A couple of years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. Which is not to say there’s nothing about my lifestyle that needs improvement – eat better, exercise more, get more sleep, read more books, really I could come up with a very long list! But I’ve come to understand that taking on a major change in habits isn’t going to work for me unless I feel truly ready and motivated, and that’s not necessarily going to happen in coordination with a date on the calendar. I believe that the desire for self-improvement comes to me when I’m ready, and that’s when I tend to act.
For example, I started regular meditation for the first time last summer. It just so happened that I came across an app that provided a whole range of different guided meditations that I could listen to on my phone (complete with a choice of background music or sounds). I’d tried meditation on my own before, but found it dull and difficult. But I love a good app, and gave this meditation one a try, just for fun. And I actually found that the encouraging voice providing the guidance made meditation a lot more enjoyable for me, not to mention the fun affirming messages that came up on my phone at the end of each session, like “You’re doing great!” A little positive affirmation is always a nice thing, even when it’s computer-generated!
So I’ve stuck with my meditation program (more or less), and I’ve found it quite helpful in making my racing anxiety-brain a little calmer. I’m not sure I would have been successful starting a meditation program on January 1st, simply because I didn’t feel the motivation as strongly then as I did a few months later. Why I suddenly felt the desire to take on meditation on that particular day last summer, why I was triggered into action when I saw a random online ad for a meditation app, I have no idea. But I just know that sometimes the desire to take on something new will come to me, and suddenly I feel ready to commit to it. More of a “New Day’s resolution” than a “New Year’s resolution,” I guess!
Maybe part of the reason that I’ve had better success with self-improvement projects that aren’t official “resolutions” is because I don’t typically see them as something that I’m “resolving” to do: when I think of the word “resolve,” I picture gritted teeth and a sense of obligation and endurance (and accompanying guilt if the resolution doesn’t take). And no doubt that works sometimes for some people. But for me, I tend to do better when I put less pressure on myself, when I think, “I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes.” It makes it less of a “pass/fail” kind of situation for me, and thus more likely to succeed.
This kind of lower-pressure attitude has really helped with my mental health recovery journey as well. I remember about this time last year I was at one of my anxiety support groups, and the group facilitator asked us to come up with one word that would describe a goal or desire for the new year. The word that came to me was “progress.” The thing I most wanted in the world then (and probably still do to a large extent) is to overcome my mental health challenges – to have a life no longer impacted by anxiety. But one thing I’d learned was that good mental health is not a destination, but a journey – and every step on that journey (even the seemingly-backwards ones) is a small achievement. So instead of having a specific, concrete goal (that may or may not happen), I just wanted to keep making progress, to keep working on my mental health issues, to keep moving forward, no matter how fast or slow. And I think by keeping my goals simple and low-pressure, I gave myself the breathing room to make that progress happen. And in doing so, I wound up overcoming my anxiety in 2017 to a greater degree than I would have thought likely last January.
So I’m looking forward to 2018, and hopefully further progress. Maybe, like 2017, this year will have some pleasant surprises in store for me when it comes to my mental health journey. Maybe I’ll even have some surprises in store for myself.