Here’s the thing: we’re at the time of year where everyone knows exactly what you should be doing and they will happily tell you so on the internet. I mean, to be fair, that’s probably true mostly every day, but it’s especially true around December/January.
In full transparency, I suppose this post is my way of doing the same. However, I promise you that if you read to the end of this piece, you might actually feel better and be happier, instead of beleaguered and uncertain about how you want to approach the new year.
My intention here is not join the choir of authorities or voices who tell you what you should be doing, but rather to shine some light on the common year-end affirmations that leave us all feeling somewhere on the spectrum from fired-up-but-inadequate or resigned-because-nothing-ever-changes-anyway, and to provide some options for perspectives on how you might approach your year-end and new year in ways that inspire you, instead.
I find most of the year-end/new-year advice banal and mildly offensive. It’s boring because it’s a generic insinuation that one size fits all lives and it’s insulting because it implies that you are only capable of handling two options: all in or all out.
We, my dear friend, are brilliant and multi-faceted beings, capable of infinitely more than toggling between two relatively uninspiring options on how to do life.
I notice that initially, people tend towards setting resolutions—GoalsGoalsGoals! Resolutions! Ra Ra Ra!—until they burn themselves out, pull a hamstring or feel the frustrating disappointment of not getting the results they wanted, and then they lean into the predictable anti-resolution, anti-goal or goal reduction refrain of avoiding resolutions and goals and call that “presence” or “self love.”
But, self love is not convincing yourself to ignore your desires because disappointment sucks and Shakespeare said expectation is the root of all heartache.
Self love is not avoiding goals and dreams in order to avoid disappointment because you haven’t learned how to deal with disappointment and frustration without believing a bunch of made-up, garbage stories about you as a person.
Self love is not giving up on your desires because you haven’t learned how to go after your goals without bullying yourself into being and doing better using guilt, shame and self-doubt as motivation.
Self love is not a reward for good behaviour or a consolation prize for disappointment.
Self love is simply the decision to love oneself. Period. Self love is the decision to love yourself, regardless of how you feel in any given moment. In the face of a crappy story, you know you are worthy. Self love means you hold yourself in unconditional positive regard, no matter how frustrated or disappointed you are.
By the way, self love doesn’t mean you never feel frustrated, overwhelmed or disappointed. It means that you can feel that way without it meaning that you are difficult, inadequate or disappointing.
When it comes to goals, we tend to become really attached to the outcome we want and we make all kinds of meaning (usually negative, because #human) out of our results, or any lack thereof. Then, to avoid all that negative mental chatter and unwanted emotion (guilt, shame, self-doubt), we decide to cut our dreams down or cut them out altogether, and we define the ensuing relief as “peace” and “self love.”
But it’s not the reduction in our desire or the disappearance of our dreams that created that relief. You still want what you want. The relief is a result of you giving up being harsh and unforgiving to yourself, not a result of giving up what you wanted in the first place.
Maybe we could just give up being harsh and unforgiving without giving up our goals and desires?
You wouldn’t say to a child learning to ride a bike, “You’re wobbling and falling off because you’re useless and you’ll never grow or improve.”
I mean, can you imagine? That would be abusive and horrifying. But it’s a little like how we talk to ourselves when we struggle to make changes in our lives, isn’t it?
Maybe you and I are as deserving of the care and regard with which we hold other people trying to learn new things?
If plans go awry, which, of course, they will—and you decide the solution is to give up, not only on this plan that didn’t work out the one time you tried, but also give up on all plans pertaining to goals, dreams and desires moving forward, you’re missing the point. You’ve become fixated on the end result, and as trite as it might sound, the journey *actually* is as important as the result.
This means our job is not only to dream up a goal and create a cunning plan to achieve it, but also to allow ourselves the grace to learn how to deal with obstacles, plot twists, changes of plans, missing motivation, and any other thing that could arise along the way.
We can love ourselves into creating our dreams. We’ve all tried bullying ourselves into change, and I think we can all agree it’s not a great strategy. It rarely works in the long run and the experience is zero out of ten.
Imagine if you could go after your goals and dreams WHILE drastically improving your relationship with yourself. What if you could create the life of your dreams AND grow, heal and develop yourself as a person?
That would be awesome, right?
Having goals and desires and making plans to meet them is the opportunity to create results and get what we want, yes, but it’s also the essential training ground for how we grow and develop as humans. Without the goal as the playing field, we can’t really practice patience and resilience and creativity in the face of obstacles.
Removing opportunities to practice and develop patience, resilience and self love is not conducive to creating a better relationship with oneself. It’s kind of like gravity: like astronauts who’ve returned from a space station, we need some opposing forces acting upon us, or else our muscles atrophy and our bones become brittle.
Secondly, you don’t need to shrink your dreams because you fear disappointment. From a place of self love, you can handle disappointment. It might not be your favourite experience to fail or flounder, but it doesn’t have to mean something about you that you experienced a setback or disappointment. It just means you might need to try again, or try something different.
We can’t get better at dealing with frustration and disappointment by avoiding them altogether. That just makes us believe we are fragile and so are our feelings, when in fact, we are incredibly resilient and resourceful.
From self love, how it goes is merely information that guides our next choice, kind of like how changes in the weather inform our clothing choices on a daily basis.
Weather changes and we adapt accordingly, every single day. We probably wouldn’t hold it as a personal failure if you needed a sweater because it was colder today than yesterday, or that you need a jacket because it’s raining.
How you choose to relate to the end of the year can be incredibly empowering if you start with true self love—self love being a commitment to hold unconditional positive regard for the glorious, one-of-a-kind gift that you are—and choose accordingly from there.
From self love, we can create goals with spaciousness, rest and recovery baked into the process.
From self love, we can discover that acceptance and forgiveness can coexist with determination and passion and desire.
From self love, we can aspire to greatness and great things, because we’re going to love ourselves all along the way.