Giving up on giving up
Why is it that New Year’s Resolutions are so often about giving something up? Giving up smoking, giving up food, losing weight, etc. By “resolving” to give something up, we are setting ourselves up to feel deprived, & feelings of deprivation rarely do anything to enhance our mood. In fact, our desire for satisfaction is so strong, that any feelings of deprivation we may have are likely to see us rush right back into the comforting arms of what we have “given up”. We want to feel satisfied, & why shouldn’t we?
Now, i’m not saying that you should keep smoking, or continue to engage in behaviours that are otherwise damaging to your health or well-being – if you are keen to make positive changes in your life, then by all means, go for it! But perhaps it would be helpful to think of thee changes in a different way – rather than “giving up” something, what if we were to gain something instead?
What if, instead of “giving up” smoking, your resolution was to increase your cardiovascular health? To breathe more freely & deeply? To save money? What if, instead of losing weight, your resolution was to develop a deeper connection to your body? To nourish yourself? To find a fun new way to move your body? What if your New Year’s resolution was about increasing your positive experiences, rather than trying to eliminate others?
All or nothing – or something else?
“Resolution” sounds so final – so all or nothing. It sounds so rigid – so inflexible. While setting goals is great for giving us a sense of purpose & direction, “resolving” to do something doesn’t leave much room for error or adjustment. When we set ourselves up to feel deprived, we make it difficult for ourselves to maintain any changes we make. So what happens then, if we have resolved to maintain this “deprivation”? How do we feel if for some reason we were not able to maintain those changes?
Most people i know who make New Year’s resolutions, feel guilty if they were unable to maintain the changes they had resolved so adamantly to adhere to. Even if it was through no fault of their own, they blame themselves – they blame their lack of “willpower”, their “lack” of organisation, or any other of their perceived “lackings” or “inabilities”. They approached their resolutions with an all or nothing attitude, & did not allow themselves the patience & flexibility they needed to really grow & develop, or to learn new skills. There was no contingency plan, & no space for wrong turns.
A resolution to recover
I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but on December 31st, 2007, i made a resolution for the upcoming year. I was sharing my evening with friends, & when one of them insisted we write down a resolution, i felt obliged to join in. I had recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, & was awaiting treatment at a specialist eating disorders service. My resolution that year (although i can’t remember it’s exact wording), was to “give up” my eating disorder – to stay out hospital (which was, at that time, a regular occurrence), leave my ED behaviours behind, & find happiness & health. I know, right? Talk about setting myself up!
The resolution i made (while well-intentioned), went against every piece of advice i have given here. First of all, i set myself up for some major deprivation – i was completely entrenched in my disorder, reliant on it in so many ways, & stuck in a pattern of behaviour that had just as much to do with physiology as it did with psychology. I was in no real position to “give that up” yet.
Recovery from an eating disorder is a very long process, but my resolution seemed to ignore that fact, & insist instead, that i could recover by the end of the following year. It left me no room for the backward & forward steps of the recovery dance. It left me no room to test out new skills & techniques. No room to seek medical help if i needed it. It didn’t really leave much room for anything other than “success”. Needless to say, i did not keep my resolution that year. Within weeks i was back in hospital again to be stabilised, & i continued to have multiple emergency room admissions throughout the year. I was not able to “give up” my eating disorder behaviours, & health & happiness continued to elude me.
Despite how it sounds, i did make some incredible progress in that first year of treatment. It was a year of progress, not perfection – the beginning of my journey to recovery, with steps taken bite by bite. These changes could have been the result of a more powerful resolution – a resolution that focused on that idea of progress, rather than absolute perfection. And it is this idea – progress, not perfection – that now helps to guide me through my goal-setting.
A change of wording can make all the difference
Since that December back in 2007, i have not made any new resolutions – New Year’s or otherwise. I have, however, set myself some goals. To me, goals are much more flexible than a resolution. While a resolution is by definition fixed & unwavering, goals can be adjusted, or changed completely. A goal, is something you would live to have, or do, or be – it is something to strive for. But if you decide one day, that you no longer want to have that thing, or that you want to do something different, a goal provides you with the flexibility to change paths.
My goals for next year?
- Above all, to be gentle with myself
Which for me, means to continue developing my self-compassion, to acknowledge that i am still learning & growing, & to be forgiving of myself. It also means learning more about setting & maintaining boundaries, & practising saying no (or yes!).
- To continue the practice of intuitive eating
To continue the practice of connecting with my body & it’s needs, & providing it with nourishment in a way that is life-giving & enjoyable
- To continue experimenting with different ways of moving my body
Perhaps i will try yoga this year,or take a dance class. Perhaps i will spend more time hiking, or kayaking. Or perhaps i will discover something completely different!
- To continue to find new ways of learning, & exercise my mind
I have planned to go back to university, to explore a different way of learning, & to engage my mind in learning more about a variety of different subjects. The idea of exercising my mind in new ways is very exciting! 🙂
- To continue exploring ways in which i can give back to my community
I really love volunteering with Vinnies Youth, but it would be nice to explore some other ways to spread the love 🙂
- To continue exploring ways in which i can be involved in the discussion around eating disorders & their treatment
Including continuing my support & increasing my involvement with the National Eating Disorders Collaboration & The Butterfly Foundation here in Australia, as well as increasing & maintaining connections to others who are passionate about these issues.
For all of my use of words such as “exploring”, or “practising”, it may seem to some that my goals are rather wishy-washy, or that they would be easy to “back out of”. While i am a huge believer in the power of positive affirmations & a “can do” attitude (which i hope to post about soon), i find, with the flexibility i have offered myself, i am much more likely to achieve these things, as i have given myself no rights or wrongs – no absolutes. These goals help create a sense of curiosity & exploration around the coming year, & allow for growth & development in whichever direction it may take.
Hope for the future
What do you think of New Year’s resolutions?
Have you ever made one? Will you make one for the coming year?
What are your goals for 2011?
Will they be flexible & forgiving? Will they allow you the space you need to change your mind, take a detour, or find a new path?
Will they focus on progress, not perfection?