On 2021 Resolutions
For most of us, the beginning of a new year brings us to reflect on the past. From that reflection often comes a desire to set a new path—or, at least, to create an improved version of the old path that is more aligned with our true values, or that centers more around habits that make our own and others’ lives better.
From this comes the New Year’s Resolution: a practice that has value, but that many of us approach in a manner more or less guaranteed to be unsuccessful. Most people who make New Year’s resolutions don’t ultimately succeed at keeping them because they are based in reactivity and shame instead of joy and discipline.
When we look at our pudgier bellies and say “I am going to lose this paunch in the next 30 days,” or when we observe that our screen time has gone up considerably and we say “I am going to reduce my screen time by several hours a day,” what we are really doing is judging our coping behaviors as wrong and making resolutions that only work if we strictly control those urges.
The problem with trying to whip ourselves into shape is the whip! Punishment and austerity are abhorrent to the soul. We all seek to feel as good as we can in any given moment. We cannot forcefully take away our own self-soothing mechanisms—even if they are substandard—and expect ourselves to be able to comply long-term. The trick to upgrading our habits is to find alternative habits or practices to replace more harmful ones; to take the time to become self-aware about what would be a more true and personally fulfilling way of dealing with the needs and anxieties we might be feeding with extra baked goods or doomscrolling.
Just like a loving parent, we need to ask first “What hurts?” “What’s missing?” “What is unexpressed?” And yes, sometimes we need to “fake it till we make it”—which simply means getting our inner stubborn child to do the right thing because it will feel good later; but that is a stopgap strategy, not a long-term one.
A few examples of questions we could ask ourselves:
What is the primary need underneath my mindless eating?
What is the core emotion I am addressing by having one too many drinks at night?
How am I using technology to avoid feeling?
What feelings are uncomfortable for me right now?
What am I running from by not moving my body more?
Address only one dysfunctional behavior at a time. Become eagerly curious about what it is a stand-in for. Perhaps we are habitually drowning our sorrows with extra drinks when what we most need is a friend to talk to, a great laugh, or a long walk.
We might be using the computer to disassociate because we do not want to feel the emptiness and bleakness of lockdown.
The next important piece of this is that we can’t do it without both excellent self-care and supportive others. It takes about three months to form a new habit; thus, we need to have at least a three-month plan for both inner and outer support.
Inner support: If we are to let go of any of our accustomed comforts, we need to be especially kind to ourselves in other ways. We need to take care of the feelings that will come up when changing this habit. Unless we nurture the underlying feelings for the long term instead of muscling our way through the first week or so, we will not be able to sustain our new efforts.
For example: If I am going to drink less each night and sit with my true experience, how will I sit with and move through the angst, melancholy, and loneliness that may come up? This is the salient question for implementing any new habit. If I remove this metaphorical blankie, what will I give myself instead when the thing I am suppressing makes itself felt? Perhaps you’ll put on some music and dance; perhaps you’ll draw your feelings, or deep clean a room in your house, or adopt a yin yoga practice, or scribble about your thoughts and feelings in your journal. Choose from self-compassion, and choose something that will allow you to turn toward what ails you. This is how pain is uplifted into purpose.
Outer support: Our culture has taught us that we should be able to make and keep resolutions out of the strength of our own wills–that somehow, needing support means we’re not adequate to the task. What’s true is that to move from a reactive, unhealthy, and primitive attempt to meet core needs to a more fulfilling and high-functioning behavior, we also need outer support.
For example: if I am going to start exercising again in earnest, I need to have folks support me by joining me or cheering me on. These same folks give me space to be grumpy or mad or pitiful in my inertia and resistance and support me to go out and do it anyway. Each day I complete my new habit, I can have someone close to me recognize and acknowledge my effort.
The 12 signs of the Zodiac each represent core energies we need to optimally function and live a zestful and fully expressed life, but that—when not skillfully directed—can lead to imbalances that invite toxic habits. I invite you to recognize and honor how these energies might be at the root of a need that is driving one such habit for you, and to try the aligned strategy for redirecting that energy.
Core condition: impulsivity
Strategy: Use the fire in this emotion to get into action and turn up the flames of your passions to do something meaningful and consistent with your time.
Core condition: sedentary, stuck
Strategy: Use the solidity of these Taurean qualities to plant a deep root of commitment for the change you seek.
Core condition: restlessness
Strategy: Use your natural curiosity to dive deep into the feelings underlying the habit or pattern you want to change. Give those feelings a voice.
Core condition: neediness
Strategy: Use the energy of insecurity to build solid ways to take care of yourself and strengthen your center.
Core condition: attention seeking
Strategy: channel your desire for adoration into showering yourself with praise and rewards for all higher-functioning behavior.
Core condition: perfectionism and criticism of others
Strategy: Direct your energy around improving and analyzing others to pick one thing you will steadfastly address in yourself.
Core condition: people pleasing
Strategy: Use your need for social harmony to motivate balance in yourself. As you are whole within yourself, you will balance others.
Core condition: self-negation
Strategy: See darkness within yourself as a prompt to cleanse your life of unnecessary garbage. Take the emotional trash out to brighten your inner lantern.
Core condition: self-righteousness
Strategy: Use this sense of false superiority to see how you can elevate one humble habit to an exemplary level.
Core condition: approval seeking
Strategy: Use this longing for others to applaud you to motivate you to do things for which you will want to give yourself a standing ovation.
Core condition: arrogance
Strategy: Use this tendency toward believing you know more than others to teach yourself how to know what is best for you. Teach it daily to yourself.
Core condition: sympathy seeking
Strategy: Use this hope for others to understand you to probe your own dreams and imagination for ways to stand in your power.