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Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions


I am madly in love with this time of year. The holidays are over, the house is cleaned up and decorations are put away, the energy feels fresh and alive and I am ready. It would never occur to me however to make a New Year’s resolution as my culture invites me to do.

Resolutions are fraught with the weight of shoulds, guilt, promises I am afraid I cannot keep. Why would I put myself through this? It doesn’t feel good!

Instead, what works marvelously for me, is holding a silent dialogue with my personal universe that goes something like this: I am ready for new information, I am ready for change, I am ready for upgrade in whatever form it looks like. I am open to everything that is coming my way that will facilitate my change and upgrade.

In fact, I don’t do this just at this time of year, but many times a year, whenever I feel in need of a shift, a change, an upgrade. I have stopped being amazed at how quickly this little exercise works for me. Within seconds, minutes, hours, or days, I am exposed serendipitously to new people, books, articles, conversations, ‘random’ information that catches my eyes or ears, causing me to think or act in slight or dramatically different ways, ways that give me that glorious feeling of having learned, of having achieved an upgrade in my life. Now THAT feels good.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. ~ Hal Borland



For much of my life, I felt resistance at this time of year. Angst about what goals to have for the upcoming year. Wondering if I achieved the expectations I had set for the year before or disappointed that I hadn’t made any so there was no gauge. It’s the version of life where there is a beginning and end, always a goal to be won… or lost. Something to prove… to ourselves or others. The feeling that we’re not where we should or could be… that we could be ‘better.’ You know what feels amazing? Knowing that I’m exactly where I am. Not where I should be, could be, or was. I’m exactly as I am. And there is always room for upgrade in my heart, mind, and life.

And, yes, I feel that way all year. It is a continued practice to honor myself and my journey. The New Year has not ever resonated with me as a time to press reset or begin again – ‘out with the old’ and all that. I am a work in progress- always! The shifting of gears began several years ago when I opted out of the resolution cycle. I meditated instead to find a word that felt powerful and necessary for my changing self at that time. Some I can remember off-hand that I’ve played with are ‘honor,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘truth.’ They change as I feel I’ve incorporated the meanings of these words (as they pertain to me, my experiences, my thought processes) into my SELF. I recently have a new one-word mantra and it feels exciting and fun – a new game of upgrading and consciousness for me!

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your thought resonate with me on this as with so many topics. I agree that the whole resolution tradition is negative and self-blaming. It feels right to be open and see what emerges.

    What I’d like to add is that this whole concept of a “new year” is simply that, an artificial construct made by imposing our own order using clocks and calendars. Of course this is quite helpful in making plans, meeting deadlines, and catching flights—I’m not arguing with the concept of date and time.

    What I AM saying is that this allows us to ignore the nature-based, light cycle oriented recognition of real cycles. Our bodies know and respond to those cycles even if consciously we reject them by maintaining the same schedules all year round. I think we recognize that celebrating any sort of new year when, at least in the northern hemisphere, it’s dark and cold, a time for more dream time than action.

    The real new year, wherever you live, is when the privations of winter or monsoons or seasonal drought lifts and new life begins to emerge from the soil. The sunshine wakens us to new possibilities. This is the time of year that truly feels new. Our bodies respond to that energy. We are ready to leap forward, making our hopes visible.

    December 30, 2011
    • I am reminded of the Native American quote (relating to daylight savings time): “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.”

      Time is a very abstract concept that helps us to all stay on the same page as far as when things are happening. My son recently said (of daylight savings time) that it didn’t matter what the clock said, his body got sleepy when it got dark outside.

      I love the thought of a new year being that sense of awakening that happens with the routine changes of the earth – which is different based on where we are situated. They do seem to happen according to a traditionally annual timeframe.

      December 30, 2011
    • I love this Laura, a simple and powerful reminder that a calendar is completely manmade and arbitrary. Every moment is a new moment afterall, right?

      December 30, 2011
  2. Michele #

    I look at New Year Resolution(s) as a time to plan! The “plan your work, then work your plan” method has always worked for me! Once I achieve the (no more than 6 at a time) goals that I set at the new year, I set new ones throughout the year in place of those that were achieved. I generally don’t set any new ones after November 1st because it is such a great time to begin thanking God for all the wonderful people that he brought into my life and for His help in all that I achieved over the year! I like to celebrate and be thankful after every achievement but a reflection after 10 months is an appropriate time to look back at the big picture and begin mentally planning for the new film! Whatever works for everyone is great! Resolutions are really just goals! Some are carried over into the New Year and others are achieved, crossed off and reflected on to let us know just how much we’ve grown and to help us set our sites on what is possible! Have a very Happy Blessed and Prosperous New Year!

    December 30, 2011
    • Thanks for sharing what feels good for you, Michele! A wonderful New Year to you.

      December 30, 2011
      • Michele #

        Thanks for this lovely forum and for our new friendship! Happy New Year Sarah!

        January 1, 2012
    • I am happy and feel good that this traditional method works for you! It doesn’t resonate or work for me at all and I am happy to have discovered something that does. The goal setting agenda for me feels too structured and limiting and does not energetically allow for the diverse and ongoing receiving of new information, altering thinking, planning and action. Thanks for sharing your experience though, I appreciate it.

      December 30, 2011
  3. Dena #

    I stopped making resolutions years ago. They seem sorta self serving. Beat yourself up if you didn’t reach some goal, or pat yourself on the back and boost your ego if you did.

    I do stop and reflect on where I have been and where I want to be this time of year. No goals, just am I really living for the right reasons. I also do this with the changing of the seasons. I just feel like there is a shift of some sort in my life during these times and it is important for me to reflect.

    Sarah, I love your idea on meditating this time of year. I think I am going to start doing this. This sounds like the perfect thing to get centered again.

    December 30, 2011
    • And what could be wrong with self serving I wonder? Everything we do should be self serving, because if it’s not, it serving another. Now that’s not to say that we don’t do many, many things for others… but everything we do for them is because we enjoy it, right? Why would we do anything at all that is not serving us in some way?

      And, I’d like to (gently) suggest that if you find yourself needing to stop and ask yourself if you are living for the right reasons, then most likely you are not. It would simply never occur to you to think this if you were.

      Thanks for posting! I’d love to continue the conversation if you’re interested!

      December 30, 2011
      • Dena #

        Maybe self serving wasn’t the best term to use. What I meant was people tend to make resolutions with others expectations in mind. For example, I will lose weight and look good for my significant other, organize my house so others will be impressed with me, go to church regularly where people will think I am a good person, make sure my kids learn this or that, etc. We all know the usual resolutions. That is all anyone is talking about this time of year. They usually have very little to do with yourself, but it makes you feel good to meet the image you want others to have of you. It is hard to have a honest relationship with someone when you are trying to live up to someones elses expectations. I agree self serving isn’t always bad, but there are instances where ego takes over and it can be bad. There are many self serving people who aren’t very nice people.

        As far as the stopping and asking….I would love to say that I never had to stop and think, but I think for me personally it would be unrealistic to think that I know exactly what I need all the time and that never changes. My life is always changing so I think it helps me to reflect and examine. For example, this past year I have been in a position where I was dealing with a person that was stressing me to be around. At the time I met this person I decided to be patient because they were important to other people who were important to me, and that maybe in time this person would understand that I didn’t care about superficial things that were important to her. I think that she generally associated with people who were concern with their images. It has been months and the relationship is still the same. So I have chosen to move on. I gave it a try and it just wasn’t meant to be. My friends who love me know I gave it a try because I cared about them and hold no ill feelings. This isn’t something I regret doing, but I know that it is time to move on.

        I also think of how age has changed my perspective on things. There was a time where I was perfectly happy staying home with my children. They were the main focus of my life, not because they needed to be, but I wanted them to be. Now they are getting older and are very independent and this has opened up a new stage in my life where I am rethinking what direction I am heading. This reflection and examining often opens up suprises that I hadn’t even thought of until I paused to reflect. Now this is an ongoing thing that happens many times during the year for me, but the changing of the season does mark an ending/beginning of time. Not an arbitrary one made by man, but one that is just a natural progression of time. I have never met you, but I assume your children are grown from what I have read. Don’t you feel that you at certain stages in your life that your wants and needs changed?

        December 30, 2011
        • this is Barb, and as for me, YES! my kids are all grown and out of the house. even when they weren’t my needs and wants were changing all the time! I agree that is SEEMS like there are folks out there who are myopically self serving and seemingly dysfunctional because of it. I would bet however, for the sake of this conversation, that such people are not really self serving, but rather self centered. A self centered person is unable to relate to or understand others, is likely a product of abuse and punishment oriented conditioning, and they have so many unmet needs for love and belongingness that their outer existence is hard and cold and uncaring. A truly self serving person will always gravitate to the ideas, thoughts and actions that FEEL GOOD to them and self centered behavior rarely does.

          December 31, 2011
          • Dena #

            I really think our views on self centered/self centered are similar, even if they are not coming across that way through a conversation on the internet. I agree with your views on self centered people. I think where we are not on agreement is on reflecting, and I would never suggest that this is what everyone should do. It is what works for me. So I wouldn’t say we are disagreeing on this subject unless you are saying that I shouldn’t be doing this. I can’t find anything negative about reflecting, as long as you are not beating yourself up over the past during this process. Maybe someday I won’t need to do this, but for now it helps. And of course our needs and wants are always changing. How boring would life be if they didn’t?

            December 31, 2011
            • wow, I can never imagine giving it up. I enjoy reflecting. If I wasn’t reflecting, as you describe it, I think I would be dead.

              December 31, 2011
    • Dena #

      “The goal setting agenda for me feels too structured and limiting and does not energetically allow for the diverse and ongoing receiving of new information, altering thinking, planning and action.”

      I feel like I am rambling, but I just looked over your post. Isn’t this the same thing as reflecting?

      December 30, 2011
      • no, I don’t see it as reflecting, which is something else entirely. I see it more as pure openness and trust. reflecting requires thought and dissection and a conversation with oneself.

        December 31, 2011
        • Dena #

          For me personally, I need to use thought and have an honest conversation with myself. Now part of that process is dissecting where I am in life, new information, how far I have came in my journey, etc. I just feel like I am always learning, so I need to take that information and see where it takes me sometimes. Not on a certain date of the year, but ongoing whenever I feel the need to slow down and reflect. I guess I am being self serving. 🙂 But hopefully not self centered. I don’t know if self reflection is what everyone needs, but I can’t imagine not going through this process. And I really enjoy reflecting and questioning all the new information. I think it is wonderful if you can feel pure openness and trust without this process, but I really feel I need this in my life to get to that point.

          December 31, 2011
          • shoot, so do I, all the time!! Just not during this opening/trusting process I described. That is a different act altogether with completely different results.

            December 31, 2011
          • Serving ourselves first is imperative. I do find that reflection is a part of this in my experience. It is possible to do this without judgment- as an assessment of our journey. In this process, I don’t look (too far) ahead, however. I feel like making future expectations alters the course of my journey in the present.

            January 1, 2012
  4. Lori Sayers #

    I never used to make resolutions, mostly because I was afraid of failure, or felt somehow condemned by the process. As I got older, I found that each season brought with it the opportunity to re-assess and make new goals. This cyclical timing feels right to me.

    A few years ago, I met a woman in her 60’s who made an annual “bucket list.” She ticked off things she wanted to accomplish, such as learning to swim (at 60-something!), taking a flight in a hot-air balloon, volunteering to tutor ESL, etc. each year. She feels great enrichment in her life using this system.

    I really liked her dedication to her goals, as arbitrary or “self-serving” they might be. Since then, I have found it fun to make a challenge to myself this time of year: learn to drive stick, learn to crochet, etc. I don’t feel terrible if I don’t accomplish it, but I feel great if I do!

    December 30, 2011
    • Hi Lori!
      Have you read Big Five for Life by John Strelecky? He writes of our lives being made into a museum and our afterlife devoted to being that museum’s tour guide. The museum’s exhibits are apportioned according to how much time you spent during your life doing different things. Mostly work? 80% of the museum. Some travel? 10% Family time? __% Etc. The book encourages the reader to make a list of 5 things we want to do before we die (when you complete one, you can bump something else onto the list!) and spending a regular amount of time working on them. Your comment reminded me of this. There are desires that might sit in our subconscious or on a list for ‘someday’ that do not get paid the attention we would like. I love making big things happen and living all of the wonders along the way! What’s on your list? 😉 One of my dreams had always been extended travel. I thought, at best, that I might do this in my retirement years and, even then, thought it might be impossible. We’ve been on the road living in a motorhome for 18 months now because we decided that the only time to live our dreams is now.

      December 31, 2011
  5. mbh #

    I have no particular fondness or disregard for New Year’s resolutions.

    I like the beginning of the new year as a symbol for new beginnings. Sometimes I use this symbol as a jumping-off spot for a new adventure, a new way of doing things, renewing my resolve to do or live something differently, etc..

    Some years, it is just another day. (It means that last tax year is over.)

    This year, I have a lot of “resolutions”, although I would call them intentions. I have never seen resolutions as absolutes and I’ve never felt disolutioned or like a failure when I have “fallen of the horse,” so to speak. I always fall in some way and I so just get back on or I decide I that I’d rather ride a bicycle.

    I see the new year as a symbol of a new beginning, just like I see a new season, a new month, a new week, a new day, a new moment, a new breath.

    Sometimes, I set a goal or intention for myself on a particular day in the future instead of “today.” This gives me time to thoughtfully consider it, to plan for it, to mentally prepare for it, to meditate on it, whatever. As I come to a traditional “new” day such as New Years, I find it a fitting time (for me) to attach to it the beginning of some desired goal or idea or intention.

    And sometimes, I don’t.

    December 31, 2011
    • “I see the new year as a symbol of a new beginning, just like I see a new season, a new month, a new week, a new day, a new moment, a new breath.”

      Love this.

      “And sometimes, I don’t.”

      And this. Absolutes and rigid rules for ourselves can be very limiting no matter our original intention. Flow is important.

      January 1, 2012

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