Marriage and family therapist Ashley Thorn got tired of setting resolutions she’d never see through. So she started setting goals around her mental and emotional health instead. Goals that meaningfully contribute to her well-being. Goals that are flexible and compassionate and based on her values.
For instance, in 2016, Thorn’s goal was to face her fears. Another year, after moving to a new area and realizing she was in a social rut, she wanted to make more adult friendships. The year after that, she decided to deepen the relationships she already had with longtime friends and family.
This year her goal is to be more at peace. “With young kids, life is crazy and busy, and I was noticing that I was often feeling anxious and stressed out,” said Thorn, who practices at Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City, Utah. “So, I’ve been trying to be more in-tune and aware of how I’m feeling each day. [I’ve been trying to] give myself permission to take more breaks, have more fun, and do more self-care, so that I can attempt to feel at peace more often than I feel stressed.”
Thorn also has worked with clients on their mental health goals. Some have wanted to be more assertive. Some have wanted to be more present with their kids. Some have wanted to be more adventurous or spontaneous. Some have wanted to be kinder to themselves. Some have wanted to work on their communication.
Thorn doesn’t put rules or restrictions around her goals. She doesn’t have an end game. Instead, she’s focused on cultivating a state of mind and long-term change—and, again, she’s flexible. Unlike traditional goals, Thorn’s goals aren’t specific, measurable or time-limited.
For instance, during her year of fear, she didn’t aim to tackle a certain number of fears a week or a month. She didn’t grade her “performance” or progress. Rather, she looked for opportunities. She’d pay attention to situations that triggered fear. And she’d say yes to them—which was everything from speaking in public to hanging out with new people to being honest about something uncomfortable.
Also, the end of a year is not the end of her goal. Because if she’s not satisfied with her progress, she gives herself permission to have the same goal the following year. Plus, “there’s always a new friend to make, fear to address, or [a need for] self-care.”
To choose her goal, Thorn explores what’s been missing from her life or what’s been bothering her. “The feeling of ‘regret’ can sometimes be a good clue,” she said.
When she pursues her goal, she focuses on being supportive and speaking to herself with compassion. In short, she tries to be her own cheerleader.
For instance, when she was facing her fear of wakeboarding—afraid she wouldn’t be good enough and everyone would make fun of her—she reminded herself: “It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. What matters is you’ve always regretted not trying it. You owe yourself at least that much. You only have to try it a couple of times, and if you hate it, you don’t have to keep going.”
What I love about Thorn’s approach is that she’s doing what works for her. We have a tendency to do things the way they’ve always been done. We set resolutions on January 1st (which we rarely keep). We establish specific, measurable, time-sensitive parameters, which might motivate us in the short term but only end up stressing us out. We set goals that become shoulds. Goals that are sapped of energy, excitement, pleasure and creativity.
We do what we think we’re supposed to do.
If there’s something you’ve been yearning to do, try it. Don’t wait until the new year—or the beginning of the month or even the beginning of the week. Start at any time. Make the intention now. Because why not?
Think about what works best for you. Think about what honors your personal rhythms, personality style and values. Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that the whole point?