By Laura Wilkinson
The light is slowly returning and the final days of 2018 are upon us. The festivities of December will be replaced by the quiet starkness of January. As much as I enjoy the rituals of the season, I welcome the opportunity to mirror the dormancy of the outer world with introspection. For many, this time also inspires hopefulness with the creation of New Year’s resolutions. As most resolutions tend to be grounded in health and wellness, the nurse practitioner/health coach in me feels obliged to add my two cents on this matter.
Here is what I know: 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions will fail by February. I personally have only been successful once with a January intention. I was in my early 30s, living in the North Country across the big ol’ pond. It was my first nurse practitioner job and the only house we could find to rent was on the very end of a remote dirt road in Chilson. Neighbors were few and far between and the dogs were generally friendlier than their owners. It was likely the combination of isolation and imagined adulthood that prompted me to declare 2006 the year of the gin martini. Once a week my husband would make me one, initially adulterating it with heavy pours of olive juice. However, by the time 2007 arrived, he was barely waving the vermouth over the glass! My one year of success – down in the books.
Spirit success aside, I tend to avoid the resolutions, as the odds just are not good. I believe there are two fundamental reasons why failure is the norm. The first reason is that resolutions are often rooted in deprivation, denial and negative self-appraisal. The storyline that we tell ourselves is that we “should” or “have to” stop being “bad” and instead be “better.” The second reason is that resolutions usually begin with action, without reflection and the necessary grounding in your “why.”
Whether we are conscious of the process or not, sustained actions are preceded by the internal stages of contemplation and preparation. Without the foundational work, our efforts lack the substance for sustainability.
What would it look like to let go of the traditional resolution formula and try a different approach? What if instead of a year of denial and white knuckling, we chose 2019 to be a year to celebrate who we are and what we love? I have been playing around with this idea as I embrace this New Year and here are a few thoughts.
Begin with self-kindness.
Give yourself a month to build your foundation. You are valuable just as you are and deserve to be safe, happy, and healthy. Sometimes you make choices that reflect self-love, and sometimes you don’t and that is absolutely OK. Welcome to being human. At your core, there is love, goodness, and wisdom and the more you root yourself in this knowledge, the more easily you will be able to make choices that reflect self-care and wellbeing. At the base level, self-kindness requires that we make room for all parts of ourselves – the lightness and the shadow. Practicing self-kindness can take many forms. It could be a daily aspiration or mantra, strengthening your connection to yourself. It could be writing of gratitude or prayer. It might be walking in nature. It might be treating your body with care – listening to what you truly need. It may be eating more, or eating less. It may be sleeping more. The key ingredients in this self-kindness recipe are non-judgement, gentleness, patience and openhearted.
Focus on who you want to be, rather than what you want to do.
Last year I worked with a client who wanted to lose weight. That is what he wanted to do. But who did he want to be? He wanted to be a person who was proud when he looked in the mirror, a person who wanted to be intimate with his partner, a person who was confident to go to the beach in the summer, a person whose grown daughter wanted to spend time with and found interesting. He wanted to be confident and connected. He wanted to love himself and accept love from others. Articulating this clearly gave him the solid foundation for which to build his actions steps. If we had immediately starting talking nutritional and exercise plans, he would have likely experienced immediate success as he had in the past, but when the novelty wore off and life presented inevitable challenges, his passion would have waned. To sustain the motivation to make change, you must have passion in yourself, not just your action.
Write a letter from your future self to your present self.
Get yourself a notebook or card that delights you. Sit down and give yourself time to articulate: what you accomplished in 2019, what you needed to do in order to be so successful, what challenges you faced, how you overcame the challenges, and how you feel about yourself now that you have actualized this new part of your life. After you write this, keep it close. Reread it every month and own your wisdom.
Here is my first draft: “Laura, nice work! In 2019 you sure kicked butt driving that Zamboni. Your patient teacher, Mike Turner, sure made that process a joy. You were challenged by all those kiddos banging on the glass and you sometimes got distracted and drove like a maniac, but you practiced and you were kind to yourself when you made mistakes and didn’t give up. I feel super proud of you!”
With that, I’m off to Stonecutter Spirits for a martini. Cheers!
Laura Wilkinson is a nurse practitioner and integrative health coach at Middlebury College. More information at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.