After the holidays are over, we are not quite ready to stop and take a breath, as there is one more item on most people's to-do lists: making New Year's resolutions. Familiar with the usual list of self-improvement goals such as losing weight and exercising more, we are compelled to make resolutions knowing that few people stick to them and most give them up in the first week.
The problem with resolutions is that they zero in on an area of personal weakness, a source of inner conflict, and demand that we change virtually overnight. Most people already suffer from a too-harsh inner critic, that annoying voice inside our heads reminding us of our faults, that inner scold that is given full reign on Jan. 1.
Is there any way to justify making resolutions, or are they really just an exercise in self-criticism, diminishing our self-esteem and setting us up to feel like a failure?
In psychotherapy, we call that harsh inner voice the superego. It's made up of the conflicts, attitudes and values inherited from our parents and other authority figures, and the environment we grew up in. The superego demands conformity and is intolerant of mistakes. It's the voice of guilt and self-punishment, always pushing us to strive more, have more and be better.
How about we get away from those pesky resolutions and refocus our thoughts on life affirmations that enhance positive self-esteem and wellbeing? Here are a few suggestions to shift your New Year's thinking:
1. Embrace Your Dark Side. Your weaknesses are not faults. We all have strengths and weaknesses, even those people who seem to "have it all." It's a mistake to disavow our weaknesses and much healthier to acknowledge and accept them as part of what make us who we are. Being honest with ourselves not only promotes emotional wellbeing and peace of mind, it also makes us much more interesting human beings.
2. You Are What You Are! We live in a culture addicted to superficial self-improvement. This brings added stress into our already overburdened lives. If you believed you were okay now as you are, you could concentrate on living authentically in the moment, feeling less defensive and less self-conscious with others.
3. You Can't Have It All. We never have everything we need in life. That's a fact of life, but our culture demands more, and we comply. Don't expect to get everything you want or need. Make the most of what you have and don't make problems worse with resentment and negativity about the things you didn't get.
4. Time Keeps On Ticking. At the new year, we become super aware of the passage of time by counting down the minutes until the ball drops and we flip the calendar. Bring this mindfulness about time into your life all twelve months by not taking for granted your time on earth and by trying to live each moment fully and mindfully for the precious gift that it is.
5. I Just Want to Thank You. Be conscious of what you are thankful for. Show gratitude for those people, animals and places that are meaningful to you and have created joy, comfort or laughter. Showing gratitude to others is one of the best ways to stand up to the superego and move from being self-absorbed to focusing on others.
Try a counter strategy this year. Start 2015 by being grateful for where you are and what you have right now,and by focusing more on others than yourself. Sometimes that's the biggest challenge of all.