New Year’s resolutions have a pretty bad reputation. You may be teased for making them, and we all participate in jokes about not keeping them.
There is a tendency to criticize ambition, and it may come from our own insecurities about what we don’t dare to try and accomplish.
People like me may also be to blame: I tend to be a driven perfectionist – with aggressive, competitive ambition (which doesn’t always make me fun to be around).
My favourite stories involve heroes undergoing intense challenges in order to achieve a difficult goal (usually involving martial arts). So I adore making resolutions.
Every year (certainly more than once) I write lists of goals that I want to accomplish. And there have been many years where I have checked off every single thing on a list. Goals can be achieved, but even if they aren’t, the majority of the benefits are found in their creation. Here is why they are deeply important, and how to create new years resolutions that don’t bully you:
1. Forced Self Reflection
Making a goal demands that at least a small amount of attention be paid to yourself and your life. They are a pit stop and a check up. The very process requires you to honestly search your depths to discover what you wish for. So zooming out to view your goals as a whole may provide valuable insights into who you are.
Observe the pattern of your goals – do they tend to focus around physical appearance or wealth? What need does that fill for you? Are they focused on pleasing other people? Where does that desire come from?
Without judgement observe the intentions behind your goals – don’t cross anything off the list (even if you think it makes you seem superficial etc), rather acknowledge that you have a need in that area, and try to see the flavour of yourself written behind what you wish for.
2. A Mental Salve: Providing a Sense of Purpose
The majority of thoughts that I have when I am very depressed revolve around dread for the future: it seems that there is nothing that I could ever want to do in the present or future, and so there is no point waiting around to live through it.
From what I have seen a large portion of depression (especially in young people) comes from this lack of direction or hope for the world and life in general.
Making goals can be extremely helpful for someone who is depressed. If a person is suicidal, these goals form a commitment between them and their lives which may keep them around until the difficult period passes. For example, during one of my worst periods of depression – where I truly did not feel that anything in the world could bring me joy, I made the goal to live to see 2013. The year continued to be painful, and I still had difficulty finding things that I wanted to live for, but the feeling of pure joy and relief that came on the quiet new year’s night that called in 2013 provided a deep mental shift for me. I truly did not believe it was possible to make it through that year. And yet I did! Having that goal – and being able to achieve it – provided me with the confidence and purpose needed to defeat my demons.
Even if you do not suffer from mental illness, making plans and goals can stump the typical philosophical troubles that arise when you begin to realize your own insignificance. Yes, I know that we are all tiny instances in the range of time, and that we will not all be famous or make significant changes to the course of history. But shifting our perspective to our own lives (instead of comparing ourselves to others, or to the universe itself) offers us a chance to live for goals that transcend the supposed meaninglessness of our individual selves.
Regardless of if you can convince your mind that your life matters in some contexts, you can at least feel the ease of a sense of long term purpose and fulfillment.
3. See What You Have Through What You Lack
As I have gotten to know myself better, I make goals to improve the areas of my personality where I may have a blind spot. To be more forgiving of myself and others, to compete less and accept my weaknesses with grace. Many things help me see my faults: reading books about personality types, counselling, and general observations from the conflicts in my relationships. My faults usually enter my consciousness through disappointment (or ego discomfort) but then are rested in acceptance while being planted as a seed of growth in the form of a personal goal.
There are many resources to improve personality flaws, and I think that all levels of depth have value. I have even found courses at my university to help with shyness or stress management. Keep in mind that meditation most reliably provides the muscle base needed for lasting personality changes.
But most importantly, my goals show me what I already have. I am so lucky to not need to wish for enough money in the coming year to feed myself. Feeling safe, abundant and grateful are amazing emotional states to live within!
How to Make Healthy Resolutions
Find out which side of the spectrum you err on. Are you overly self critical? Perfectionist? Do you prefer to set low expectations out of fear and procrastination? Try to move toward the other side when making goals.
Making Goals As A Perfectionist:
Aim for goals that encourage a soft state of mind. Focus less on specifics and more on general traits/skills (ie. don’t say “I want to lose 30 lbs by May”, instead say “I want to lose weight”). This will make it more likely for you to achieve these goals since you are not binding the outcome by the limited specifics that you set.
The specifics of your goals may change by the time that you achieve them, and so you will want to avoid creating a set path. Allow yourself to be flexible, and include the possibility of failure.
In fact, not achieving goals may be very helpful for perfectionists. Set a goal, and deliberately fall short of it – how does this feel? How has this affected your sense of self? Did you survive this “failure” and what does that mean about your beliefs and rules? I have practiced this with small things like school projects or deliberately arriving only 5 min early for work instead of 15 minutes and have experienced a loosening of my need to control situations as a result of these “practiced failures”.
If you are a perfectionist like me, you must be careful with resolutions. Your natural state may be to spew out a long list of all the things you want to “fix” about yourself and the world. This will only lead to judgement, stress and burdening expectations. Your accomplishments may not bring you the satisfaction that you hope for because your motivation is to “perfect” yourself. You are fighting a battle instead of encouraging growth.
So make a small list of general goals and pour softness and encouragement into yourself as if you were a puppy or a small child.
Making Goals As A Procrastinator
Again, I would suggest that you keep the list short. In order to combat procrastination (or lack of ambition), you will need to access the ripe emotions of your drive. Any goal that you cannot emotionally connect to will be easily cut out when you wake up in that “I don’t want to do anything” mood.
Search for this emotional connection through your empathy with the world. Understand the deep suffering occurring and let it fill you with righteous anger (your greatest tool).
Remind yourself why you are doing something. If you find you have no desire to pursue school or a career, then go out and visit as many different careers as possible until you feel that emotional connection. If you visit a farm and feel love and longing for the prancing goats and bustling vegetables, let that feeling drive you to take the initial steps needed to get to that point.
Goals are very difficult for people who tend to procrastinate. In fact, procrastination may prevent the process of even making a goal. Each step feels like a step through thick sand with wet jeans on, but I strongly encourage you to try. People who lack ambition will benefit the most from making goals.
Do not create a To-Do list of everyday tasks. Do not create a list of goals that other people want you to achieve. These will fail. Instead, find a long term resolution that excites you, and follow that future back to your present to see the steps you must take to get there. It is alright if there is only one thing on your list of goals.
I wish you good luck and a Happy New Year!
Here are my resolutions for this year:
- Be able to do a handstand.
- Focus on maintaining a more relaxed state.
- Make decisions with more bravery.