What Message Are You Sending To Yourself With Your Resolutions?

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Happy New Year, friends and Uncommoners!

As a rule, I love New Years.  Not because of the parties, although those are always fun.  But because of the sense of newness, possibility, and potential they provide.  There is something that borders on the ritualistic in the way I’ve come to handle New Years Eve and New Years Day reflections:  NYE I like to write (only for myself) about the year that was – with a big glass of red wine at hand – and analyze lessons learned, accomplishments gained, and challenges presented.  My favorite time to do this is about 5pm, right after the sun goes down and before the night’s festivities begin.  It really feels like I’m wrapping up the old year, filing it away meaningfully and with care.

On New Years Day, after I’ve got up and went for a walk (weather providing) – or at least had my coffee – I like to spend some more time writing about the year that will be: documenting any major events or activities already on the calendar, psyching myself up for things that are in the works, and – as many of us do – making resolutions for how I will be better, faster, stronger, and more compassionate to my fellow man in the coming year.

But this year, as I started going through the motions of my beloved ritual, I had one of those odd flashes of insight about the message I was subconsciously sending to myself when completing my resolutions:

Have I been using the resolution setting process as a subconscious way to trash-talk myself and self-sabotage? 

The Message Behind the Message of Resolutions

When you think about it, resolutions are funny things – as much as they seem to be about improvement, dreaming big, and daring to be better than you are today, they are also made with the implicit understanding (at least for most of us) that we’re doing something wrong, something inadequate, or even something hurtful, to ourselves or others.

Let’s be honest here – most of us take an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to our resolutions…when have you ever heard someone say: “I resolve to keep doing this one thing well that I already do well?”

OK, if you’ve heard someone say that (or have said it yourself) it is 9 times out of 10 either a “gimme” resolution (hey, points for highlighting the positive, right?) or a self-important one…it is hard to find people who want to keep saving the forest at exactly the self-satisfactory level that they did last year.

What I can tell you in examining my own resolution process is that to me, the message I was sending myself subconsciously was not only that I wasn’t good enough in my present state, but also that there was such a thing as attainable perfection and if I just did these 20 things I’d arrive there.  This background line of thinking set me up for a double whammy of unhealthy feelings, which is no wonder why year after year – in spite of lots of things I’m very happy and proud about – I find the resolution review and setting process to be increasingly disappointing and depressing.

Communicating the Right Message to Yourself

The ironic thing about all of this is that growth, on the professional and personal levels, is my life’s work.  I am not opposed to setting resolutions (in spite of the above complaints) – in fact, I think they are excellent and special kinds of long term goals that help us memorialize the passage of time, set a tone of growth, and increase self awareness…as long as we are clear and honest with ourselves about using them in a positive, supportive, and capability-affirming manner.  For me, I realized that a lot of my reflect-then-set process had a Mean Girls tone to it: “Great job here and here, Nacie (:::fake smile::::)…oh by the way, just one little upgrade to consider…(cue storm clouds forming)”

How can we do this? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but here are some questions I’ve been asking myself that you might find helpful:

  • How would you describe the resolution reflection and setting process as making you feel – why would you choose those words?
  • Have there been years when the process felt more satisfying and rewarding than others? Can you describe what made it feel that way?
  • Do you make the same resolutions every year? Are you happy with that or frustrated by that?
  • What can try to do differently this year in terms of how you approach your resolutions that could yield a different result?

Another thing we can do is to set a primary resolution to focus on treating ourselves with more respect, positivity, gentleness or whatever is meaningful to you…and then proceed to set your other resolutions with that in mind.

For my part, this year I’ve scrapped the “laundry list of upgrades” approach and instead am trying to work on no more than 3 specific and actionable goals on a quarterly basis – I’ve even programmed it in to my calendar to check in with myself and report on how those three have gone on March 31 and set new ones for Q2.  I’m kickin’ it basic goal-setting style this year – I confess it lacks a little bit of the pie-in-the-sky verve of resolution-setting with reckless and wrecking abandon, but hey, it’s a new year – I’m ready to try something new.

So here’s to a Happy New Year for all of us from yours truly: an imperfect, overly analytical, good-enough-as-I-am girl who’s trying (as always) to communicate better to herself in 2014!

What’s your New Year’s Resolution? How does your process usually work? Share below (and make Nacie feel less alone, please!)

Photo by *vlad*

Written by Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a the author of The Finch Effect (Jossey-Bass), founder of The Life Uncommon, and CEO of Working Life Media, LLC.


  1. Sarah Daly says

    Great read, Nacie! I appreciate your honest insights into what can seem like the same old process every year! I loved hearing about your reflection time on NYE and how you are resetting your goal planning this year–best of luck to you!

    • Nacie Carson says

      Thanks, Sarah – appreciate your kind words here. Will keep you posted on how this new approach goes!


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