Maybe you love resolutions and write a long list every year? Or maybe you find them oppressive or unhelpful? Either way it’s the same every year isn’t it? The toxic beauty standards and unrealistic, often ableist pressures come out in full force in the form of expected New Year’s Resolutions.
Sadly such resolutions can damage our confidence but also often set us up for failure too. We’re encouraged to express grand aspirations such as ‘I want to be healthy, I want to change career, I will stop smoking’ etc, that reinforce societal norms. The problem is, the types of new year’s resolutions we are often expected to take on are heavily shaped by living in a fat-phobic, ageist and productivity driven culture, that exists to profit from our insecurities. If the pressure tied up with resolutions is bad for your health or wellbeing, leave them behind. But what are the alternatives?
Off the bat it’s absolutely worth stating that not everyone wants to change and that is a beautiful thing. Cultivating gratitude and acceptance is just as important as striving to change. To my mind, resolutions often seek to distance us from who we are, whereas goals can bring clarity, confidence and empowerment. There are such powerful forces at work that aim to undermine us and always be seeking more, seeking the new, that to sit with acceptance is a radical act, so please don’t see this text as a further call to change unless it’s wanted. Goals aren’t for everyone, but if you think they may work as well for you as they have for me, read on.
Goals are for life, not just for New Year! The Gregorian calendar doesn’t reflect the shift into a new life cycle. We’re still in deep Winter, meaning for many it’s the worst time of the year to think ahead, to plan and be aspirational. Much of my work encourages folks to lean into Winter for rest and inner exploration, and that certainly doesn’t end at the stroke of midnight, New Year’s Eve! Thankfully though, we can use Winter’s embrace to dream into the dark, to reflect, to incubate our hopes and plans if we wish. If the Gregorian New Year doesn’t speak to you as a time to set goals, here’s your permission to wait until it does. Resolutions promote going with the majority and that our hopes reflect societal expectations, but it is well considered, personalised goals, made at the right time and regularly revisited that help us create change that is for us, based on our needs and not others values!
For those seeking development at the opening of the year, one positive thing about resolutions is that they show us our desires and the version of ourselves we want to be. But that image of ourselves can also be a projection of who we think we should be, or who we think others want us to be, so be careful there. This falsity is another reason why resolutions can be toxic. But we can gently dream into that self and use small, loving and realistic steps to integrate our vision.
Resolutions are absolutely tools of capitalism and colonialism. For one thing, unobtainable resolutions are often based on an inherent view of our bodies as machines, a perception based on enslavement. In this white supremisist, ableist view, the onus is simply on us to try harder, push further and expect nothing less than constant improvement. This also relates to the systemic disconnection from our bodies and from nature. If we can better accept and embrace the animal nature of our bodies, it releases some of the intense pressures we place on our bodies, both individually and culturally, but also helps us recognize our place as A PART of nature, not APART FROM it.
The New Year is a peak moment for big business to grab us and key into our biggest fears and insecurities. The 2022 global beauty industry was worth over £395 BILLION (Statista) and it’s worth a reminder that this money is invested in targeting you, yes you, and everyone around you, and often we’re not as immune to those pressures and we might hope and expect. New Year provides the biggest point of the year for companies to undermine our self-confidence, and it can be a tough thing to fight against.
Goals offer us a better way than resolutions to truly create realistic, self-loving and lasting change in our lives. But here’s the rub, in order to be effective we need to work at our goals. Afterall it’s a capitalist mindset that tells us we can have instant results if we simply part with some cash or craft an illusion of change.
As well as being something to work at, we need to put more time and thought into the goals we create if we really want to see them through. One way of framing that is SMART goals. Now I hate acronyms, so if you do too, bare with me… SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Now if you want to geek out about this you could start here: https://www.founderjar.com/smart-goals
, but the general point I want to make here is that you will be doing yourself a huge favour if you get really specific on what you’re aiming for, know what achieving it looks like, deeply accept what is within your reach and, ideally, give yourself a deadline to achieve it, or at least start the first steps. There’s some nice tips on alternative systems here: https://www.blog.doist.com/unconventional-goal-setting
So this may sound restrictive, but honestly getting into these kinds of details about the change you want to make, gives your a better chance of getting to where you want to be. Also, to me, working towards my future in this way is an act of self-love. It’s empowering and I know I’m working towards realistic change rather than increasing the chances of either knocking my confidence or setting goals based on societal expectations over my own beautiful liberatory dreams.
But this is just one system and, as with all things you know yourself best, you know how your mind works, where your capacity is at and what works for you better than anyone else does. So whatever means you can use to create goals you feel are realistic, try it, experiment. The one-size-fits-all approach to resolutions is another reason they fail.
My advice here would be, try to check in with your dreams and goals regularly, when you have the spoons, and ask yourself repeatedly, what’s the next/easiest/smallest step I can take in the right direction? And remember, sometimes the best step is to rest, stop, step back, dream and allow your vision time to emerge and your body time to feel into the path ahead.
Lastly, it’s vital I add a note about marginalisation, oppression and goals. In my new service, Labyrinth Life Coaching (launching early 2023), I’ve expressly stated it is a radical coaching offering. This is because life coaching, like resolutions, often ignores the impact of marginalisation on our hopes, dreams and expectations. Dreaming is a beautiful and radical act and is so important to help us move forward in ways right for us, but if we set goals for our lives without acknowledging our current limitations, the societal pressures and oppressions pressing on us (whether internalised, external or often both), we’re not being self-loving, we’re being restricted. The onus can’t all be on us to create great change, not when the system is set up to keep us small and what we really need is radical community care to enable us ALL to grow and thrive. For marginalised folks particularly, the odds are stacked against us, and we often have to seek healing and support from ourselves, families and communities when it should be a right for all, but in acknowledging our current needs and boundaries, hopefully with the help of our communities and support systems, we can find ways to reach beyond our blocks and so step closer to our true selves (with the added bonus of giving that which seeks to bind us, the middle finger!).
The take home points about goal setting are:
Start with the lowest possible expectations, you can always increase and alter goals.
Be kind to yourself (don’t set damaging goals, try to create self-loving goals instead)
Always seek to do what is right for you