As the holiday approaches and we reflect on the past year, many of us will be thinking about what we would like to change in 2024. Maybe you have some big plans for your career, want to be more social, or you’re ready to finally crack your workout routine. But before setting any big New Year’s resolutions, let’s take a moment to reimagine how this tradition might help us feel more at peace next year.
Although these goals might be set with the best of intentions, they often end in disappointment (be it a slow loss of motivation, or a furious exclamation of “screw this!” after a particularly cold, wet run in the park). A massive 80% of resolutions bite the dust by February, and only 9% last until the end of the year.
This might seem inconsequential but the real danger here lies in what this communicates to our brains. Every time you give up on a resolution, it sends a powerful message to your subconscious mind that you cannot follow through on your commitments. It is the same thing that happens when you tell yourself you will wake up early, only to hit snooze five times in a row. Most of us believe it is okay to turn back on our commitments if they only exist in our minds. But every time we do, we reaffirm the subconscious belief that our personal commitments are not important enough to stick to or worse, that we don’t have the capability to follow through. Not only does this affect our ability to make a change, but also, crucially, our self-image.
This year, we are inviting you to reimagine the tradition and go gently on yourself. Instead of aiming for radical transformations, why not take a more compassionate approach?
To kick you off, here are some alternative, gentler New Year’s resolutions, for a more peaceful 2024.
Instead of aiming for high performance and productivity, try embracing your cycles
Our world can sometimes feel like it was designed with the strapline ‘go, go, go!’. But this isn’t natural, nor is it productive for good mental or physical health. We all have natural highs and lows, yet high-pressured environments make it tempting to disregard these. But to truly thrive in the highs, we need to embrace the balance. If your goal for 2024 is to be more productive, try this instead: commit to honouring your natural energy cycles. Use your low-energy moments to reflect, recharge, and commit to being kinder to yourself by remembering that we cannot (legally) exist on an endless high.
Instead of self-help, try other-help
We spend more time now than ever before thinking about ourselves — how we feel, how we look, how we fit in. The sad truth is, that this type of inward thinking is deeply rooted within our society; even the idea of ‘self-help’ promotes a pretty individualistic outlook. But too much focus on oneself, even well-intentioned, can have dark consequences.
So, rather than self-help, why not try other-help instead? Studies have proven that by diverting your attention to other people in a compassionate way, your brain will change in a way that actually makes feelings of joy and peace more easily accessible. Acts of kindness have also been shown to slow ageing and disease, and people involved in altruistic work have far better immune systems. And, you don’t have to work for a charity to get the benefits – when you start to look for them, opportunities for everyday kindness are everywhere.
Instead of focusing on your bank balance, try paying it forward
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions that people make is to start saving more money or improve their spending habits (which, to be clear, is always a good idea). However, research has shown that spending money on other people, rather than on yourself leads to far better overall happiness. One experiment asked 600 people to track their spending over a month. The people who had spent money on other people found that their happiness had improved when psychologically assessed — and the good news is, it didn’t seem to matter about the amount. So, rather than stashing away the pennies in the new year, perhaps try looking for ways that you can pay it forward.
Instead of focusing on what you want to do, decide who you want to be
Imagine you are about to walk into a room full of strangers, and you are feeling nervous. You go over in your head all of the clever things you want to say, all of the people you want to talk to, and exactly how you want your body language to come across. The problem is, so many of us are used to obsessing over the ‘what’.
Instead, what if we decided to ask ourselves just one question: who do I want to be? What if we just focused on being our best self — be that someone who is kind, present, a brilliant listener or self-aware — and let go of the need to ‘do’ all of the right things? Imagine how much more peace you could feel in meetings, difficult conversations, social situations, or times of stress and hardship if you took this approach. And remember, who you want to be is always a choice that you can make.
Instead of adding more commitments to your diary, commit to doing less
It is easy to go into the new year with big dreams and a full calendar, ready to smash your goals and be the most productive version of yourself. But what if, instead of adding more commitments (be that socialising, getting creative, working out, or learning a new skill), instead, you committed to doing less? How would that feel? What if you gave yourself permission to say no to the voice inside your head that says you have to do it all, and instead just… exist? The only catch with this one is, try not to ‘just exist’ in front of the TV or on your phone – this will add very little to your life. Instead, exist in nature, with your pets, with someone you love. Just a few moments of total presence a week can work wonders for your sense of peace.
Now that we have reimagined our resolutions, how do we make a genuine commitment to them? One that we won’t be tempted to give up on, two weeks down the road? Here are some tips for creating a change that lasts (from the behavioural change experts):
- Stay accountable by joining forces: A tribe of changemakers is always more powerful than an individual, we tend to find. If you can find just one other person to share in your resolution, and make a promise to keep each other accountable, your chances of success will massively increase.
- Fall in love with the process: The mistake that many people make when they make a change, is that they tie themselves to the result. For example, if your goal is to journal more, don’t count your success by the number of pages you write in a week, as this will only demotivate you if you don’t manage your goal. Rather, make the process so enjoyable that you actively crave writing, and let go of the result. Doing the process IS the change – the result is just an unpredictable consequence of it.
- Become aware: Many people find resolutions hard to stick to because they feel they don’t have time to fulfil the commitment. But the truth is, all we have is time – what many people really need, is more awareness and presence to make the most of that time. If you want to commit to doing more acts of kindness, for example, then you won’t have to go out of your way to do so — opportunities for kindness are all around when we make ourselves aware of them. Equally, if we want to commit to taking time just to ‘exist’, we can do so at many points throughout the day. Next time you are in the shower, for example, try to let go of your stream of thoughts and just ‘be’ in the shower.
At Ivy House, we are on a mission to change lives — and often this journey begins with self-compassion, and small, meaningful changes.