I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, but I know for now it may feel more accurate to wish everyone a Tolerable New Year. With so much uncertainty and minute to minute shifts in plans, this is not the time to go bold on those New Year’s resolutions designed to make us feel like failures. If you did make a lot of self-improvement promises and have already fallen off the wagon (I know I have), that’s OK! Beating ourselves over the head with shame isn’t going to help matters, so let’s use this as an opportunity for self-compassion AND practicing a more evidenced based and manageable kind of plan.
Let’s scrap the resolutions and start making intentions.
Resolutions, by design, are built on the premise that we don’t like our current selves and need to have an overhaul. That overhaul typically does not work and then we feel even worse. There is another way, and that is setting an intention. When you set an intention, you give yourself the space to fail. Not so much space that you don’t try, but enough to feel human, forgiven and accepted when you can’t be perfect. Space to fail is something we want to model for our kids so they perceive space to fail as an opportunity for growth rather than shame. It starts with us. Intentions force us to do a realistic appraisal of the past, hang on to what we want to keep, and focus on changing only that which is within our control. I’ll pause there for one second. In our control. Three very powerful words. You can’t control others, no matter how hard you try. You can’t control quarantines, closures, delayed air travel or a Winter storm. You can’t control what your mother in law feeds your kids. You can only control your response to these things and your response to the actions of others. And if you’re not sold emotionally on this, let me try selling you on the research. Research shows that the following steps (for you and your family) will make you more likely to meet your goals for 2022.
Focus in on a small, bite-sized change that you can control. Or maybe you pick a larger goal and break it into pieces. We can’t learn to play the guitar overnight, and being a better friend takes time and practice. For older children, help them to think about something they hope to achieve and the steps involved to get there.
Set a plan for your intended change and consider the likely obstacles. Go through them and plan for each one. This may look something like, “When I am tired and hungry, it will be harder for me to have patience with my toddler. So, I will make sure to have a snack BEFORE I attempt to get them into the bath.” Or “When I post on social media without thinking, I sometimes say things I don’t mean. I will wait 5 minutes and then re-read my post before publishing it.”
Create a compassion statement to repeat to yourself when you feel like you’ve messed up. This can be something personal that helps you “bounce-back” from a perceived failure. Show yourself grace, forgiveness and love. You knew this would happen and it did. No big surprise, no fire, no catastrophe - It is critical that your children see you take this step. The voice you use on yourself is the voice they will hear in their heads.
Write a letter to yourself, or as a family. Scribble down the intentions you have for the group – like having more family dinners, listening to each other more, or giving more hugs. Decide if you want to share letters with each other, or keep them private.
For younger kids, model for them how you are setting your own intentions, and help them to think about one new thing they can try. This can be as simple as bringing their dishes to the sink one night a week, or trying to stay calm when TV time is over.
Remember that we are all a work in progress and that with a growth mindset, change is always possible (even beyond the magical month of January). We don’t need to be all the way there…yet.