2020; the year when I would work out every week day, lose half my body weight, get organised, learn ten new skills including olympic gymnastics, save all my money while also visiting top London restaurants and finding that 25" waist. Honestly, January-2020-me sounded like a bit of a dick. If common sense didn't tell me that new years resolutions are a bad idea, the rest of 2020 on a whole certainly did. You bet I didn't achieve a single one of my new years resolutions but that doesn't mean I didn't achieve anything last year. I achieved a lot. A lot more than those resolutions. I learnt to love myself again, I learnt patience and empathy. I learnt what my darkest and lowest place looked like. I practiced being alone with myself. It was a big year.
So guess what... this year I chose not to make new years resolutions. However, I didn't abandon the "new year, new me" mentality entirely because it wouldn't quite be a new year if I didn't do something with all that excitement of a fresh start. Instead I tried to get excited about the potential of 2021 in a "healthier" way, and I know, I know, the difference between December 31 and January 1 is literally a day but it kind of feels like getting into fresh sheets. They're still the same sheets but they just feel a little cleaner, a little softer, a little more exciting.
I decided that a post on Jan 1st about all this would be, well, useless. I didn't really want to talk about my new year approach but rather, give it an honest go instead. Now, here I am, five months in to 2021, to let you know how my resolution-alternative is going and to say that this definitely isn't a "new year" thing. I would adopt this way of living any day, Monday, Sunday, Wednesday, 1st of the month, last of the month, the third Tuesday of the month. This method of growth (because that's what new years resolutions are supposed to be) is timeless.
My new approach
This year, 2021, I chose a theme for the year. Kind of like a single, simple mantra to return to when I feel a bit lost or a bit unsure. A theme to focus my behaviour, my thoughts and my life. I looked back over 2020 and thought long and hard about how it was and what I needed going forward. I considered what I might like to change (that's actually in my control) and what I would like to continue. I did this over a few weeks and eventually came up with the theme of "practice".
In 2020 I grew a lot and changed a lot. I went through a very dark and rocky period with my mental health and learnt a lot about myself and how to look after myself. My biggest fear of 2021 was repeating my mental struggle and undoing all the progress I made. With this in mind as my biggest priority, I decided that the theme of "practice" would be appropriate both practically and metaphorically. "Practice" meant practicing the techniques I learned that helped me with managing my mental health; meditation, yoga, journalling, self-care, exercise, being kinder to myself..etc. "Practice" also symbolises a sense of comfort in that which I have already tried, very unlike my normal new-years-resolutions which are a abyss of "learn new hobby X", "become expert at new skill Y". The pressure was off to try something new and instead focus inwards on what I've already tried.
There are so many options for themes, they can be wide, they can be narrow. One I was tempted to try was "documenting", encouraging a year of taking photos, writing letters and notes, drawing, journalling, scrapbooking. Maybe that can be my next theme once I feel satisfied with this one.
What I've practiced
- Mindfulness, meditation, journalling & all things to do with mental wellbeing and the methods that actually help me keep negative thoughts at bay
- Journalling and specifically finding time to do this regularly
- Exercise. I got more into spinning & focused on specific skills I wanted to get better at (e.g. push up) rather than apperance or scale-based goals. I also practiced walking outside regularly
- Self care. I have been practicing feeling comfortable actually doing something for myself every now and then.
- Reading. I set up a wee little challenge with my father in-law to read a certain number of books this year.
- Art. I've been trying to give myself more time for this hobby every week.
- Rollerskating! Rather than pick up a new active hobby like I normally do, I figured I'd try improve at something I started in 2020. So far I've not had so much time to do this but I'm looking forward to practicing as the weather improves.
These are all things in my comfort zone, things I've done before, things I can improve at but aren't quite as draining as adding something brand new to my plate.
The importance of tracking to observe rather than succeed
The other side of new years resolutions is the accountability, the tracking and the normal inevitable failure. Doing all this thinking about what I wanted 2021 to look like for me wasn't going to be much good if I didn't revisit it every now and then to check in and see how I'm doing. In previous years, I've tracked new years resolutions militantly. Spreadsheets, databases, lists, reminders, alarms. I didn't want to be that harsh on myself, but, seeing as my theme was "practice" in the hopes that some of the things I'm practicing turn into habits, it's been pretty important that I practice regularly. Real change starts when you adopt habits, make them part of your lifestyle, but tracking your habits militantly can be rather off-putting... isn't that ironic?
So how have I done it? First, I took the pressure off. If I miss a couple of weeks or months, it doesn't matter. If I don't do something for a wee while, it doesn't matter. There's probably a good reason why I'm not doing it at that time. I've adopted a bullet journal which means at the beginning of every month I draw out a little monthly plan and that has encouraged me to check in with myself in a fairly casual way. I try be honest about whether I've been engaging with a task regularly or not and I avoid looking at my record too often because the point is not to be a check-list but rather an observational exercise.
If I find that I'm not practicing something as much as I like, rather than resorting to alarms, reminders, calendar invites and giving myself a hard time, I ask the question "why haven't I been doing this?". Is it because I don't want to? Have I not had the time? Has it been difficult to prioritise or am I doing something else that fulfills its' duty already? All of these are valid reasons not to do something and more often than not, it turns out that it was totally okay for me not to be practicing this particular activity.
What I've experienced from adopting a theme to encourage my direction in 2021 rather than resolutions is a flexibility to grow without disappointment. It's okay to miss a few days, to mess up, or even to give up. It's more important to be forgiving and understanding than "successful". It seems that life works better when our resolutions fit into our lives rather than us bending our lives to fit them.
So, if New Year resolutions are meant to be helping us grow and develop, but engaging with them often sends us into a spiral of disappointment and self-deprication, then maybe not doing any is the greatest resolution of all.