I’m not a New Year’s resolution kind of gal. I’m more of a direction-setter. I decide which way I want to go and I head in that direction. The specifics aren’t as important as the progress.
My progress is rarely linear, however. I travel the same winding road as every other human being, and plenty of times I find myself on a circular path trying to solve the same problems over and over. I’ve come to accept it. On my better days, this acceptance feels mature. But on other days, it feels like I’m justifying my failures.
No matter what the spin, however, berating myself never helps me succeed. Some people seem to respond well to tough love, but I just crumple and retreat.
I’m my own harshest judge (aren’t we all?), so the one most likely to dole out the tough love is my inner critic. I’ve written about this “little hater” before, but she’s persistent, so I constantly need to remind myself to ignore her ramblings — especially at this time of year.
Therefore, I’ve made a shift in my thinking about my hopes and plans for the future. This one mental shift has completely changed the way I think about solving problems and improving my life.
I think of my goals as forms of self-care rather than as problems I need to fix because I’ve messed up.
That is, instead of thinking of a goal as a response to something negative, I try instead to think of it as a manifestation of something positive. The point is, I’m trying to be kinder to myself. I’m trying to encourage myself as I would a friend.
Here are some examples. Hopefully they’ll help you tweak your own goals and transform them from accusations into gifts.
Declutter 1 of 7Then: You slob! How did you let things get so messy? Spend 15 minutes per day decluttering until it's DONE. Now: You deserve to work in a bright, tidy office. Give yourself 15 minutes per day to improve your workspace.
Manage my time 2 of 7Then: You need to stick to a system. Create a schedule and stick to it. Now: This is what happens when you prioritize what's most important.
Be more active 3 of 7Then: You never stick to an exercise program. Get with it this year, slacker. Now: You feel strong and happy when you exercise. Give yourself 30 minutes most days for a walk or run.
Organize my finances 4 of 7Then: Real grownups balance their checkbooks. Now: A little bit of time spent each day filing and paying bills will reduce your anxiety and help you feel on top of the details. (Those are my books on hold at the library. I save hundreds every year by borrowing instead of buying books.)
Be a more consistent parent 5 of 7Then: You wrote a BOOK about parenting and you can't even stick to your own rules. *shakes head* Now: Choose rules that are as easy for you to enforce as they are for the kids to follow. Add reminders to your calendar. Do whatever you need to help yourself follow through.
Write good stuff 6 of 7Then: [Insert writerly insecurity here.] Now: You have something to contribute, whether that's wisdom, humor, connection or a quick tip. Do your best every day. On the days when you don't have anything to say, share someone else's good work.
Be a better friend and family member 7 of 7Then: You've let the busy-ness of life get in the way of keeping in touch with family and friends. GUILT. Now: Every day is a new day to reach out. Think about who you love and take 10 minutes to reconnect.
Here’s to progress in 2013! I’d love to hear some of your “new and improved” resolutions.
Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.