With a new year comes the expectation to make some New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions are about making a firm decision, and taking action to see a goal come to fruition. Yet, many of us use this time to think about all the things we want to change about ourselves and our lives–with the underlying sentiment being that what we have now, and who we are now, is not enough. We start to think of ourselves as the lesser version of some bright, shiny future version of ourselves.
Instead of focusing on what you think you need to change this year, maybe it's time to start liking ‘you’ as you are before randomly changing things. And if you are going to change some things, maybe dig a little beyond the superficial to find out what is really meaningful to you.
Self-Care Over Self-Improvement
There is a difference between self-care and self-improvement. One involves taking good care of who we are now and, in doing so, supporting ourselves to grow into even better versions of ourselves.
The other often comes from a place of believing that who we are now is not good enough. It’s a critical and judgmental place. And when we “fail” to improve upon it, our self-improvement plan becomes yet another stick to beat ourselves up with.
So I have a radical suggestion around resolution setting for 2024:
How about resolving to be kinder to ourselves instead of endeavouring to improve ourselves?
I’m not suggesting that we abandon healthy habits—self-care includes welcoming wellness and rejecting self-sabotage. I’m just suggesting that we choose self-care, for our own well-being, rather than self-improvement for external validation.
Embrace Reflection, Not Just Action
To flip the mental switch from self-improvement to self-care, we need to recognize that inviting in newness and change is just as much about reflection as it is about action. Personally, I find it helpful to reflect on how I can support myself better, rather than constantly wonder why I’m not good enough.
I like to check in with myself and ask what I need to say yes to, and what I need to say no to. (This also counts for who, not just what). For example, when it comes to my eating habits, I have decided to say yes to eating well to bring health to my body, and no to eating well so I can have a “bikini body”.
While these might look similar when you look at what’s on my plate–lots of veggies, plant-based proteins, and ingredients that give me energy–the why behind it is what matters. Instead of determining my body is not good enough and needs to change, I choose to embrace my body and treat it well by fueling it with nourishing food.
What are you saying yes to?
Another thing I have said yes to is waking up earlier so that I can have time to meditate and move my body, and no to waking up early because self-help gurus preach that this is the secret to “success”. Again, it’s about honoring myself and where I’m at, rather than letting outside pressures tell me I need to be a better me.
I love the me I am now.
Let Go of What No Longer Serves You
We’re currently amidst the longest nights of the year and I find myself longing for light. I am that person who will chase a small beam of sunshine and sit where it lands just to drink in the warmth and light. This charges my batteries, but it’s just not enough. The darkness is overwhelming and it’s easy to feel down.
What I do to feel better is to close my eyes and (metaphorically) let go of whatever feels like it isn’t supporting my higher and greater good. Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom just to do this!
Even if I only get 5 minutes to take for myself I nearly always emerge from this little respite with my senses renewed. I then start to notice small everyday things that give me joy. While I’m out walking my dog, particularly in colder weather, I fixate on the steam rising from laundry vents. I appreciate the aroma of ginger and garlic permeating my kitchen from the slow cooker, and the feeling of holding my favourite mug filled with a warm brew.
Close your eyes and let go of what doesn’t support your highest good.
When I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed I very much value the opportunity to turn inward and slow down, even if it’s just long enough to make time to drink a glass of water or let a small square of dark chocolate slowly melt in my mouth.
And, not surprisingly, as soon as I stop trying to relax, then I can feel r-e-l-a-x-e-d. By practicing this, I find I can train myself to become aware of and let go of tension instead of allowing it to invade and scrunch up my neck and shoulder muscles.
There’s real pleasure in releasing the resistance to letting go of what no longer serves you. This new year, instead of focusing on resolutions, perhaps you can shift that train of thought to the intention of letting go of what no longer serves you
With the extra space you create from this exercise, you can then usher in that which does serve you ;)
It’s Not Selfish, It’s Self-Care
We also need to prepare ourselves for resistance–there are many people who are steadfast supporters of the "grind" of self-improvement over self-care. Or you might have people in your life who aren’t used to you taking time for yourself and aren’t sure how to react.
Not everybody will like what you start to do. They might make it difficult for you. They may not be kind. They may even accuse you of being selfish. But do not be deterred. Take it as a sign of moving in the right direction.
Flex those courage muscles and be brave.
To practice true self-care, it is very helpful to establish boundaries and abide by them.
That means we need to be brave enough to say “no” to others—and not waiver in our commitment to that “no.”
Self-care can have the appearance of selfishness, but only the short-sighted (or truly selfish) see it as so. Self-care is necessary if we are to continue to be able to contribute to the well-being of others. It’s the oxygen-mask-in-an-airplane emergency scenario—if we don’t put on our own first, we’re likely to pass out before we can assist others.
So flex those courage muscles and be brave. For the sake of everyone you take care of, make taking care of yourself a top priority.
Beautiful Inside and Out
For everyone embracing self-care this year, I am sending you so much love as you go on this journey. May you find balance, may you remember your breath, and may you tap into the strength that lives in softness.
New Year’s doesn’t have to be about striving toward a shiny, future you. The ‘you’ you are now is beautiful inside and out.