I used to struggle with New Year. All that celebration and sense of ‘new beginnings’ when nothing inside me felt any different than it did before midnight. Instead, I experienced a feeling of envy and even shame that everyone but me is doing something 'new', and with added gusto.
Almost a decade into my career as a Personal Trainer, I've now come to realise that all that New Year ‘culture’ is a bit fake and in reality, most people move into January 1st with feelings of trepidation, a touch of anxiety, and, like the old me, a sense of shame for those Resolutions not achieved in the 12 months prior and here we are again, unable to stick to these well-intentioned plans to transform ourselves into happier, healthier human-beings.
My experience working closely with various clients, and getting to know myself a bit better, have helped me realise that Resolutions just don’t work. They are fantasies. And like most fantasies, they shift and change and eventually ware off. They start out as the most exciting things to capture our attention since the release of Netflix, and even promise us life-changing rewards. They tell us that one day, very soon, we will wake up and be that person who drinks less, weighs less, eats less sugar, has a promotion, no longer contributes to climate change, knows everything there is to know about current affairs, has become a semi-professional vegan baker, and has met the love of their life. That is until the reality kicks in and before you know it, it's December 31st again.
For me, the biggest flaw in the process of setting New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) is that we are in effect admitting that this year, we will be better than last year because last year we were a bit crap. And while I can come up with a whole bunch of reasons as to why I really was a bit crap, identifying myself as a bit crap adds to the lack of value I place on my achievements / lack of achievements, and my behaviour and experience of being on this planet for an entire year. The Resolution asks me to stop being crap, stop making excuses for being crap and just be better for the next 12 months.
NYRs also usually involve identifying external 'things' that will make our year worthy of popping a champagne cork or two in 12 months time. Typically, these external things, for me anyway, are closely linked to what I believe I 'should' want i.e. more savings, babies, weddings, mortgages etc etc. Resolutions don't come with a How To book that suggest we take a moment to pause and touch base with ourselves and ask 'what is it I really for myself?'. Better yet, perhaps we could ask ourselves 'what do I need to help me feel valued, fulfilled, healthy and able to not pressure myself to chunk up my life into 12 month cycles of success and failure.
I’ve been guilty of setting resolutions around exercise and weight loss in the past. I’ve wanted to run great distances and better times and fantasised that the person achieving those things looks and feels like some sort of Amazonian gazelle-type warrior with a beautiful tan. She crosses finish lines to a party of friends and family who pass her another trophy to add to her collection and after only a couple of minutes catching her breath, is ready to move onto her next physical challenge - pulling a bus. I’ve set resolutions around housing - that I’ll have one to call my own, that no one can take away mainly, and even fantasised that in 12 months time, I'll be sat with my fantasy dog in front of a roaring fire. What I failed to do with these past Resolutions however is to address why I seem to keep failing to achieve these and why I feel they are so important to me.
The truth was that the running Resolution / fantasy was never going to happen because every time I started training I would injure myself, curse myself for being so rubbish at running and then give up (usually with some foot stomping and huffing to go with it). Running at these times was motivated by a deeper shame of not being good enough, not loving my body or appreciating what it's trying to tell me. As for the stable housing Resolution, well that wasn’t happening because it would require me to start addressing finances, which I would require me reviewing the workings of my business, which required realising my value as a coach and personal trainer.
Fast forward through tons of work on the inner workings of my mind and body, I’m now able to set hopes and intentions, not NYRs. These hopes and intentions are gentler, more subtle and very personal. I trust that they will guide me towards building the life I want for myself - active, healthy, full of positive relationships and always prioritising kindness to myself and others around me. And now that I've set them, all I have to do is identify which behaviours fit and which don’t. Focusing on getting stronger for example, fits with my intention to run great distances and enjoy doing so for years to come, not just for the next 12 months. Drinking too much and eating poorly doesn’t fit with my intention to care for my mental health and feel energised.
It may seem unusual for a fitness professional to disagree with the premise of the NYR. After all, January is peak business for us. We can capitalise on the masses who resolve to lose weight, ‘get fit’ or sign up to Tough Mudder events. But true fitness is both body and mind. It doesn’t come in January and disappear again in April. Fitness means a willingness to be curious, practice, explore, fail and start again from scratch. It means being kind to ourselves, learning to appreciate our bodies, not for how they look but for what they can do for us. True fitness means selecting all of the tools, internal and external, you need to make you the best version of yourself - whether that’s a coach, a gym membership, closer relationships with family, more sleep, more Brene Brown TED talks, decluttering your home, spending time with yourself. So if you’re wondering what Resolutions to set this year, first ask yourself what it is you really want then set some gentle, kind intentions to take tiny steps towards it.