New Year’s resolutions: Reflections on change and growth

2019 has arrived. Many of us greet the New Year with hopeful goals and plans that reflect what matters to us, be it health, family, career, and frequently, what we have not given sufficient attention to in the previous year. As a psychotherapist, I love this optimistic period of renewed commitment to deeply personal values and meaningful goals. I love that people are having conversations about what they wish to change and improve in their lives. What often emerges is a deeper kind of clarity about who we are and what matters to us; this clarity is a key component of resilience. It is simply easier to weather the inevitable storms of life when we are equipped with a strong sense of purpose and meaning.

Sadly though, that confident spirit of change and renewal frequently does not last beyond the second week of January. The goals we set and the plans we make often prove unrealistic, and we all too frequently put excessive faith in our own willpower, which is fickle at best, and outright treacherous at worst. Still, sustainable change is very possible when we choose our tools and supports wisely, and remember the old Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And the next step; and the one after that; and the one after that.

The act of taking each step must become imbued with meaning and presence if we are to continue and not give up. We must become mindful and process-focused instead of being obsessed with the outcome, constantly eyeing the horizon in hopes of spotting an imminent end to our struggle. Being in the here and now, focusing on the step that is in front of us while remembering why we are here in the first place, is what makes it possible to reach goals. This is a bit like climbing a tall mountain. The climber must be attuned to the right placement of their feet and hands in order to survive, must have a clear knowledge of the route (and willingness to deviate from it should circumstances warrant doing so), a strong sense of what they are trying to accomplish and why to sustain them in difficult moments, not to mention supplies and all sorts of other supports. A lot of New Year’s resolutions crumble as we try to climb our personal Mount Everests wearing shorts and sneakers, with one energy bar in our backpack.

You can set and accomplish incredible goals and not have them drift to the back of your mind halfway through the first month of the year if you prepare well, have a clear sense of purpose, focus on each step, and embrace that this entire process will not be free of discomfort. The truth is that not one deeply meaningful and gratifying thing in life is accomplished without some degree of pain, uncertainty, and risk. Accept that and you will find your journey less burdensome and more rewarding. And lastly, while your journey belongs to you, do not travel solo the entire time – friends, family, mentors, and therapists make excellent companions and guides when you need them.

Happy New Year! Wishing you a year full of growth and adventure.