel you need to earn your place in society by trying to be enough, this easily turns into a path of self-hatred and self-condemnation. Drop the more superficial motivations like the need for social-validation and replace them with deeper values like love, integrity, charity.
Unrealistic goals: Toxic self-help sells people unrealistic life expectations. It portrays an unrealistic ideal, one in which your financial status is high, your physique is perfect with a shredded body and six-pack abs, working for the most humanitarian organization while receiving a seven figure salary and with a perfectly healthy kids. It gives people unrealistic life goals to strive for, and that’s why most in turn burn out while desperately trying to reach this self-help utopia,
“Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistic positive expectations; Be happier be healthier, be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied and more admired. Be amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderful job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.” Mark Manson, in the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
This makes most people feel like their lives are not meaningful just because they’re working a modest 9-5 job, or they’re not married with kids at 26. It always feels like by resolving such problems in one’s life will give them ultimate bliss. But buzz kill, life is an endless checklist of huddles, the more you check out of the list, the more that more are added. If it’s not a low salary, it will be a sick child, or a struggling marriage, or a less fulfilling career, life can never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth living. Strive for goals, but don’t do it because you envision an ideal where your life is perfect. Take on every huddle life presents you with a smile because that’s what life’s about, it’s about pushing your boundaries and testing your limits.
One step at a time: This is where most of us go wrong, we think by making a resolve, we should kick in to overdrive. We think when the clock hits midnight, we should instantly transfigure into that self-driven achiever who wakes up at four in the morning and goes to the gym every day. We crave instant results, and so we spring into aggressive action. But jumping head first into some vicious diet or workout routine leaves room for a high chance of burn out.
This follows from setting unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself. A healthier approach involves setting smaller goals for specific areas of your life. ‘Don’t bite on what you can’t chew’ You don’t have to suddenly transform into a charismatic social butterfly who connects with everyone. You can start working on your listening skills, learning how to talk to a person or two on a personal basis. You don’t have to run ten miles on your first day, a good enough start is walking two miles a day. Problem is we fixate upon the imagined results of our resolutions that we can’t wait to reach the finish line, we forget the process which is the most important. Thinking about the future only helps us design goals by making projections we can live up to, but the rest all comes down to the moment to moment small actions that we take. Breakdown your goals into tiny daily habits that can project you to your desired results, then forget everything else and focus only on the task in front of you at that time. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-Tzu.
Conclusion; Make resolutions, but don’t make them too unrealistic that you risk giving up on the first week. Also don’t pursue them too aggressively that you risk burn out on the first lap, the race is a long one. Throw away that toxic self-help that tells you you’re of infinite power and you simply need to believe for you to achieve overnight, it doesn’t work. You’re a being of finite energy who gets tired and needs time to recharge. And lastly, don’t do it because you feel you have anything to prove to anyone, even yourself, instead pursue them based on your deeper values.