If you have spent any time on social media over the last few days, you will have seen dozens of posts and articles and opinions about resolutions that people are making for the new year. Some people say that they are going to change the way that they eat or that they are going to exercise more. You’ve probably got a couple of friends that intend to read more this year in an effort to expand their minds. You’ve probably even seen a few people say that they’re going to look for opportunities to be nicer to others or to do more random acts of kindness.
This time of year seems to be about assessing our lives, figuring out who we are and how we can be better. And that’s a great practice; engaging in self-reflection is incredibly beneficial on a bunch of different levels. It is a great opportunity to make positive change to be healthier or more loving towards others.
Here’s the hitch, though. The desire to make resolutions to change something about ourselves can be motivated by a lot of different factors. Sure, they can come from a place of simply wanting to take a more positive direction. But, they can also come from a place of self-criticism or doubt. These resolutions can sometimes be a reminder of something painful that we have tried to ignore. When that’s that case, this time of year can be tough because of the memories that are brought up or the anxieties that get triggered.
It’s a popular notion that resolutions are “made to be broken.” Sometimes, we make resolutions more playfully, knowing that there’s plenty of times that we will deviate from the plan. Maybe we will have that extra chocolate chip cookie after dinner, and that’s OK. Maybe we will choose to play video games rather than read a book, and that’s OK too. But, other times, when we don’t keep our resolutions, we can think of it as failure and that can raise all sorts of questions about our own sense of self. We can be really hard on ourselves.
As much as we love social media, it can often make things worse. Even though we get to keep up with friends that we likely would otherwise lose contact with, it’s important to remember that what we see on Facebook is a curated version of reality. People don’t choose to show us the things in their lives that they’re not happy about or that they are struggling with. They show us their brightest and best. When our friends share that they’ve been staying on their fitness regime for four months now, they’re probably not sharing with us the other struggles that they have. Our friends who are posting about their recent promotion at work often don’t talk about what they’ve had to give up in order to achieve it. It’s an unfair comparison because we get to compare all of our lives – the good and the bad – with and unending stream of positive posts from all of our friends.
All of that comes to a head this time of year. And, it can sometimes cause us to think that there’s something wrong with us – that we’re broken.
This year, let me issue a new kind of challenge. Maybe, the resolution that we need to make this year is not one to be fitter, or stronger, or thinner, or richer, or nicer. Maybe this year, it might be helpful to resolve to start seeing yourself differently – to develop a deeper sense of self-compassion.
Let me share this with anyone that needs to hear it: You are not broken.
There may be things about yourself that you’d like to change, but you are not broken.
You might be facing overwhelming challenges, but you are not broken.
When you think about your family or past relationships, there may be painful memories that surface, but you are not broken.
In fact, you are an amazing human being. You have the ability to think and to feel and to reflect. You have the ability to grow.
This new year, if you feel like you are tempted to be overwhelmed by the ways that you’re not good enough or the ways that you feel like you have failed, maybe it will help to have a few techniques to counter those negative feelings. Here are a couple of things that I have found to be helpful in my own fight against negative feelings.
One of the easiest ways to counteract negative thoughts is by purposefully adding positivity to the mix. There are a ton of ways to do this but one that I find especially helpful – and easy – is to find a positive phrase and recite it in your mind whenever you notice negative thoughts creeping in. There’s a couple right here that we can choose from: “You are not broken” or the even more positive “You are an amazing human being.” If you have any sort of spiritual practice, you may find some additional ideas there such as positive scripture verses or mantras.
It can be helpful to get used to using these phrases. One way I like to keep positive energy in my life is by starting my day with it. When the coffee is done in the morning, I usually have some time to myself where I can simply sit and “be” before the stresses of the day start to set in. Carve out some quiet time and practice just saying your positive phrase, either in your mind or even out loud if you feel comfortable. You will probably notice a lot of other thoughts – some negative – creeping in, but just keep focusing on your positive phrase. Try it for five minutes a day even just a couple of times each week.
I’m often tempted to compare my story with the stories of others, even though I know full well that it isn’t super beneficial to do so. One of the things that has really helped me in that space is simply practicing gratitude – being grateful for positive things in my life. For me, this practice often involves me journalling my thoughts. I like to write down whatever it is that I’m being grateful for and a short description of what it is about that thing that is so positive. But it doesn’t have to involve writing if that doesn’t work for you. In fact, if you are already practicing the positive phrase technique above, this could be a simple variation. Spend some time with that morning coffee reflecting exclusively on the things that you are grateful for.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “an attitude of gratitude.” As it turns out, this is pretty much true! You can think of it as a muscle that becomes stronger the more that you exercise it. Over time, gratitude will become less of something that you have to practice and more of your default perspective.
Find a Listening Ear
Finding someone that will listen well to you can be a great help when you’re feeling negatively towards yourself. It may not be enough to have someone to talk to or to have someone that listens and then tries to solve your problem for you. When someone listens well – when they truly hear you and try to understand how you feel – it is a powerful connection that can be transformative for people. If we ever have an opportunity to interact with someone like this, we don’t soon forget it!
For you, maybe that person is a friend. For others, it might be a pastor or confidante. For some, it might be the trusted ear of a therapist. Whomever it might be, what we know is that the connection that is established when one person is truly heard by another is powerful. We don’t necessarily want the person to fix our problem. When we connect with people in this sort of way, we receive all sorts of messages. We are valuable. We are worth listening to. Our problem make sense and we’re not “crazy” for feeling this way.
In other words, we are not broken.
And, so, here’s to a great 2017. Here’s to giving yourself the grace to make mistakes. Here’s to seeing yourself from a new perspective. Here’s to an attitude of gratitude and filling the world with positivity.
Here’s to you!