By: Lara Farrokh, MSW, LCSW
Full self-disclosure: I love the idea of setting a resolution and starting fresh on a goal. I do it every year. As a therapist in mental health, anecdotally I have seen and heard from other therapists, that the beginning of the year, we get an influx of clients: people wanting to make this new year THE YEAR when they meet that goal that has been eluding them all these years. Last year, 2019, so many of my clients told me “This is going to be my year!” and then, well, we can see what happened. For so many of my clients (and myself) felt thwarted by the external pressures of the pandemic, the last thing on their mind was the resolution they made in January. For some and for me included, the resolution felt so unimportant in the wake of the pandemic, the political division in our country, and the grief of everything we lost in this year. So here are some reasons why we shouldn’t set one this year and some ideas of what to do instead.
Choosing a New Year’s Resolution is often about fixing what we THINK is wrong instead of what is actually happening. I had a friend who wanted to be a better parent, more present, less reactive in the new year. This decision to change came out of a place of guilt. But she was a great parent already, she had a very critical voice which was coming up for her especially in stressful situations, which was telling her she needed to be more in control. After some discussion, which may or may not have included tacos and laughing, we both realized that this critical voice, the same one who made the resolution, was what she should really be focusing on. Maybe instead of adding another goal to To-Do list of life, another resolution which will end up in failure, she needed to figure out that the “critical” voice (the one telling her she was a “bad mother” because she can’t always control her child!) needed to be heard, recognized and supported. We can’t just stop a behavior if we don’t check in with the reasons WHY we were doing it in the first place. A therapist can be really helpful with this … wink wink.
Sometimes we pick goals which are too big or too broad and these changes come from a place of shame. If I can’t reach my goal then I am just not self-disciplined enough! I also set an intention to get healthy every year. I join a gym, buy all the groceries for a meal plan, I purchase or download an app. I tell myself “I just have to get my head in the game. And you know what? When I don’t stick with it, I prove to myself that I am just “not good enough” — I am a therapist, remember? I do it, too, folks. I fall victim to the same patterns of behavior, even though I know that change doesn’t come from shaming myself into it. If it did, my doctor telling me that I needed to lose weight when I was 9 years old would have been the only catalyst that I needed. But I have this voice that says “this is the year” but what happens to that voice in February when it is cold, and dark and nothing has changed in my life except that a month ago I made this promise to myself? Nothing has changed. And it is another year where I have learned that I cannot keep a promise to myself. Another year where I have taught myself to not trust myself. I need to rebuild trust with myself and “getting healthy” or “losing weight” is just too big of a promise to make to myself. So I have learned to make promises I can keep with myself. Smaller more attainable goals: I will practice acceptance where I am right now in my journey. I can appreciate my body for the things it is doing. I can notice my breath. I will stretch in the morning when I wake up. Making goals that are more realistic begins to re-establish the trust I have with myself. A therapist can be really helpful with this too … wink wink.
It is important to note that before any change can happen, you have to really be honest with yourself about your level of motivation. LIKE really honest … really really honest. There is a voice that tells us we SHOULD be doing something. Social media is great for this. How many times have I said to myself “everyone on my insta is practicing self-love and I am over here with a box of oreos watching Gilmore Girls for the 10000000th time”? I am going to practice self-love this year! But what is self-love (that is another blog post) and more importantly, is this my SHOULD voice talking or this actually something that I am interested in learning about more? I should be writing a book, I should be taking classes online, I should be learning to crochet, I should be learning to play an instrument. You see, if I pick up a new skill, there was an article on Facebook about how I will ward off dementia. Notice this voice that tells you that you have to keep up … maybe you SHOULD (see what I did there) get to know why you feel you need to make goals you are not really interested in. Guess what? A therapist can be really helpful with that (wink wink). But to my point, don’t go to a therapist just because you think you should.
Lastly, do you really need to change anything or do you need to be more introspective about the parts you think you need to change? That is really the question here. I invite you to take a break from actually making a resolution this year and think about the resolutions you would have made and the reasons you would have made them! Maybe meditate or journal around the parts that are telling you need to change. Flesh out the reasons, the voices in your head, what will happen if you do change, what will happen if you don’t and the strengths you already have. See if after all that, you truly need to make a resolution at all.
You made a resolution in 2019 and you see what happened …
About the Author:
Lara Farrokh (she/her/hers) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 15 years of experience working with vulnerable populations, especially those that have walked the path of trauma, addiction, anxiety, or loving someone that has had struggles with an addiction. In addition to being an EMDR-trained trauma therapist, Lara also facilitates Untying the Knot, a divorce support group for womxn navigating the unique challenges of divorce and/or separation.