As we enter into a new calendar year, our culture tends to turn the focus towards making new starts. Connected to those new starts are thoughts of how to improve upon our circumstances as we evaluated them at the end of the previous year. In these moments, we usually judge ourselves according to what we feel is lacking, unaccomplished, or simply neglected in our lives. These judgments are typically critical, if not overtly harsh. This focus and these judgments then lead to sudden motivation to make changes in our lives. Our tradition is to call them resolutions.
Unfortunately, these resolutions also tend to carry with them a great deal of personal pressure to achieve them, while also still carrying with them the weight of the personal judgments and criticisms that lead to them in the first place. People continue to repeat their self-criticisms in their minds and, often, in their conversations with others.
“I’m too fat.”
“I need to be more successful.”
“I’m not accomplishing enough.”
We allow our pasts to continue to haunt us at the same time that we are trying to focus on what we want in the future, while we are caught in the middle of these competing forces. It’s easy to see why people frequently become overwhelmed, feel frustrated, and then give up on these resolutions.
So much energy is taken up as we drag our past criticisms with us, while also striving for some far-off goal, while feeling that the future we envision will never arrive. Many of us end up losing track of the present moment, which is the only time in which we can do any work towards our goals. The irony of this is that neither the distant past nor the far-off future matter so much, when the only thing we have with us at any given moment is the present.
With that in mind, it becomes clear that putting energy into the minute-by-minute and day-by-day choices we make is where our greatest power lies. Letting go of our self-defeating thoughts and self-criticisms of the past allows us to refocus our attention and energies on what we are doing now. When we are able to focus on what is happening now, we are practicing a form of mindfulness, which allows us to make conscious choices about what we can do now to reach our ultimate goal.
In the end, what you can take away from this is that the resolutions you make for the new year are ultimately much less powerful, and possibly even hurtful, than the resolutions you make daily. You don’t need to change your eating habits for the rest of your life. Your only concern is whether you change them today, or even just for your next meal. Similarly, you don’t need to exercise regularly for the next six months. It’s only about whether you choose to exercise today. In the end, simply examine each moment as it comes, recognize the choices before you, and choose to do that which is healthiest for you. Everything else you do will eventually resonate with the life choices you make.
David Ayers is the clinical director at American Day Treatment Center.