Sitting on a couch at a friend’s place during a New Year’s Eve party, a friend turns to the group and suggests we share our new year’s resolutions. We pause for a moment and reflect. Music blaring in the background, one friend generously pouring prosecco with their brow furrowed in contemplation.
The first thing that comes to my mind is to change my spending habits, specifically to spend less money on clothes. I realise that I have had the same resolution for the last 3 years, to ‘only buy one new item of clothing for each season’ and have failed miserably each year. My heart sinks.
I look up to see other members of the group with deflated shoulders and strained expressions. Perhaps we’re all familiar with the battle in keeping new year’s promises and curbing bad habits. It strikes me as unfortunate that the very question of self-improvement and goal setting raises inevitable reflection on our past failures or short comings.
The music changes and a new song blasts through the speakers. A longing look from friend leads us to a unanimous decision to put off the conversation until after a substantial boogie.
The Trouble with New Year Resolutions
Much has been said about the problem with setting new year resolutions (see Why Your New Year Resolutions Don’t Work). We set broad, unattainable goals, we tell family and friends our goals but then don’t do any practical planning. Sometimes we inadvertently set ourselves up to fail with huge (and emotionally loaded) hopes for the future. (If you struggle with this issue, and would like to set better, more achievable goals, you may find help in our previous post, How to Make Your New Year Resolutions Actually Work.)
However, on reflection, the size of the goal doesn’t seem to be my problem. In theory, my goal is specific, achievable, can be measured within a time frame. It seems like one I could achieve if I really set my mind to it. For a moment I wonder how I would feel if I did achieve it. Probably quite proud I did something within my values, reduced my consumption of fashion and, in a tiny way, helped the environment. But there’s something uninspiring about my tired resolution from years past.
Values Instead of Resolutions
Imagine you are at the end of your life, looking back, what would you say was most important and meaningful to you?
This a question often asked by therapists providing acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It’s especially useful in eliciting connection with personal values. These are your greatest desires for how you want to show up as a human being, rather than what you want to get or achieve. We are likely to have greater wellbeing if we are living within our values in a way that feels meaningful to us.
So why not set intentions to embody values each new year, rather than shame-soaked resolutions? What if we don’t need to be fixed and solved, but just need something to move towards? A value or intention can be as simple as “acceptance”, “strength”, “humour”, “self-care”. But if we strive to embody it in some small way each day, sometimes nailing it and sometimes missing the mark, we’ll still be living a meaningful life.
5!.. 4!.. 3!.. 2!.. 1!.. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
We embrace and laugh and clink our glasses. And after the excitement of midnight, we organically break into groups, chatting about the year past and the year ahead in a different way.
A friend asks “How would you sum up last year in one word or phrase and what’s your intention for next year?” There is lightness and playfulness in the group. One friend yells “last year BIIIIG, this year BOLD!” Another “last year INDULGENT, this year ADVENTUROUS!” “Last year CONFUSING, this year TRUSTING INTUITION!” And “last year GLAM, this year STABILITY!” We laugh and express our admiration for each other’s intentions. I think for a moment, and then feel elated as I land on something that feels true, “last year DELICIOUS, and this year LEAN IN!”
Perhaps what I, and many of us, are looking for at the start of the year is not a rule or structure to rein us in. Nor a solution to perceived flaws or problems. But instead, we seek a sense of excitement in our intention to live well in the year ahead; to live a life we value. I will still try to buy less new clothing this year. But I’ll also make mistakes, muddle my way through, and lean into all the challenges, richness and beauty that life has to offer.
Need further help on improving meaning in your life?
If you need some inspiration for what your values might be, see Russ Harris’ values page from ACT Mindfully. You can also read more about living according to your values here. If you’re interested in reflecting on values and moving toward meaningful life, it may be a good time to link in with a psychologist. To discuss arranging sessions with a psychologist at Peaceful Mind Psychology, contact us on 1300 766 870.