Can you believe it’s the ‘new year’? I remember as a child feeling like summer was so long, and each year of life lasted a lifetime, but now as I continue to grow older, the time seems to fly by; a cruel joke of the universe. As we gain wisdom and age time gives us less of itself to use what we’ve learned. With a new year comes resolutions for many people, but today I want to talk about why resolutions aren’t healthy, and a better way to create and set achievable goals in our lives.
First, let’s just go ahead and get the resolution talk over with, shall we? New year resolutions actually started thousands of years ago with the Babylonians, and then the Romans. Both used resolutions as a form of promise to their individual god’s for the upcoming year ahead. (Read more about it: https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions )
Fast forward to modern man, and a lot of folks use this start of the new calendar year as a reset full of hope and promises. So that begs the question, is this a healthy idea? The easy answer is, ‘NO’.
You might be wondering why I think that making resolutions isn’t healthy, so let’s dive in.
First, consider it from an every-day person perspective. You are making this grand proclamation of change, but what happens when life hits, and its gets difficult? Most people fail at their resolutions and then feel like they’ve failed entirely; not considering that all achievements have ups and downs and even adjustments. Needless to say it’s an unhealthy way of viewing goal-setting.
Second let’s consider it from the perspective of someone who has had an eating disorder or other addictive behaviors. Most of us have this habit of ‘the last supper’ mentality. For those who aren’t familiar with that phrase, it’s a way of thinking that is found frequently in the eating disorder community. We basically have this thought process that if I’m going to ‘be good’ tomorrow, then I deserve and need to go balls to the wall with whatever my addiction is tonight. Whether it’s binging to the extreme, getting high, or drinking yourself to oblivion, it’s a common habit among our type (and also among dieters).
Resolutions are essentially a society-driven and acceptable way of creating ‘last supper’ mentalities in people. They are unhealthy and typically they bring large failures followed by huge back-slides into whatever vice the person was trying to kick. So, what is a better methodology than making resolutions?
Goals are different than resolutions in that goals are something we plan-for and make adjustments for in our behaviors. Where a resolution might be, “I’m going to cut-out carbs this year!”, a goal says, I’d like to learn to eat more intuitively and increase my health, so I’m going to sit-down and plan out a path to achieve that. Goals also come with less harsh fall-out when we have set-backs. Rather than feeling like you failed once so it’s all over, you stop a minute and look for what you do differently going forward. It’s a continual wheel of self-improvement based on actionable and small steps.
So how do you take it from here to real-life?
The first thing to realize is that you can set and start a goal at any time of the year, not just on a day that happens to be what is considered the ‘start’ of the year. Time is fluid, so goals can be too! If you have been reading and following my journey, you’ll recall that on October 12th I started a spending ban. Talk about an obscure date to start, haha. I knew from what I learned through recovery, and have continued to learn, that if I wanted to set a goal I would actually achieve, that the first thing to do was not allow myself the mentality of ‘the last supper’ way of thinking. That meant, starting it in the present moment (which was 10/12/18) and setting rules, steps, smaller goals, and forgiveness for myself along the way.
That brings me to a very important aspect of self-improvement and goal-achieving…forgiveness. Before you can even begin setting goals and the actionable items to achieve those goals, you have to take a step back and learn forgiveness. You see, forgiveness is a tool that needs to be in every person’s mental tool-box for moments when life trips them up. Most of us are perfectionist that have had an eating disorder, which has naturally played into ED’s voice in our ear, so learning to have self-forgiveness can be tough. Start small, look at the last week of your life and think of something that tripped you up, caused you to over-worry, or just gave you anxiety. Now, ask yourself if things had gone the way you felt they should have what major thing would it have given you in life.
My therapist used this tool with me one day when I was struggling to really stop and realize that wanting to lose weight was a symptom of ED, not of my quality of life. She point blank asked me what has turned out to be the most valuable question during my recovery. “Amber, if you were skinny, like the skinny you envision, what benefit (real true benefit), and what change would if provide you in life?”
That gave me some serious pause. ED wanted me to convince her it would magically make my life perfect, but I knew, even in the midst of recovery with ED still in my ear that the truth was it wasn’t going to make my life any better or worse than it was. The truth was I had to forgive myself for whatever thing it was I felt I should have been, been doing, etc. to be able to improve the things I could change.
Does this remind anyone of that famous prayer said in a recovery group everyone is familiar with? “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Yep, forgiveness and goal setting go hand-in-hand with recovery. You must first learn that you’re not going to be able to do everything perfectly, change everything, or be everything to everyone. Then forgive yourself for thinking you should be all those things or for expecting perfection. Once you forgive yourself and accept that you are perfect just as you are, then you can create goals that aren’t about being perfect, but rather about living your life full of potential and love.
My mom has this belief that our entire purpose on earth is to forgive and to love. It’s a beautiful thought, really, because it takes the religion out of purpose regardless of if you believe in something or not and focuses instead on how to live a full life that resonates with richness and true living. Forgiving not only others but yourself opens your path wide and loving fills that path with experiences and a life you’ll have been proud was yours.
Okay, enough of that rabbit hole, let’s get back to the next step in goals. Actionable items!
Once you’ve taken that first giant leap of forgiveness (it will be a continual process not a one-off sweep), then you need to create a goal for whatever it is you’re wanting to achieve. So, for example, I’ve had health issues with my digestion for year. Some caused by ED, others by genetics, all a giant pain in my butt towards staying recovered. Near the end of November (because I don’t do NY resolutions) I decided to start changing my diet just slightly. This was terrifying for me because it was the first real change to my eating I would be attempting since starting recovery. The LAST thing I ever want to do is go backwards, so I had already spent weeks thinking about how to move forward and if this was a smart move.
My goal was simple. I want to eat to feel my best, keeping foods that leave me sick to a minimum, but with a self-understanding that sometimes I am really going to want one of those foods that will leave me feeling less than 100%, but as long as I knew that and the desire was strong enough I would be okay with it.
The goal, to eat for optimal health. So how to make that actionable. Create steps that work for your goal. For mine, it took a little brain-storming.
I had to consider how to achieve this new level of intuitive eating. Here’s a glimpse into what that looked like:
- Make mental notes on meals that leave me feeling less than great. (I don’t keep written lists of foods or meals because it was an unhealthy habit when I still had ED so I just don’t do it)
- Try limiting those foods and see if it improves my health. Less digestion issues, stomach bloating, etc.
- If it does, then try to save those foods for times when I really truly want them and only them and eat things that are equally appetizing but don’t upset my system.
For me, it took several days of brainstorming how to make this a thing for me, even though this makes it seem simple. For you, it could be you want to be more organized, so you make smaller actionable items of setting reminders or tasks on your phone, creating a habit by putting your shoes back where they go when you take them off, or some other thing. Actionable items are really just smaller pieces of the larger goal. They are little things you can do to create healthy habits to support your overall long-term goal.
My daughter is terrible at organization, something that happens to be my strong-suite. Prior to the winter break, she had tons of missing homework, yet anything she would turn in would be an A+. To help her achieve the goal of getting better grades, we set up smaller actionable items like creating a folder with one side for homework and one side for things to turn in, that she checks at every class. We also have a schedule-planner she writes everything down in and we have to sign each night once she completes it. There are other items as well, but what it is doing is taking her bigger goal and creating smaller habit-forming little things that will teach her how to reach that end-goal.
I have no idea what your personal resolution might be this year, but throw it out the window! The second you fail you’re going to hate yourself and find a way to inflict self-punishment which is unfair and just horrible. Instead, first thing about how to forgive yourself for whatever larger issue is causing you to want to change something to begin with, then once you’ve achieved that, then you can set a goal.
I want to hear from you about what your goal is if you decide to do this, and what hiccups or issues you have with creating smaller actionable steps to reaching it! I promise I will respond to every single person who comments with a goal or question to help you find a way to create some new habits.