Do This Before You Even Start Your New Year’s Resolutions

There’s something you need to know before you try to improve yourself.
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There’s something you need to know before you try to improve yourself.

Ah, the excitement of a brand new year and the promise of a fresh start!

Local fitness centers entice us with discounted memberships, weight loss programs bombard you with “New Year, New You!” ads (have you seen Oprah’s latest Weight Watchers commercial?), and your social media feeds are flooded with family and friends’ declarations of what they’ll do differently in the coming months.

The most popular resolutions, according to the University of Scranton, include losing weight, enjoying life to the fullest, and falling in love. All are worthy pursuits. And I see plenty of people pursuing new goals throughout the year when I counsel patients in my practice. But as we plan all this self-improvement, we have to look deeply at what will really make us the best versions of ourselves.

Are You Selling Yourself Short?

Sometimes our resolutions can come at the expense of accepting and celebrating who we are today. Thinking about things that could be better or ways we could be happier can sometimes be a way of ignoring the good things we have now.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a healthy weight. But if you’re telling yourself, “I won’t be happy with who I am until I’m ten pounds lighter,” “My real life will start once I’m in a committed relationship,” or “Once I get my dream job, I’ll be satisfied,” you’re selling yourself short. Instead of embracing the gifts and joys of the present, you’re living for the future and putting a lot of pressure on yourself while you’re at it.

While 44 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent feel that they successfully achieve them, according to Scranton’s research. So you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment if you let yourself get caught up in the “I’ll be happier once I [insert goal here]” rule. Your self-worth shouldn’t depend on your weight, career, or whether you are single or married. You deserve much better than that!

Celebrate Who You Are Right Now

One of happiness expert Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood is the paradoxical “accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.” In other words, having goals and resolutions is only part of the equation. Self-acceptance is the other more important ingredient to a fulfilling life. But it’s also trickier to master.

With the media’s confusing messages, it’s too easy to see yourself as someone who doesn’t measure up to the impossible and, frankly, unrealistic standards they set. Ads often tell us that if we have perfect skin or are thinner, taller, or more stylish, we’ll be happier. Dove’s 2013 Campaign for Real Beauty was a perfect example of how we can be our own harshest critics. Participants described themselves negatively (e.g. “big jaw,” “fat, round face,” “big forehead,” etc.), whereas strangers described the participants positively (e.g. “nice eyes that lit up when she spoke,” “cute nose,” “very nice blue eyes,” etc.).

Instead of focusing on your perceived imperfections, look at yourself through the eyes of a kind friend. List the qualities she’d compliment you on. Your face might light up like these high schoolers’ in Shea Glover’s experiment where she filmed people as she told them they were beautiful.

Joanna Goddard, of the popular blog Cup of Jo, urges us not to be too critical of ourselves:

It doesn’t make sense to call ourselves ugly because we don’t really see ourselves. . . . There’s no mirror in your way when you’re laughing and smiling and happiness is leaking out of you. You would know exactly how bright and beautiful you are if you saw yourself in the moments where you are truly yourself.”

It might feel strange to look for your beautiful qualities at first. But let’s be kind to ourselves. The more we practice, the more natural it will become.

Live a Full Life Now

Ask yourself what you expect to happen when you reach your goal. Then ask yourself why you can’t start living that right now even while working toward it.

Verily’s cofounder and editor in chief, Kara Eschbach, recently shared how she had been treating her life as a waiting room. She writes, “I was simply holding on for my turn to put aside the shabbiness of single waiting and emerge into what I saw as the bright, shiny world of beginning my ‘real’ life. Married life.” Even her apartment, filled with castoffs and mismatched items, reflected her attitude. But once she made this connection, she chose to embrace her single life. Instead of waiting for marriage to do the things she wanted to, she started living her vision of a full life in the present.

Meg Jay, a psychologist and millennial expert, shares that 80 percent of your life’s most defining moments take place before age 35. The good news is that you have quite a bit of say in those defining moments. As much as I cringe when I hear YOLO, there’s some truth to it. You only live once. Why not give yourself permission to fill your life with meaning in the present?

During this time of new beginnings and fresh starts, consider making the most of your life right now instead of pressing the pause button until you’ve met your resolutions. I bet by living your life to the fullest and respecting yourself each day, your resolutions will come more naturally. Celebrate the wonderful human being that you are, live in the present, and don’t sell yourself short. Identify what a truly fulfilling life means to you, and put it into action.

Photo Credit: Julia Hembree Photography