New Year, New You: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Research shows that by the end of the first week of January, about 1 in 4 people have already broken their New Year’s resolution. After about 6 months, less than half of resolution-setters are still in the running. However, with the right type of preparation, perspective, and support the new year can be a powerful spearhead for meaningful change. Regardless if you’re a resolution-setter, the new year is a natural time for self-reflection, both on our past and what lies ahead for us. Let’s spend a bit of time considering how to get the most out of this reflective time, and how to use this energy to move you closer to your values and meaningful purpose in the next year and beyond.
As you look back on the past year, if your mind first moves to your losses, mistakes, and shortcomings, you’re not alone. It’s easy to look back and think what could have been but can be helpful to seek to appreciate and express gratitude for what was. You may first start with the question, “What were my best experiences this year?”. Think about the times in your life in the past year where you were the most energized, fulfilled, or joyful. You may also consider when you felt most connected, understood, or of value in your relationships with others. These may have been times when you felt creative or as if you were making an impact in the world. See if you can recall the story of those events. What made these experiences feel so impactful and positive? What was happening in these moments or experiences? Who were you with? What feelings were present? When you consider your most important values, how do these experiences relate, support, or serve these life-giving principles? Then, importantly, what choices, strengths, social supports, environmental aspects, and circumstances contributed to these experiences? Oftentimes, by appreciating the best of what already exists in our lives, not just in terms of experiences but the circumstances that allow these joyful experiences to occur, we strengthen our ability to nurture and grow the best of ourselves and our lives.
As you look at the year ahead of you, consider what this year might look like if these highlights, best experiences, or the “best you” were present more consistently. What would this look like? What habits and choices would support this consistency? More broadly, if you could wave a magic wand and guarantee that everything would play in your favor, what changes or experiences would you wish for in the coming year? What circumstances or supports would need to happen for these to occur? Don’t be afraid to dream big!
Sometimes, in order to connect more deeply with our truest desires and inspirations, we need to lift the constraints of our grounded, logic-based thinking. One way to access our more boundless, right-brain thinking is to leave the bounds of language by employing creative visual representation. You may spend some time sketching, drawing, or painting images or representations of your greatest hopes for the coming year and your life beyond. Making a collage using cut outs from magazines, old books, and brochures can similarly stimulate out-of-the-boxy and aspirational thinking if you’re not as artistically inclined. It can even help to create a digital vision board by saving images or links that speak to and inspire you.
Looking at the First Steps
Oftentimes, at the beginning of a new change we feel a rush of motivation and inspiration that allows to push through barriers and be successful in initial attempts even in the face of challenges. However, as time passes, motivation can wane. Stressor arise, and common barriers such as time, money, and competing demands present themselves. Becoming overwhelmed or exhausted in our initial attempts, it is easy to abandon change entirely once new habits start to slip. However, there are many ways we can plan our change journey in the beginning that increase our likelihood of success in the long term.
- The beauty is in the details. Set yourself up for success by thinking through all the details of your specific behavior plan. What actionable steps can you begin to take that would move your life in the direction of your dreams and aspirations? Goals are most helpful when they are specific enough that they are measurable. For instance, if you want to “exercise more” consider what specific type of exercise you will be doing, for how long, how often, and in what setting. It may be helpful to actually schedule the time in your calendar and identify resources you will need such as videos or gyms. Long-term behavior change can be difficult. Increase your chances of follow through by taking all of the guess work out so that, in the moment, all you have to do is to execute.
- Start small. In our initial excitement for change, we may try to make complete overhauls of our lifestyle or implement overly ambitious goals. This initial energy is an important asset for the change process, but it is important that we set goals at a level that will allow us to experience success. You wouldn’t want to jump right off the couch to run a marathon. You might set a goal to alternate between walking and jogging for 20 minutes, twice per week and slowly build from there over time. Similarly, we can slowly build habits in positivity, meditation, self-care, or any other goal behavior. The “start small” paradigm can also be implemented when stress or barriers have thrown us off track. Adapting goals to work for you, rather than the other way around, allows you to maintain consistency and connection to your goals when bolder, loftier changes may not be accessible.
- Plan for failure and fail forward. No matter how well you planned, or how reasonable your goals, slips-ups are inevitable. Failure doesn’t have to be “the f word”. In fact, failure is part of the change and growth process. Failures, slip-ups, and relapses back to old behavior are opportunities to learn more about what works for us and how to better support ourselves in our change attempts. First, we can anticipate issues that may throw us off track. What happens when a big work project comes up, when family comes in town, or you’re traveling? What will your plan be if you simply miss a “day” or “session” due to an unforeseen event? Sometimes just having a plan for getting back on track allows us to sail over bumps rather than abandon the change process after a bit of struggle.
There will always be times, however, when unplanned circumstances get in our way of success. When you notice new habits slipping or you’ve simply missed a goal, ask yourself, what happened within myself, in my relationships, and in my environment that threw me off? What could I have done differently in this circumstance to better support myself? What could I ask others to do or change in my environment? How will I navigate this or a similar challenge in the future in a way that is congruent with my values and goals?
Happy New Year, Hero. We’d love to hear about what this next year has store for you, and what you have in store for it. Leave a comment below telling us how you plan to use this time of reflection and new beginnings in your own journey!