One of the biggest reasons so many of us hold disdain for New Year’s resolutions or abandon our original goals come February is because we tend to pick goals that aren’t meaningful to us.
According to Rachel Cole, a coach, consultant and retreat hostess, “Oftentimes we get swept up in popular resolution group-think: Lose weight! Find more life balance! Save enough to buy those designer shoes!”
So what does it mean to set resolutions that stay true to you? “Authentic resolutions reflect our values,” Cole said. “Our values are our unique thumbprints for fulfillment and they are perfect guides for setting authentic resolutions.”
Authentic resolutions develop from our essential self, said Joy Tanksley, a certified Martha Beck Life Coach and a certified Intuitive Eating coach. According to renowned coach Martha Beck, we have an essential self, the real, genuine you, and the social self, the one worried about external validation.
“As opposed to the social self, which is focused on fitting in and gaining approval from others, the essential self is the part of us that holds our unique preferences, talents and desires,” Tanksley said.
Most of our resolutions are based on the social self, she said. So you don’t ditch your initial goals because you’re a failure who lacks self-control and willpower. You ditch them because your goals don’t honor your values, but instead are a series of empty shoulds.
Creating Authentic New Year’s Resolutions
It can be challenging to identify our core desires, Tanksley said. What helps is to dig deeper, ask yourself several significant questions and be open. Below, Tanksley and Cole offer their suggestions for choosing authentic goals for 2012.
1. Determine why you’re choosing your goal. Whatever resolution comes to mind, ask why you chose it, and keep asking why. Let’s say you pick “I’m going to exercise five days every week,” Tanksley said. Consider “Why do I want to do this or what do I think it will give me?” You might say that you want to lose weight, have more energy or improve your health.
Keep asking why “until you’ve hit on something that feels elemental — something that cuts way deeper than exercise,” she said. “Most often, the core desire is an emotion or a state of mind like peace, joy, calm or love.” According to Tanksley, this is the foundation of our authentic goals.
2. Consider if the resolution is kind and loving. Punitive, shame-based resolutions are pointless. They don’t work and only make you more miserable. Ask yourself: “Is the tone of my resolution friendly and supportive or is it fear-based, drill-sargent-y, and laced with ‘I’m not good enough until I…’? Cole said.
3. Consider if your goal is focused on the destination or the journey. “If we focus on the path we walk, rather than the destination, chances are we’ll have a much better year and a better outcome too,” Cole said.
4. Pick unexpressed values for your goals. Cole suggested considering whether you’ve expressed your values like you’d like to. If not, ask yourself: “How could I more fully express this value?”
5. Avoid rigid, restrictive goals. Resolutions that focus on rigid behavior changes (like diets) or very specific outcomes (like weight loss) are likely not coming from that core place within, according to Tanksley.
The problem is that these resolutions are often about control and non-acceptance, she explained. And lasting change rarely comes from using force, willpower, restraint or external motivation, she said.
Instead lasting change derives from “letting go, accepting, opening, allowing, discovering… connecting to our essential selves, and ditching the whole idea of fixing ourselves.”
6. Keep your goals open and broad. “Broad, open, gentle resolutions create space for curiosity, discovery and personal evolution throughout the entire year,” Tanksley said, “and isn’t that the whole point?”
Each year Tanksley sets a one-word intention to guide her year. Last year, she picked “flow.” “It guided me in wonderful ways, and I learned so much about myself and the world around me by continually steering toward the energy of that word.”
7. Tune into your body. Your body’s response to your resolution may be telling. “If when you say your resolution to yourself you feel heavy, contracted or resistant, this resolution is not supportive,” Cole said.
8. Satisfy your true hungers. When “shoulds” become our resolutions, we ignore our true hungers, Cole said. “We must stop and look at what we’re really hungry for, whether it can be satisfied outside ourselves, and whether our resolutions can really satiate us in the ways that we desire,” she said.
9. Remember that resolutions are optional. Don’t feel like creating resolutions this year? No sweat! “If you’re feeling pressure to set a goal, resolution, intention, word of the year, or whatever, I invite you to get curious about where that pressure is coming from and find ways to release it,” Tanksley said.
Plus, if you’re a perfectionist or self-critical, the most powerful approach might be to nix resolutions altogether, Tanksley said. “Create that wide open space of permission and freedom,” she said.
Still, if you’d like to set a goal but don’t have one in mind, Cole suggested practicing greater compassion toward yourself and others.