It's New Year's Day and the air is thick with the smell of a billion and one hangovers. Alongside the many memories and a fair few bad decisions made last night, the “I’m never drinking again”s and the “I should start using my gym membership”s are making their rounds across the globe with the rise of the sun. If you’re one of the admirable folk who woke up this morning with no hangover, don’t you fret! You are not immune! After two weeks of gluttonous and indulgent festivities thinly veiled under the guise of celebrations, the holidays are officially over. It’s resolution season baby!
The time of year we all trick ourselves into believing that our holiday induced sluggishness will vanish and that we will turn our lives around overnight. We impose the expectation on ourselves that we will jump from 0 to 100 in a matter of a day, realistically while we’re still nursing that hangover we inherited from 2022. I’m sure we’re all too familiar with the sudden urge to sort our lives out that bubbles to the surface at 3AM only to entirely evade us the next morning. Or the lists made as we once again succumb to the annual illusion that a new year does in fact equal a new me. The same lists we find on our phones or notebooks a few months later and scoff at, bitterly remembering our past naivete. It is this bitter remembrance of our own ambitions and desires that I want to challenge. Perhaps I’ve simply been infected with a particularly aggressive case of the resolution bug, but I’m not entirely convinced that wanting to do better for one’s self is naive. I am also entirely disillusioned from and uninterested in the asinine farce of being too cool to try.
When it comes to resolutions, intentions are the backbone. You can have a driver, such as going to the gym 5 times a week to get the perfect ‘revenge body’ or reading a new book every week to be able to hold a conversation with intimidatingly intelligent people. At the end of the day if these external motivators are aiding development they are better than nothing. However, these drivers are still rooted in dry soil. Soil that will probably not be able to sustain or nurture the seed of the habit for very long. These are drivers rooted in spite and insecurity. Sure, people who manage to stick to self improving habits long enough, even with dry soil, will start to notice the positive internal impact. Such as seeing the fruitful mental and physical effects of exercise whilst in the pursuit of a revenge body. Or the fulfilment of a broadened life perspective from reading all those books. However, if you are anything like me, you probably don’t have the attention span to try to change yourself for the sake of others. Which brings me to internal intent.
When a driver of self development is aligned with one’s self interest, there is a demonstration of internal intent. This is when you are working toward bettering yourself, not because you are trying to prove something to someone else or because of some sense of guilt, but because you believe that you deserve better for yourself. It isn’t easy to work toward a goal without some level of extrinsic motivation, especially after so many of us have reached adulthood with decades of only knowing this form of driver [think: studying for the sake of a grade rather than the pursuit of knowledge]. But you don't need to be an ecologist to know a seed rooted in fertile soil is going to grow a lot stronger than one in dry soil. Even if the good quality fertile stuff is harder to come by and harder to maintain. What do you think you are worth? Are you giving yourself what you deserve?
Your Inner Child
In hindsight, an unexpected game changer for my inner dialogue and reducing negative self-talk was a scene from a show I watched in my early teens called “My Mad Fat Diary”. In the scene the protagonist's therapist asks her to imagine her younger self, at the age of 10 or so, sitting across from her. He asks her to speak to her the way she speaks to herself, and she can’t. It was a very confronting but necessary scene to watch as a 14ish year old with terrible self esteem. Indeed I could not sit across from a 10 year old me and speak to her in the same cruel and destructive ways I was speaking to myself. This exercise of visualising my younger self became a recurring habit. I would imagine myself, as an adult, walking down the empty hallway of my primary school as all the kids, including myself, were in class. I would tell my teacher, whom I loathed with a passion, that I was Ela’s older sister and I was taking her out of class for the day. With the resemblance I think I would get away with it. I would take myself to the cinema, we would get cherry and melon sorbet and chicken fajitas. Yes, in that order.
This habit of visualisation proved to be incredibly healing. It shifted my perception of what I am worth and how I should be talking to myself. It is an exercise in self compassion. It re-humanises your perception of yourself as someone who deserves care and softness, when so many of us feel all too comfortable speaking to ourselves in ways we wouldn't even dream of talking to our worst enemy. However, it is also a vessel to help develop a more foundational view of self discipline. Imagine being your own parent or older sibling. Imagine sitting your 10 year old ass down and saying, “we’re not getting up from this table until your homework is done” or “it's midnight, why the hell aren’t you asleep yet?” Because structure and resolve are some of the most fundamental building blocks of self care. Sometimes “treat-yo-self” is doing the recycling and hoovering the living room instead of a bubble bath and facemask.
Through my travels from yore to hither I have had the pleasure of getting to know a fair few remarkable people. I would call a handful of them “resolutionaries”. These are the magical people who somehow manage to start routines and actually build them into habits. I have spoken to four people I know who effectively build new habits and are able to resolutionize their lives. Through our zoom calls, text messages, and voice notes across the time zones I’ve compiled their nuggets of wisdom into four archetypes.
1 - Freya The Jumpstart Resolutionary
Freya’s method of forming new habits stems from her concept of self. She sees herself in a dual aspect: the current self and the future self. When she decides on a new habit she will adopt, she repositions her view of herself temporally. There is an instant shift the moment she makes her decision. Instead of saying “I want to be…” she says “I am…”. She also explains that you have to allow yourself a grace period to figure out what goals are actually attainable. The example she gave was deciding she would write for an hour everyday. When she realised that this was not doable, she shifted it to two hours a week. When she nears the end of the week and realises “I owe myself an hour of writing” she will make the time to complete the task. I thought this sentence perfectly captured her mindset in approaching these goals. She owes it to herself. No one else.
She spoke about accountability. If these are things that you are doing for yourself the only person who is going to hold yourself accountable is you. Funnily, she told me the exact thing I mentioned above about being your own parent. She said “give into the whims of your inner child. And then honour her by being her parent”. Odds are, whatever habit you're trying to build will not come easy. As someone who couldn't touch her toes when she started, the first three months she was “the type of person who did yoga everyday” was miserable. “Indulge in knowing it’s going to be awful at first” her advice is to be prepared and expect it. Freya is a champion of delayed gratification. She will accept that she will not be comfortable nor will she enjoy the process of building a new habit. But she will reap the benefits when the time comes.
Another nugget of wisdom she imparted was to be audacious. She spoke about how there is an audacity to deciding you can do the thing. About how she would see these yogis doing insane movements with their bodies: She needed to have a certain level of chutzpah to believe that she could do them too. You ignore the limiting beliefs, you clean up your thinking. “Good things come to those with a growth mindset” she declared.
2 - Eva the Radical Resolutionary
The radical resolutionary is the headstrong and goal driven habit builder. I once saw Eva survive off of a diet of beans and rice for weeks when she decided she would save up for a trip… “Honestly, you’re going to be disappointed.'' Eva started her voice note. She told me she doesn't necessarily perceive herself as an effective resolutionary, but that she sees the reason why I do. She pointed out two essential factors for this external perception. First, she starts much later than she plans to do a thing. Which means that by the time she does, it feels so pressing it is almost a necessity. Second, she doesn't tell people about the thing until she's already got the ball rolling. While she packaged this information in the form of a self deprecating joke, there is wisdom to be imparted from it. Eva’s method relies on discretion. She embodies the concept of the self-reliant resolutionary by not involving anyone else in the process until she is ready. She has no time nor desire to take on the pressure of others in her process of growth. Another attribute of her method is to keep at least one element of her goal to herself. “Just between me and the person who is putting in the work”. This ensures that her efforts are for herself and herself alone.
She spoke about the alignment of her goals and her values. When the going gets tough and she wants to quit something she looks back on why she started in the first place. She started going to the gym because she wanted to be able to look back and say that she made the most out her physical youth by being the “strongest and swollest” she could be. The incredible abs are only a byproduct. There is a bigger, long term incentive instead of superficial reasons. “It’s honest,” she said, “so I can rely on it.” When she loses sight of her goals, she can rewind her pathway of the choices she made. “I have borderline exhausting conversations with myself” and as a result she has an alignment of her values and her actions.
3 - Rafael du Bois - the Blueprint Resolutionary
Rafael -a self chosen and rather fabulous pseudonym- practices reflection and premeditation in his resolutions. Instead of focusing on the small changes he needs to make to build a habit he looks at the bigger picture. He thinks about what lead him to a situation where there is something that he needs to change. Once he identifies the problem it feels “stupid and self sabotaging” to not make the necessary changes. The following process of change then comes naturally. He plans his execution. For example, when he decided to wake up earlier, instead of just setting an alarm he also started to set out his coffee and breakfast -usually granola and yoghurt- for the next morning. The knowledge that this task was already complete and the process of getting up was going to be less taxing made it easier to get out of bed. It is this premeditation that earns him the title of the blueprint resolutionary.
4 - Stijn - The Resilient Resolutionary
I don’t think I've met any other person who practises a growth mindset quite like Stijn. With any given curveball or hiccup he will ask “how can we learn from this?”. I think he takes pride in knowing that he falls on his face sometimes. As he should. Because it is not your failures that define you, it is what you do with them. Fundamental change takes time, attention, and consistency, he says. Nurture, essentially. The kind you would show your inner child. Stijn is a big believer in self discipline. To him, self care is the difficult things you do for you. Not the “treat yourself” mentality that seems to run rampant and results in too much comfort and self soothing. He does recognize that this can have its pitfalls. There are times that he will not acknowledge or reward his wins and so will over exert himself. Which then leads to overcorrection and not getting anything done for a while. It’s a balance he’s still trying to navigate. But through a process of trial, error, and an abundance of critical self reflection, he’s getting there.
He spoke about the liberation of saying “it's not okay”. When he isn’t meeting his expectations, when he is acting in ways that do not benefit or serve him, he will hold himself accountable. He will not allow himself hollow comfort by insisting that it’s alright to be less. He wants better for himself so he will act in accordance with these desires. To live an aligned life you need to sit with what you care about. Who do you want to be? Who do you admire? Why? Do not live by the values of others. Know thyself. Don’t take the path of least resistance. Because you will lose sight of your destination if you are not fighting for it. Fall 9 times and get up 10. Demonstrate your resilience. Because the most important person you will show up for is you.
New year's resolutions can feel like a gimmick because of their timing and the historical failures. But there is value in reflection. If there is one thing all four of these resolutionaries share it is that they have the difficult conversations with themselves. They are consistent in their deliberation. They accept that failure is a part of growth. That you will inevitably fumble the ball but you have to keep going. Because throwing in the towel when you’re in the weeds is an indicator that you were looking for a way out in the first place. It is imperative that you keep your sights set to why you are doing this in the first place. Why do you want to change this thing in your life? Why is it important to you?
If you have stuck with me, dear reader, through this article you have already demonstrated your commitment to wanting better for you. So take some time today to sit with yourself and why your 10 year old self, as well as your 80 year old self, deserve better. Invest in them one step at a time. Take the new year as an opportunity to shift your current self into your future self. Because at the end of the day it is a matter of deciding not who you want to be but who you are.