Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Good Intentions: Making New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I've never been fully comfortable with New Year's Resolutions... probably because those hopes and dreams always fell quickly to the wayside and were forgotten as soon as real life kicked back in after the holiday season.  I've been talking to my clients this season about how New Year's resolutions can play into "all or nothing" thought patterns. There is that time "before" and then the time "after" when everything is supposed to be completely different.  When you wake up the next morning and promise to be kinder to everyone, to drink less, to eat less sugar or to spend less.  The first time you don't keep the resolution. you feel like a failure and the idea is dropped... only to be picked up again a year later.. each year making you feel a little more shame and a little less confidence in your ability to make positive changes.

Yet there is something compelling about hanging a blank wall calendar or turning the first page of your new day timer. The fresh new year ahead often fills us with hope and a sense of possibility.  It seems natural to begin making plans, setting goals and trying to do some things differently this year; especially if you weren't happy with how aspects of your life were going last year.

Over the past few years I've been moving more towards the idea of "setting intentions"... a phrase I picked up from practicing yoga.  Setting intentions is actually a Buddhist practice and is more about how you live in the present rather than the end result.  When you sent an intention, the focus is on trying and being not on an eventual outcome. 

My intention for the year ahead is to dwell in joy a little bit more.  Between the shocking and painful stories in the daily news, the burdens of others that I help to carry in my work as a counsellor, and the inevitable challenges of life that many of my loved ones are experiencing in health and other areas... it is sometimes hard to really stay mindful and appreciative of the joy, love, beauty and good news that surround me every day.

I am taking two steps towards living this intention.  The first is to subscribe to The Good News Network. I read the news on line every day and I think this will offer a good balance to my daily dose of local and international news sources.   The other is to increase joyful movement in my life.  For me that includes Yoga for Every Body classes with the gifted and lovely yogi Sheryl.  Yoga is something I have not been able to fit in to my schedule since last winter but have now created time for in the year ahead. 

Some of you may be more excited about goal setting at this time of year.  Goals are definitely about the end result and being able to work towards them effectively.  Making a promise to oneself just because the clock ticked over to another day but doing nothing concrete towards achieving the goal can lead to self-doubt and disappointment.  

If New Year's resolutions are a tradition you value, you can use this opportunity to help your kids boost their self-esteem by achieving something important to them or living in a more positive way.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Explain that a resolution is a promise to one's self and therefore the resolution should be something that is truly important to your child, not something she thinks someone else wants her to do.
  • Help her set achievable goals. She will experience more success with several small but realistic resolutions rather than one that is out of reach.
  • Teach your children to have patience and compassion with themselves; change does not come overnight and if you fail at your goal it is a temporary setback... if you just start again. 
  • Help them celebrate the small steps along the way that carry them towards successful change.
Perhaps the most common resolution that gets made at this time of year is "to lose weight". Your kids will have seen many ads this week promoting weight loss as the most important goal for the year ahead.  Last night was the first time we allowed our 11 year old to stay up to ring in the new year and for the a few minutes before and after midnight we had the TV tuned in to a public celebration... all of us were angry and sad to hear the host promoting a specific diet program as part of her commentary on the new year just before bending down to ask some small young children how they were feeling about the excitement of the moment.  

Research shows that girls who diet often struggle with low self-esteem and put their health at risk.  If your young child or teen talks about going on a diet as part of her new year's resolutions this is something to address. 

  • Discuss why she wants to lose weight. Does she feel it would help her make more friends? Is she experiencing pressure in a sport or coping with difficult feelings by fixating on her weight?  A goal and action plan related to the real problem may impact her life more meaningfully.
  •  If the resolution is really about health then help her set specific and achievable goals. She could commit to eating  one more fruit or vegetable each day, limiting sugary drinks or finding creative ways to get more daily activity. These goals take the focus off of the scale and are reasonable resolutions for anyone regardless of size or shape.
  • If her resolution is really about her role with peers, fitting in or having more friends, then help her set goals or begin to live with intention in a way that will improve her relationships.  Does she need help to be a better friend?  Could she meet new kids by joining a different school club or trying out for a different sport or a school play? 
  • Your own goals for the new year may be focused on your body and on your health.  I encourage you to focus on health behaviours (i.e. more daily activity, not skipping meals, getting enough sleep) rather than the number on the scale as an indicator of your success.  Read my earlier post about the impact on kids when parents have poor body image.
On a final note regarding intentions and goals... I want to thank you who have been reading my blog in 2012.   This started as both an experiment and a personal challenge.  With only 20 posts in the first year, I didn't quite fulfil my own goals but I want to celebrate that I have started and maintained this project.  I've added a Facebook page and have used Twitter to promote the blog - all huge new steps for me.  Two of my posts were reprinted on the Girl Guides of Canada website and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre invited me to write a guest post for their blog.  For a new blogger, it has been a good year!  I am excited about some of my topic ideas for the year ahead and about the challenge of maintaining this as a long term project.   I hope you keep reading and talking about these ideas and I wish you all the best in the year ahead.   

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