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How to Do the New Year Without Guilt

Updated: Sep 5

On January 1st my 14-year-old daughter removed her vision board from the wall and said, "Let's see how many of these things I didn't do last year." She then rattled off a list of unaccomplished goals and tossed the page aside. Attempting to be encouraging, I suggested she do a new one for this year. "Nah," she said. "It'd be all the same stuff." Glancing at the items I noticed two things: firstly, that she had actually accomplished one of her goals, but that didn't measure up beside all the 'failures'. Secondly, the goals she didn't accomplish were largely massive overhauls that are likely impossible to acheive all at one stretch. I couldn't help but think this incident acurately represented the problems with our approach to the New Year in general.

There's something about the start of a year that momentarily fills us with hope and feelings of renewal. The old has passed, the new is ushered in as a clean slate full of promise. We have a sudden urge to make resolutions, goals and vision boards. I'm all for that feeling and think it's wise to take advantage of, since motivation of any sort can be scarce. The issue is in our approach.

Consider the common slogan "New Year, New You". At first glance this probably seems appealing, but I think we overlook the subtle message it sends; namely that you need a New You because the current You doesn't cut it. This sentiment of not measuring up certainly doesn't feel motivating, but rather makes you want to curl up in bed with a bucket of ice cream. Also, a New You requires a massive re-vamp, which leads to a tendency to overshoot the mark when it comes to goal-setting. We attempt changes that are overly lofty, numerous and unlikely and then feel like 'failures' by February.

Suppose my daughter had just set that one goal that she actually acheived. How differently might she have felt about her accomplishments and about herself? Instead, she overshot, didn't meet her excessive expectations and promptly gave up.

"You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens." - Louise L. Hay

So how can we take advantage of the New Year and it's momentary blip of motivation?

1) Adopt an attitude of self-acceptance. Instead of New Year, New You, set an intention to make this the most self-accepting year you've ever had. Why? Because self-esteem is naturally motivating, in contrast to the motivation-killers of feeling incapable and not good enough.

2) Review the old year for wins, not losses. What changes did you make last year? What did you do well? It's too easy to skip over our gains, but it is crucial to recognize even the smallest of successes. This will increase your confidence and subsequently your motivation.

3) If there are any nagging 'failures', let them go. Rituals are great for this. Write down your so-called failures and burn them or cross them out or crumple them into a ball. Wish the old year well, thank it for what it taught you and put a period on that sentence. It's not terribly useful to kick an old year vigorously out the door with great vitriol. Too much will then be expected of the next year and it will under-deliver.

4) Set one very small, very acheivable goal and go from there. Whatever change you want to make, reduce it to its smallest denominator. Neuroscience has shown that a small thing done daily has a better chance than a big thing done sporadically. And don't forget to make a detailed plan of exactly when and how you will implement this change. An idea remains an idea if not accompanied by a plan of action. If you can't easily come up with a plan of action, your goal is likely too big or unrealistic.

If you approach your goals with an attitude of self-acceptance, celebrate your wins and set yourself up for success by making small changes, your confidence and motivation will increase. Then you can tackle the next thing, and the next. How quickly you go is not important, so long as you have forward motion. Above all, accept yourself as you are currently. No New You needed. Self-Acceptance alone is a powerful force for natural transformation.

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