Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Have you managed to stick to it?
If it’s already seeming like hard work, you’re not alone. Studies indicate that resolutions are often broken and that they’re an ineffective way to make changes in your life.
This year it’s likely to be more challenging than ever to kick bad habits and start new ones. There’s a bumpy road ahead, with the ongoing pandemic, rapidly rising unemployment and societal disruption. Thankfully the mass vaccination programme is rolling out. But uncertainty rules, making it hard to plan.
Rather than a resolution, a better way to move forward positively is to set an intention connected to your values. I’ve always found New Year’s resolutions artificial and know I’ll struggle to keep them. But I’m drawn to reflecting on what’s happened over the past year and learning from that what I would like to do more of, or do differently, in the year ahead.
The end of 2020 break, so different from usual, allowed more space for reflection. Processing is essential to be able to move on. Many people are deep in grief or gripped by fear for their livelihoods, careers, families and health. For many, it’s hard to look ahead positively at all right now.
Yet the horrors of 2020 have also provided the opportunity to rethink how we want our world to be. Remember how many people remarked on the ‘loudness’ of the birdsong when traffic and aviation were stilled in the lockdown last spring? I’ve heard many friends say they feel more closely connected with the natural world than before and appreciate it more than ever.
We’ve had to make sacrifices to our normal way of life, and we’ve learned, under pressure, that this is possible. If we’re to avoid climate catastrophe, we’ll have to give up more of what we’ve taken for granted to date.
To think about how we do this, I find it helpful to focus on what we can gain as humans, rather than what we will lose. On a recent call with colleagues in several countries, I was struck by how many talked about living a simpler life, being more thoughtful about air travel, dedicating more time to family life, and being more compassionate. Existential threats force us to focus on what’s most important.
This is where setting intentions, rather than resolutions, comes in. I’m grateful to a brilliant fellow coach, Cahit Ali, for showing how resolutions are often about sacrifice or deprivation, playing on our fears of not being good enough. For example: ‘I ate too much over the holidays, I need to lose weight, I’ll do 20 press-ups every day’, or ‘I spent too much time watching rubbish on television, I’m resolved to read three books a month from now on.’ We may create a long list of resolutions, making it tougher to achieve even one.
Rather than depleting our sense of self -worth – which is only worsened when we fail to keep the resolution – it’s better to nurture it by setting intentions that enable us to be our best selves. Here is where we can tap into our values and consider which ones we may not be living fully. For example, if one of your values is joy, and you have not experienced much joy over the past year, you could set an intention to ‘find joy in the year ahead’. You could explore this further, asking ‘Where in my life can I live my value of joy more fully?’ Write it down, or tell someone about it, as that makes the intention more robust.
It has to be something you genuinely want, not something you think you ought to want. And it’s about being – who you want to be – rather than doing, which resolutions tend to be about.
What lies behind your intention? Is it a desire to make a change in your personal life? Or to make a positive difference for your community or wider society? The unforgettable year 2020 highlighted our common vulnerability and connectedness, as well as the inequities that divide us. There are big challenges ahead, but also opportunities to build a better world.
My intention is to honour my value of courage more fully this year. What is yours?
This is an edited version of my column published by IWE (International Women of Excellence) on 10 January 2021.
©Alison Maitland 2021, all rights reserved.