Have you noticed that most New Year's resolutions are soaked in shame and self-blame? Like me, maybe you're tired of shame-based goals and the inevitable failure that comes with them (followed by beating yourself up for failing again).
In the past, I’ve set goals for myself as an old year ends, and within just a few weeks found myself unmotivated and unable to follow through. Sound familiar?
Do you want to set goals for the new year, but avoid the “new year, new you” rhetoric?
I've got good news: You can set goals for yourself to help you have the best year ever, and they don't have to be based in shame or self-blame.
You don’t have to plan your year around what's wrong with you or what needs to be “fixed.”
You don’t need to play out the same old story of feeling like a failure come February.
You don’t need to make yet another resolution to lose weight or to “be good” with a diet in order to have your best chance at health.
Let’s Talk About That Weight Loss Goal
For the longest time, year after year after year, “Lose weight” topped my list of resolutions. I was always starting a diet on January 1. New year, new diet was my motto.
Then I discovered fat acceptance and body positivity and found the wellness paradigm of Health at Every SizeTM, and three things happened:
- I discovered the evidence that shows that diets don’t work 95 percent of the time. The diet industry is a $60 billion per year industry with a 95 percent failure rate. The diet industry sells lies. It plays on our poor self-images, defined by a very narrow standard of beauty, and it makes a killing from selling us totally crappy products.
- I learned about all the scientific evidence that weight and body size are not a good indicator of health. Body size is not a diagnosis. Peer reviewed studies show that healthy behaviors make healthy bodies in a wide range of sizes.
- I did some serious self-reflection on what that “Lose weight” goal really meant to me.
I discovered that I was postponing “living my real life” until I lost weight. When I asked myself why I really wanted to lose weight, I found that there were things I felt I was not allowed to do until I had.
Maybe you can relate to this. Are there things you’re putting off until you’re in a smaller body? Is weight loss really your definition of success? Or is it about conforming to a societal norm and someone else’s idea of who you should be?
Maybe you want to enjoy time at the beach, ask someone out on a date, get a promotion, travel, learn to dance, or wear a bikini. I have great news for you: You can do all of these things without losing weight. Combine that with the scientific evidence that we get our best chance at health by cultivating healthy habits rather than by losing weight, and there’s no reason to postpone living out loud until your body is smaller.
When we see images of people who are marketed as healthy, hot, happy, desirable, or sexy, they inevitably fit a very narrow standard of beauty: thin, white, young, cisgender, wealthy. This beauty standard is defined by systems of oppression: patriarchy and white supremacy. By perpetuating a standard of beauty and worth that only represents a tiny fraction of humanity, those with privilege retain the power.
So I propose a different way this January: Rather than resolving yourself to conform to the standards set by systems of oppression, let’s revolt against them. Let’s do something revolutionary by realizing that worth is not dictated by age, beauty, or health. Let’s remember that we have inherent value as human beings. We don’t deserve dignity, respect, and human rights because we are beautiful or healthy. We deserve them because we are living, breathing human beings who are all connected.
What would happen if you let go of the idea that your body is the thing that’s keeping you from fulfilling your dreams?
What would happen if instead of trying to be less, you resolved to be more? What would happen if you decided to be bold, to find more freedom, to stand up for others who need a voice?
Let’s reclaim this new year by resolving to be more. Let’s resolve to live out loud without shame or apology. You deserve to feel aligned in your goals, life, and impact. Through the following reflections, let’s discover your why, and then set some goals that positively affirm who you are and who you are becoming.
What’s Your Why?
The first part of setting shame-free resolutions is to get in touch with your why. When I sit down with a pen and notebook and try to make a list of goals, I sometimes feel stuck because there are so many competing priorities.
It’s just part of being human to feel pulled in many directions. You may feel the call of an endless number of interests, purposes, professional paths, projects, relationships, along with the type of influence you want to have or the difference you want to make in the world.
I’ve found that more important than the what of any given goal is the why.
What lights you up? What’s calling you? Why does the work you do in the world matter to you? How do you pick your priorities in life?
Without being clear about your why, it’s difficult to keep yourself motivated to finish anything you start. Knowing your why gives you more fire and direction—more motivation. Knowing your why can also help you reframe the kind of thinking that can otherwise create a victim mentality regarding where you give your time.
“I’m working on this [awesome project X] and a good deal of my time is going to that priority right now,” sounds a whole lot different than, “I have this deadline looming over me and I need to get back to work, so I don’t have time to…”
When I ask friends or family members, “How’s it going?” I often hear, “I’m busy, OMG so busy. I’m exhausted, life is so busy.”
I’m guilty of this too.
When I find myself answering people this way, it gives me information about how I’m feeling internally and how I’m perceiving my life (busy, getting away from me, passing me by) and how I really feel about goals I’ve set for myself.
When I’m thinking about them this way, I’m putting the locus of control outside of myself and making it seem that life is happening to me rather than that I’m filling my life with abundant chances for work, play, travel, and relationships (which make me busy, by the way).
When someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ve started trying to take a pause before I spit out “Busy,” and to instead give a thoughtful answer that honors my choice in the matter. After all, I set the goals; I choose what I will allow in my life and what I won’t.
If I feel that my answer isn’t honoring my choice in the matter—that is, if the things I’ve “busied” myself with are not in line with my priorities or my best self—perhaps it’s time to examine the goals I’ve created and to make some changes.
The good news is that discovering what is guiding you (i.e., your why) is not a one-time reflection but an ongoing process. That means you don’t have to know all the answers, and you don’t need to get everything right the first time. You just need to know how to continue taking steps forward, with your why as your compass.
Once you have a sense of your why, you can set goals for yourself that are rooted in purpose and passion, rather than shame or self-blame.
Discovering Your Why
Sit down with a pen and paper and answer these questions honestly. Please, don’t censor yourself. Write the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t let that little voice that tells you, “You aren’t allowed to have that, you don’t have time or money for that, that’s a silly dream,” have its say. Show up for yourself and get all of your truth down on paper.
[Note: You can download a free, printable workbook with these reflection questions and more at bodypositiveyoga.com.]
- What lights you up?
- Who are you really? If you remove all the labels: mother, daughter, employee, spouse, etc., who are you at your core? Who are you without the labels?
- What are you naturally good at? What do people come to you for help with over and over again? What are your superpowers?
- What parts of you do you hide from the world?
- What parts of you are you ready to claim and share with the world?
- What are you ready to let go of?
- Who do you want to be? Describe your best self.
- How do you want your day-to-day life to feel?
Now look back over everything you’ve written. Circle, star, or highlight the things that stick out to you as most important or that tug most strongly at your heart. Now, with those things as your guide, get out a new sheet of paper and answer this question:
What is your why? What gets you excited and gives you purpose in life?
Keeping in mind your why (your compass, your purpose), answer this next question: What does a successful year mean to you?
The answer to that question need not be a 20-step plan to perfecting your life. Instead, think of your answer as describing your ideal year. What would it look like? How would it feel? What would the pace feel like?
Generating Ideas for Shame-Free Goals
Now, using the information you’ve garnered (your why and your successful year), take a look at the following 10 areas of life and write down some ideas for goals you could have for the next year.
The idea here is not to have 20 goals in each area. In fact, some areas may be left completely blank. This part of the process is about exploring the possibilities of what could be. We’ll go back through and edit again. For now, just come up with some goals for the areas of your life that need the most attention.
Spiritual Life: What would fulfill me spiritually?
- Practice gratitude.
- Treat yourself with more compassion.
- Read an inspiring book.
- Find a religious or spiritual community that practices what it preaches.
- Spend time in meditation or prayer.
Physical Body: What can I do to feel my best physically?
- Get adequate sleep.
- Drink more water.
- Spend time outside every day.
- Find a movement practice that works for you.
- Practice yoga on a regular basis.
Learning Self: How can I nourish my mind and keep learning?
- Go on a social media detox for one week.
- Learn a new skill like coding.
- Ask an elder questions.
- Find new podcasts that teach you something.
- Identify the plants in your backyard.
Pleasure: What pleases my five senses? How can I indulge them?
- Enjoy time at the beach.
- Learn self-massage techniques.
- Visit an art museum.
- Spend time discovering new artists or bands.
- Hug and kiss your loved ones more often.
- Savor coffee or tea.
Relationships: What do I want in my relationships with my friends, family, or partner?
- No phones at meals.
- Host a dinner party.
- Practice “people before things.”
- Schedule a date night.
- Plan a weekly free family outing.
- Read a book about communication.
Work and Career: What would “knocking it out of the park” look like in my career? What can I do to move toward that?
- Write a resume from the “future you.”
- Research best practices of negotiation.
- Brush up on writing skills.
- Spend time seeking out a work mentor.
- Practice waiting 24 hours before saying yes to new projects.
Activism: What would it look like to live in complete alignment with my ideals? How can I bring my daily life into greater alignment with those ideals?
- Join a social justice discussion group.
- Attend a nonviolent action training session.
- Write and call your representatives regarding things important to you.
- Donate to a cause.
- Educate yourself on a topic you may feel scared to speak up about.
- Talk to family members about issues that matter to you.
Creativity: What nourishes me creatively? How can I make sure to feed my creativity?
- Read a book for pleasure.
- See an inspiring film.
- Visit a museum and take your time.
- Walk in nature.
- Take selfies.
- Learn to knit.
- Explore a new musical genre.
Food: How can I follow the motto, “Eat like I’m worth it”?
- Eat seasonally.
- Try new vegetables.
- Read a book about sustainability within the food system.
- Learn new meatless recipes.
- Plan meals weekly.
- Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Self-care: How can I demonstrate my worth to myself and others?
- Take fashion risks.
- Create boundaries around technology (such as disabling some phone notifications on your phone).
- Get a check-up at the doctor.
- Set a cutoff time for work each day and stick to it.
- Write a letter to your teenage self.
- Drink water first thing in the morning.
What Will You Say Yes To?
Now that you’ve spent time reflecting on your purpose and writing out lots of possibilities for all the nooks and crannies of your life, it’s time to set some goals.
Maybe all the things you’ve listed seem important, and it can be tempting to think that you can accomplish it all. However, the idea is not to set a goal for everything you’ve put in these lists but to pick a few goals—maybe one per category, or even five in one category that needs particular attention—that you will make time for this year.
We say yes a lot. Particularly women. We take on more and more responsibility, both paid and unpaid. That includes emotional labor.
Next thing we know we’re looking at a schedule of months without a free weekend or night after work because we’ve made so many commitments. Then we get a request for something we really want to do, and we discover that we don’t have room for it in our lives. We set more and more goals—more than it’s possible to accomplish—and when we don’t reach them, we feel like a failure.
We need to learn to say no. Saying no is hard sometimes because we want to say yes. We want to help people. But we need to understand that saying no makes space in our lives for the things we want to say yes to.
Once I realized that saying no to one thing means saying yes to something else—something more fulfilling, exciting, important, or worthy—I started to love the word no.
If you say yes to everything, or to someone else’s idea of success, you’re saying no to yourself and your priorities.
Sometimes saying yes is absolutely the right thing. But sometimes it’s not. Learning to say no to something that doesn’t line up with your priorities means you get to say yes to something affirming and awesome. Something that makes your heart leap. That’s when that small, still voice inside of you sighs with relief.
On the other hand, saying yes to something that doesn’t resonate with your values and priorities leaves you feeling resentful, overworked, and stressed, with an empty tank for the things that really do matter to you right now. This is as true for your goals as it is for the rest of your commitments.
Figuring Out Whether to Say Yes or No
I can always tell when I’ve said yes to the wrong thing because I feel it in my body. My shoulders move up toward my ears, my neck feels tight, I clench my jaw and furrow my brow, and my stomach tightens.
When you review your lists of ideas, imagine yourself doing that thing. Now pay attention to the sensations in your body. Literally, trust your gut reaction here. Do you feel excited by it? Do you want to say, “Heck yeah!” If not, say no. Cross it off the list. It’s not a goal for this year.
Also, if you say yes to any of these list items, what’s the matching no? For example, if you say yes to taking extra shifts at work, you might be saying no to cooking dinner or spending time with family. If you say yes to going to the club with your friends, you might be saying no to the early morning exercise class the next day.
Ask yourself whether the matching no is worth saying yes to each particular goal.
Time to Set your Goals
Pull out the page where you recorded your why. Now look back over everything you’ve written in each of the areas on your ideas list (spiritual, physical, family, etc.). As you did before, mark the things that stick out to you as most important. You might start by marking one thing per area, but remember that you can also choose to focus on a few goals from just one area. Or perhaps there’s one big goal you feel the need to address this year. Either way, pull out a new sheet of paper and record your selections as your goals for 2018.
Next, think about some baby steps you could take toward each goal in the next 30 days. A baby step could be something like making an appointment, scheduling time in your calendar, asking someone for support, or doing research. Write a baby step next to each goal.
Going Forward Without Failure
Setting goals that are rooted in positivity, affirmation, and authenticity is a process.
The point of this exercise isn’t to end up with a perfect plan for your life. It’s just a starting point for dreaming, desiring, and planning.
My advice? Do a monthly check-in. Keep your goals in a notebook, and each month, sit down and see where you are in the process of meeting your goals. Continue to ask yourself what baby steps could you take in the next 30 days that would help you work toward each of them.
Checking in with yourself every month is a great way to see where you’re going and how you’ve grown, and also to celebrate how far you’ve come. Celebrating even your small accomplishments is an important part of the process, because change happens slowly (infuriatingly slowly sometimes). It’s important to remind ourselves that we are making progress.
During your check-ins, I also encourage you to notice not only where you feel natural enthusiasm, but also where you’re hoping for more motivation, or where taking steps toward a goal feels particularly difficult. In those cases, ask yourself whether the goal really aligns with your why. If it doesn’t, you can always replace it with one that’s more in line with who you really are.
I wish you a year of living out loud, saying yes to your desires and your best self, and realizing that you are enough just as you are.
May you feel alive, and may that be enough!