An Alternative Approach to New Year's Resolutions


Photo by Scott Tallman

Happy January! Can you believe it is 2019? January seems to be a natural month for reflection as our schedules calm down a bit from the hustle and bustle that so often accompany the holiday season. Winter settles in with cold temperatures and darkness. We may feel a natural desire to slow down. Sleep more. Recover. I am definitely feeling this. Are you?

A Word about Resolutions

New Year's resolutions seem to hit hard amidst the quiet of January. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, goal setting can be an important part of development and identity. There is a total place for it. And if traditional goal setting works well for you, don't change a thing. But if the process feels a bit harsh or forced for you, I am offering a couple of alternative approaches. Many people naturally overreach in the creation of their goals--and set themselves up for failure. Not to mention, all of this striving takes place amidst a time of year where we are naturally wired to slow down. Process our experiences. Reflect. I like to integrate the two energies into a more holistic approach for the year.

The Traditional Approach

For many years, our family "resoluted" with the best of them. When our children were in their elementary and middle school years, we might take an hour on New Years Day to each decorate an index card listing three to four goals for the upcoming year. When we finished, we would affix our unique artwork to the refrigerator where we could be reminded each day. The following New Year's day, we would go over our goals and reflect on what worked, what didn't, why, and how successful we were at meeting our target. Quite familiar, right?

The Values Alternative

Once our children moved into their teen years, that practice transitioned to a visual values display for each member of the family. We all would write down four to six values on our own piece of paper--and then, describe how we would live that value during our days. Here is the visual. The value is always listed inside a circle. There may be four to six circles on the page. Surrounding each value circle is how you might see the value in a lived form--these exist as lines coming out of each circle. The image should look like four to six sun drawings. For example, the value might be physical health. Health would be circled and the lines or "rays" of each circle might list--yoga, walk, run, meditation, whole food, sleep, etc...Make sense? Instead of posting these visuals on the refrigerator, we suggested the children post them where they would see them.

The Focus Word Alternative

During the past couple of years, I have noticed that my values haven't changed much--but I still like the idea of having a focus or direction for the upcoming year that feels personal to me. What to do? Consider choosing a word that represents what you desire to work on during the year. My past words have been SIMPLIFY and HEAL. This approach works bests if the chosen word applies to many different facets of life. For those of you who desire accountability or require SMART goals, a more traditional approach might work better. But for those of us who are naturally hard on ourselves or who may be recovering from perfectionism or who may just need a softer, less evaluative approach--this way of orienting ourselves in our lives can feel very healing--and effective.

Note: There is no need to rush the process of finding your word. I like the idea of taking my time in January to really get a feel for what I desire most.

My word for this year is NOURISH.

I will be looking to NOURISH...

  • my body through exercise, food, meditation, appreciation, sleep, and mindfulness.

  • my mind by continuing to stimulate and calm my brain by carefully considering what I read, watch, and listen to. I will be more aware of information overload. I will honor and commit to my desire to move slowly and explore deeply. I have an intention and structure in place that will allow me to practice empathy, curiosity, and creativity daily.

  • my relationships by taking responsibility for my own energy, creating time and space for connection, offering direct and loving communication, using boundaries wisely, releasing expectations, and practicing gratitude.

  • my work life as I show up with my full presence each day and work to research and access the parts of me that will prove most healing and beneficial to those I interact with.

  • my home/the environment by decluttering and being mindful of my personal space. I value a home environment that feels nurturing, warm, and inviting. I will look to consume mindfully and in a way that does minimal damage to the planet too. I am hoping to replace some of my habits with cleaner options over time. For example, after introducing reusable grocery bags a few years ago, I just added reusable produce bags. I also swapped out my almond milk choice to a recyclable option. Small changes make me happy.

What is your approach to the new year? Do you make resolutions? Have you tried any alternatives to setting goals? I would love to hear what you are focusing on for the year!