New Year’s Resolutions get a lot of love and hate this time of year. The diet and other “self-improvement” industries know they can make a lot of money off of people’s insecurities and cash-in, offering promises for dramatic changes (often to one’s external appearance) that disappoint and leave customers feeling like it wasn’t the diet or product that didn’t work, but their own lack of willpower.
On the other end of the spectrum are those in recovery or who work in the field of behavioral health that abhor the idea of New Year’s resolutions specifically because of this predatory marketing behavior that ultimately sets people up for failure. They have an excellent point, and to start 2020 by rejecting diet plans, magic solutions and quick fixes is the best move that anyone, whether in recovery or not, can make.
However, resolutions in and of themselves are not altogether evil. In fact, choosing recovery every day is itself a resolution. You are resolving to fight the battle, to choose to treat yourself with love, kindness, compassion and respect. You are practicing and cultivating a resolute spirit, so that no matter what challenges you face in the recovery journey – if you lose friendships, if you “slip-up,” if you feel you just don’t have the strength any longer – you can choose to persevere. Resilience, resolve, and determination are excellent qualities that recovery helps hone and strengthen and are absolutely necessary on the healing journey.
Cultivating resolve is not the same as strong-arming recovery or applying “willpower.” Willpower often involves suppression of feelings and intuition. It doesn’t allow for mindfulness, or analysis of your thought life and the flexibility to choose what you need in the moment. And so, resolution is not willpower, but a kind of goal setting that allows for time, space, breath, and change.
As we venture forth into the New Year and the new decade, let us approach the concept of resolutions in a different way. The change of the calendar and the season can be an incredible and refreshing opportunity to reflect on past victories and challenges and adjust relationships, life choices, and circumstances accordingly.
Working with a therapist or treatment team to set realistic goals for the New Year can be motivating and inspiring, so long as they are healthy and reflect your values. We can identify goals, choose small challenges to face, and set rewards up along the way when we achieve them. We can plan ahead for when we fail to reach those goals (which some, we will) to integrate self-care, compassion and grace. In fact, a daily practice of gratitude, repeating affirmations, and grace is itself a great goal with which to begin. Ultimately, resolving to do something or reach a goal is a good thing, but not the “whole” thing. Lessons are learned and character is built along the way.
In the flurry of “busy-ness” that accompanies the month of January, getting back to work and school, and facing life again after two weeks of holiday celebrations, let us remember that simply the practice of working toward our goals is an achievement to be proud of. Begin the New Year not with a destination in mind, but resolve to enjoy and remain present on each step of the journey.